Starbucks now says anyone can use its bathrooms, whether they buy anything or not

Feel free to use the facilities.
Feel free to use the facilities.
Image: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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Anyone who enters a Starbucks is now considered a customer, regardless if they buy anything, and are free to use the restrooms.

Starbucks announced the new policy in a letter to employees Saturday, saying that “any person who enters our spaces, including patios, cafes and restrooms, regardless of whether they make a purchase, is considered a customer,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The letter codifies the new approach Starbucks founder Howard Schultz first articulated during a May 10 appearance, and erases the distinction between paying customers and non-paying vistors.

The new policy for Starbucks’ 8,000 company-owned US stores comes in the aftermath of an explosive incident last month in Philadelphia, in which two black men were asked to leave a store after using the restroom without making a purchase, and were arrested for trespassing after they refused. The episode triggered protests as well as apologies from Starbucks officials and the Philadelphia police, and led the company to schedule a day of racial-bias training on May 29.

The letter clarifies what had been a fuzzy area for Starbucks. The company’s business is partly built on the idea of customers lingering in the stores for hours, but it’s also premised on them actually making purchases. With no firm rule in place regarding the restrooms, employees had to use their discretion about when to ask people to leave. As in the Philadelphia case, that ambiguity could lead to serious errors.

While founder Schultz said he doesn’t want Starbucks to become a de facto public toilet, it’s clear the company would rather take on that responsibility than risk another incident like in Philadelphia.