On Saturday, Starbucks announced a bold move to ensure that no one in its stores feels that Starbucks stores “are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than, we want you to be more than.” This statement, made by Executive Chairman Howard Schultz, expands on the ubiquitous coffee chain’s “Third Place Policy.” According to the policy, Starbucks is a place, besides home or work, that provides “a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect.” This means that everyone walking into a Starbucks store is to be considered a customer, whether they are there to make a purchase or not, and thus be allowed to use any space, and be treated exactly the same as customers are.
Over the weekend, this announcement was met with mixed reactions. While some supported the announcement, many, including employees, expressed concerns. The biggest concern voiced was that Starbucks stores, especially in urban areas, will now become hubs for homeless people and drug users. Some who claimed to be employees said that this is actually already happening at their stores. Others say that the big announcement was only a formal public expression of an informal policy already in place at most Starbucks stores. However, the manager at the root of the current PR crisis that led to this announcement has claimed that her former store, in Philadelphia, had a strict no loitering policy because of issues that had occurred previously at that store. This was why she called the police when two black men who were not ordering anything refused to leave after being asked to.
After the uproar over the weekend, Starbucks clarified its “new” policy on Monday, explaining that drug use, sleeping, and other disruptive or disrespectful behavior would not be tolerated in its stores. With reports that sales at the coffee stores have been declining, it is imperative that Starbucks find a way to satisfy its humanitarian efforts without alienating paying customers.
In my experience, Starbucks stores already have a distinct lack of space. While it may have been an informal policy at most stores already to allow non-paying customers to linger at their cafes, now that it has officially been announced, it will encourage more and more to do just that. Whether they are homeless or just someone seeking a place to work or visit with a friend, those who may have previously felt obligated to purchase a beverage now have no reason to feel guilt over dominating one of the precious few seats for hours without a purchase. For myself, given how often I have had trouble finding an open space already, I will probably choose somewhere else to sit for my work sessions or to catch up with a friend, even if it means I will have to make a purchase there. I previously made a purchase when I did it at Starbucks anyway so it’s no different to me to take my business somewhere that I know I will be able to find a place to sit. I will predict that store sales will continue declining for a while as this new policy shakes out.