Coffee shop industry giant Starbucks announced a change in company policy on Saturday, May 19, that allows visitors to sit at the tables and use the restrooms in their establishments even without purchasing anything. This new policy is applicable to over 8,000 branches in the US, but international stores will not follow suit.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, said, “We don’t want to become a public bathroom but we’re going to make the right decision 100% of the time and give people the key.”
Starbucks employees have therefore been told that everyone is welcome, provided that guests do not behave in a disruptive manner, such as using the restrooms improperly, drinking alcohol, smoking, or sleeping.
The new policy is known as the “third place policy.” It has come about several weeks after an incident in one Starbucks store in Philadelphia wherein a manager called the police concerning two African-American males who had wanted to use the bathroom before ordering anything. They were asked to leave the establishment, but declined to do so, since they were waiting for another man with whom they had a business meeting. The incident was filmed by another customer, and went viral on social and mainstream media.
Starbucks management announced the new policy in a letter distributed to all Starbucks stores and said, “Any person who enters our spaces, including patios, cafes and restrooms, regardless of whether they make a purchase, is considered a customer.”
The policy’s goal is to make each Starbucks branch “a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect,” and “is intended to help maintain the third place environment in alignment with our mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
In the past, how non-paying guests were to be treated was left up to each branch’s manager and staff’s judgment.
The new policy of welcoming all guests now applies to all the Starbucks branches in the United States, which number over 8,000. For international stores, there will be separate guidelines issued.
As for Starbucks outlets in Singapore, Starbucks Asia has announced that the new policy does not apply, at least not yet.
The company said, “In Singapore, we continue to review our practices to ensure we are creating a welcoming ‘Third Place’ for our customers and remain committed to delivering the authentic Starbucks experience.”
Starbucks will be closing most of its stores in the US next week, on May 29 in order to conduct racial-bias training for all employees.