Less than 48 hours after Starbucks revealed a new story policy that allows anyone to use a cafe’s facilities regardless if they make a purchase, the company clarified the policy Monday after it had been heavily criticized on social media.
Referred to as its “Third Place” policy, Starbucks said in a letter to its U.S. employees Saturday that “any person who enters our spaces, including patios, cafes and restrooms, regardless of whether they make a purchase, is considered a customer.”
The announcement immediately drew criticism from customers and even employees who feared the popular cafes would now turn into glorified homeless shelters.
Even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was one of many on social media who poked fun at the rationale behind Starbucks’ decision.
Hard time getting hotel for Memorial Day weekend, but decided to stay @Starbucks and wash off in free restroom. I’m no freeloader, though–I’m buying an iced tea just to show appreciation for their hospitality! https://t.co/TJH19UjSHI #dance #starbucks #happy via @gifkeyboard
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) May 22, 2018
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.
“We want our stores to be the third place, a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect,” the company said in a statement. “When using a Starbucks space, we respectfully request that customers behave in a manner that maintains a warm and welcoming environment by: using spaces as intended, being considerate of others, communicating with respect [and] acting responsibly.”
When dealing with behavior that may be considered disruptive, Starbucks said managers and baristas should first ask a fellow employee to verify that a certain behavior is disruptive and if it is, respectfully request that the customer stop. The company also listed talking too loudly, playing loud music and viewing inappropriate content as other examples of disruptive behavior.
Starbucks says it has also provided employees with examples of instances where they should call 911, which includes when a customer is using or selling drugs.
The clarification of its “Third Place” policy comes one month after a high-profile incident in one of the company’s Philadelphia stores, where two black men asked to use the restroom but did not make a purchase. The men were then arrested for not leaving the store when asked to do so.
Starbucks apologized for the incident, but was villified on social media as being racist. In response, the company is closing all of its 8,000 company-owned restaurants in the U.S. during the afternoon of May 29 to “address implicit bias, promote inclusion and help prevent discrimination.”
While addressing negative incidents in a prompt manner is a good public relations move for any business, even some experts in the field wonder if the decision to open cafes to anyone and everyone who wants to use them is a smart move.
Gene Marks of Entrepreur magazine says Starbucks didn’t handle the situation in Philadelphia well by having the two men arrested, but he also believes the new policy is a mistake, as well.
“What will Starbucks do if the policy fails? Has this really been thought through? Was it even tested during this past month?” Marks wrote. “Please, don’t ever do this in your business. Yes, we all sympathize with the homeless, but do you sympathize so much that you would sit next to someone who’s been living rough (and smells like it) after spending six bucks on a Frappuccino?
“And what about their employees? Does the company realize just how much more difficult their jobs will become? Will Starbucks lose valuable people due to the added stress from adding ‘policeman’ and ‘psychiatrist’ to their already long list of job duties? I think so.”
Some Starbucks employees are already tired of dealing with non-paying customers. A person who identified themself as an employee at a Starbucks in downtown Chicago said in a Reddit forum they hate the new policy because the store bathrooms have turned into a hub for drug activity.
“We haven’t been allowed to change our bathroom codes since April. So almost all the junkies and homeless people know the code now. About once a week we find needles, drug baggies, blood all over the toilet or walls,” the user wrote.
The policy of how welcoming a business is to customers who don’t make a purchase, or a restaurant who allows customers to linger well beyond the time it takes to eat or drink what they’ve purchased, is not unique to Starbucks.
But because the chain has made its policy clear to the public as well as its employees, other restaurants are going to be watching the effects going forward.
“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., told the Wall Street Journal.
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