Starbucks Tries to Clarify New Policy
Starbucks announced a new policy Saturday that allows anyone to occupy the coffee shop or use the store’s facilities, even if they don’t buy anything, but many are left to wonder if it’ll have a negative impact. The “Third Place Policy” maintains that employees should consider anyone who enters Starbucks space, including restrooms, cafes and patios, a customer “regardless of whether they make a purchase,” the company said in a statement. “We are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome,” Starbucks said.
Customers using the space must still follow a set of general guidelines, which requires them to use spaces as intended, be considerate of others, communicate with respect, and act responsibly, or they might be asked to leave. This policy comes after the company faced intense scrutiny and backlash when two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia.
On Monday, Starbucks revealed more about the policy, telling The Wall Street Journal that employees now have detailed instructions on what to do if someone is behaving in a disruptive manner, such as smoking, using drugs or alcohol, using restrooms improperly or sleeping.
While many other restaurants and retailers also must manage the issue of lingering customers and nonpaying guests who come in to use restrooms, Starbucks has promoted itself as providing a “third place” between home and work where people can freely exchange ideas. It essentially pioneered the idea that is now generating controversy. Other restaurants and cafes have followed suit in recent years. McDonald’s Corp. and Panera Bread now offer free Wi-Fi and encourage customers to linger. Panera didn’t respond to a request for comment, and McDonald’s—which is almost entirely franchised—said it lets its franchisees determine how to best serve their customers.
“The whole Starbucks situation has opened up a can of worms. In most cases restaurants leave it up to the discretion of the individual restaurant and most are too busy to enforce a policy,” said Joe Pawlak, managing principal at restaurant consulting firm Technomic Inc. Starbucks’s piecemeal messaging on the issue and the outpouring of commentary that ensued shows the challenges firms can face in an era when every corporate move can be immediately telegraphed and then dissected by the public at large.