A simple disagreement over whether or not two African-American patrons at a Philadelphia Starbucks could use the store’s bathroom has blossomed into a “teaching moment” in extremis, with the Seattle coffee giant even going as far to close all of its stores for a day to teach its employees to be less racist.
Aside from the obvious takeaway that Starbucks is either scapegoating its employees or had actually trained them to be racist — neither of which is good — one conclusion hasn’t been reached by too many people yet: Starbucks has its bathroom policies for a reason.
And it’s a very good reason, a former Starbucks employee said in an Op-Ed piece for The Daily Caller written after the coffee giant scuttled its rules regarding its bathrooms.
The piece, written by Audrey Conklin, was published Tuesday and notes that there are bigger issues at play than you might imagine.
“For the year I worked at Starbucks, my manager made it very clear to all the partners at our location that the store’s two bathrooms were for paying customers only,” Conklin wrote. “Like many other Starbucks stores, we set a four-digit code on the bathroom locks so they couldn’t be accessed by just anybody. Paying customers had to ask for the code. And it changed every couple of weeks, so even regular customers had to ask. But there were good reasons behind this mandatory system that has recently been changed to allow non-paying customers to use Starbucks bathrooms, too.”
That policy is about to change, however, thanks to the Philadelphia incident.
“After the incident, Starbucks announced that it would close over 8,000 of its stores on May 28, 2018, so its partners could participate in implicit bias training, which most agree isn’t a real solution to the issue at stake. Rather, it was a public display of Starbucks making active plans to address a problem instead of just issuing an apology,” Conklin wrote.
“Weeks after the bias training announcement, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz announced on May 11 that Starbucks changed its bathroom policy so that store restroom facilities are now open to ‘all.’ But Schultz made it clear that Starbucks does not ‘want to become a public bathroom.’ Instead, the company is ‘going to make the right decision 100 percent 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.'”
Conklin notes that Schultz used corporate-speak in explaining the new policy.
“In this case, Schultz is using ‘100 percent of the time’ as a euphemism for ‘public bathroom,’ because, of course, Starbucks does not want to become known as the public restroom place — not among its $7 lattés, prepackaged protein bistro boxes and ceramic thermoses,” she writes.
“It’s not about compassion for people who need to use a bathroom. Starbucks will always apologize profusely in response to events like this one to avoid lawsuits and an overall unpopular reputation among the millennial masses who invest so much in their business.
“Unfortunately, this heavy complacency can only make the occasional social issues that arise next to its name more difficult from here on. The next time Starbucks goes under fire, it will be because someone was denied access to a bathroom,” she adds.
Conklin points out that allowing unlimited access to bathrooms is problematic, especially in certain locales — like the one where she worked, which was the third-busiest Starbucks in Boston.
“In Boston, it’s illegal to offer shelter to people abusing substances,” Conklin writes. “The Department of Housing and Community Development and Emergency Assistance are legally allowed to perform drug tests on those they believe to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at shelters. Therefore, those who do have alcoholism problems or drug addictions often make the conscious choice to pitch up outside in public areas.
“There were regular vagabonds who walked into our store wanting a cup of water, a warmer (or cooler) climate and to use the bathroom. Of course, bathrooms were off limits to everyone but paying customers. And when the homeless loitered in our store and refused to leave, our friends at the fire department or police station down the road would help us escort them out.”
That will likely all be gone now, thanks to one overzealous manager in Philadelphia.
Beyond that, Conklin points out what should be obvious: If a business owner is paying for the usage and upkeep of a bathroom, a business owner should have the right to decide who gets to use it.
“Bathrooms should be something of a luxury at places like Starbucks for paying customers and employees only. Water, plumbing, electricity and general maintenance do not come at a small price. And Starbucks isn’t paying that price. Its customers are,” she writes.
“Customers are not only paying for the coffee; they are paying for the heat and air conditioning, tables, accessible WiFi and bathrooms. Partners are paid to keep the place clean and comfortable for customers who spend literal hours studying, working, and holding meetings in the store. It seems like a fair trade to me.”
But we know where it goes from here. The bathrooms become filthy because there simply isn’t the money to clean them effectively when they’re used as public restrooms and often as shelters for drug abusers and alcoholics. There’s going to be fewer resources to keep the place clean and comfortable for customers if non-paying customers are able to use it. There are going to be legal problems. The decrease in store quality is going to alienate regular customers of all backgrounds.
And all of this because of the fact that one overzealous manager made a very wrong call regarding two African-American men. They wanted apologies and they got them, and one imagines Starbucks will likely give them a whole lot more.
There’s a lesson to be learned here, but that lesson isn’t that every employee is a racist and that every bathroom should be available to anyone who wants to use it.
This is going to cost Starbucks more than the bad publicity from the Philadelphia arrests did.
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