- Starbucks has changed its bathroom policy to be open to all – including people who haven’t purchased anything.
- Previously, the chain had a “loose” policy that allowed managers to decide whether non-customers could use the bathroom or not.
- The decision to open up the bathrooms follows the arrests of two black men who asked to use the restroom without making a purchase at a Starbucks in Philadelphia.
Starbucks‘ bathrooms are now open to all – and that includes people who aren’t paying customers.
“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, because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than,” Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz said on Thursday at the Atlantic Council. “We want you to be more than.”
Schultz said that the decision to change the policy comes after the arrests of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. A manager called the police when the men, who were waiting for a business meeting, asked to use the bathroom and refused to leave the store without buying anything.
“We have a – kind of a loose policy [that] you should be able to use the bathroom if you buy something,” Schultz said. “And it’s really the judgment of the manager. And in this particular case, she asked the gentleman: Are you a customer? And he said, no. And they go into a conversation. And one thing led to another. And she made a terrible decision to call the police.”
Footage of the incident went viral. Starbucks apologized and announced plans to close all locations in the United States for the afternoon of May 29 to “conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores.”
In the aftermath of the events, many people of color shared similar experiences they’ve had at Starbucks, as well as other restaurants and stores. Black baristas told Business Insider that the incident was not surprising in light of the racism they had witnessed while working at the chain.
This is not the first time that Starbucks has faced backlash for apparently targeting and excluding certain groups of people.
In 2016, three Starbucks locations in parts of Los Angeles with large homeless populations closed their bathrooms to customers and non-customers to discourage homeless people from visiting to use the restrooms and free Wi-Fi. In 2007, a woman was thrown out of a Starbucks because management thought she was homeless. And, in 2001, Seattle activists organized a boycott against Starbucks after a black man was shot by the police, arguing that the chain’s gentrifying influence contributed to his death.
“While it appears to offer equal access, in reality, it serves the needs of only some,” Temple University professor Bryant Simon writes in his book “Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks.”
In many ways, Starbucks bathrooms are a perfect example of inequalities that are perpetuated by retailers. Simon writes:
“To use the bolted bathrooms, you had to ask for a key. This seemed to be no problem for people wearing suits and expensive ski jackets or white college professors like myself. We ask for the key, no questions asked. But for the homeless and for people of color, especially unattached men, things aren’t so simple and easy. Several times I have seen African-American men go up to the counter for the key. Giving the man the once-over the manager or the shift supervisors hesitates and says, ‘Have you bought anything? The bathrooms, you know, are for customers only.'”
With the new policy, however, bathrooms are actually going to be open to all.
Schultz acknowledged that Starbucks has already been used as a public restroom by many people. And, while Schultz may not want Starbucks to become a public bathroom for all, the new policy almost certainly guarantees that that is going to happen.