Starbucks is facing a strange new struggle in its quest to be both an international coffee giant and a community-centered brand. It all comes down, once again, to its bathrooms.
After two black men were arrested while trying to use the bathroom in a Philadelphia Starbucks last year, cafes across the country closed for a day to hold an anti-bias training session for all employees. Following the incident, Starbucks changed its policies to allow anyone to use its bathrooms and public spaces, regardless of whether they have made a purchase. The “Use of the Third Place Policy” released in May 2018 states: “We want our stores to be the third place, a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect. Any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase.”
By standing firm in its assertion of the use of the third place, Starbucks has unwittingly opened its doors to America’s burgeoning opioid crisis, particularly in urban centers. Currently, it is against federal and many state laws for cities or healthcare facilities to provide a designated space for opioid users to inject drugs, so many users resort to using public bathrooms in order to get high.
In January, Starbucks released an addendum to its Third Place Policy, which re-asserts that everyone is welcome but requests that visitors use its spaces as intended. “Our customers are welcome to use the spaces we provide appropriately, including our cafés, patios and restrooms,” the policy says. This was released as Starbucks employees (called partners) were escalating their concerns over illicit drug use in cafe bathrooms and the personal health risks they are facing as a result.