By Alex P. Vidal
“At the end of the day, the goals are simple: safety and security.”—Jodi Rell
I CAN confirm with absolute truthfulness that Starbucks has started modifying its open-bathroom policy that allowed anyone—including non-customers—to use the restroom at its stores.
I’m talking only of the Starbucks in the United States. I have no idea if the same policy is also being implemented in other Starbucks outside the U.S., including the ones in the Philippines.
After four years, U.S. Starbucks employees now have been given the option to close bathrooms if there are safety concerns.
Some people didn’t like the new policy, but I support it 100 percent. I have no complaints.
I witnessed how some non-customers abused this privilege given by Starbucks. Some drug addicts used Starbucks bathrooms and didn’t dispose the syringe and other drugs paraphernalia properly.
At my favorite Starbucks store in Rego Park, Queens Boulevard, the management has changed the passcodes of the bathroom.
In two other stores in Queens and Manhattan I usually visited, the passcodes of their bathrooms have also changed.
Meaning, you can’t use the Starbucks restroom anymore if you’re not a customer, or if you enter the store and go directly to the bathroom with no intention to buy a coffee or whatever items.
A customer has to ask the cashier the passcode before he or she can use the bathroom.
In at least three Starbucks I regularly patronized, the management had posted the passcodes on the door for all to read. They usually composed of six numbers: 6-5-4-3-2-1.
On August 15 at past 12 noon when I visited the Starbucks in Rego Park, I went to the bathroom and punched the numbers and they didn’t work anymore. Because I’m a regular customer and I have already ordered hot Matcha Green Tea, the cashier gave me the new numbers: 1-4-7-8-9.
In 2018, Starbucks management all over the United States started to implement the open-bathroom policy after the controversial arrest of two Black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks.
Starting July this year, the Seattle-based coffee chain announced that store employees would be able to close bathrooms if it wasn’t possible to maintain safety.
The policy tweak came as part of an announcement that Starbucks would be closing 16 stores across the United States, according to writer Rodrigo Torrejon.
“(We) don’t want to become a public bathroom. But we’re going to make the right decision 100% 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,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in 2018. “We want you to be more than.”
In a statement posted to the Starbucks website, the company’s senior vice presidents of U.S. operations wrote that giving employees the option to close restrooms was one of several initiatives geared toward making Starbucks shops safer for workers and customers.
In 2018, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were waiting for a business associate at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets.
During a television appearance at the time, Nelson said he had asked to use the bathroom but was denied access because he wasn’t a customer.
Most recently, the New York Post quoted Schultz as saying Starbucks was exploring whether to alter the policy, which allows non-customers to use store bathrooms, due to a nationwide “mental health” problem that was posing difficulties for the coffeehouse chains’ employees.
“There is an issue of, just, safety in our stores, in terms of people coming in who use our stores as a public bathroom,” Schultz said during an event, quoted by New York Post. “We have to provide a safe environment for our people and our customers. The mental health crisis in the country is severe, acute and getting worse.”
“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” Schultz added. “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)