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Starbucks says it might close bathrooms to non-customers, for safety

A Starbucks location in Louisiana in April. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Starbucks is considering closing its restrooms to the general public, reserving its loos for its latte-drinking customers.

Howard Schultz, chief executive of the coffee giant, disclosed the company’s intentions in a conversation with the New York Times DealBook DC policy forum on Thursday, citing an increasing mental health problem and staff safety among the reasons for the decision.

“We serve 100 million people at Starbucks,” Schultz said. “There is an issue of just safety in our stores in terms of people coming in who use our stores as a public bathroom.”

Providing safety for Starbucks employees and customers is also of importance to Schultz in making sure both groups are satisfied and protected, he said.

“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” he told the Times. “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.”

The decision would reverse a 2018 policy the company implemented that opened up its seats — even its porcelain ones — to anyone after the company was embattled in a public controversy following the arrest of two Black men at a Philadelphia store. The men had arrived at the store early for a business meeting. One asked to use the restroom but was told by a manager that restrooms were only for paying customers.

The manager then approached the two men at the table to ask if she could get something to drink but called the police two minutes later, telling authorities that there were “two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.”

The men settled with the city of Philadelphia, agreeing to a symbolic payment of $1 each and a commitment from the city to fund $200,000 for a grant program for high school students aspiring to become entrepreneurs. Starbucks later announced that it had reached an agreement with the men that included an undisclosed financial settlement.

Schultz acknowledged that such a change from 2018 with would be a significant culture shift, as noted by DealBook editor-at-large Andrew Ross Sorkin.

“Starbucks is trying to solve a problem and face a problem that is the government’s responsibility,” Schultz said about possible bathroom closures.

The government not stepping up to the plate means business leaders like him have to do more to protect the people who work for them, he said.

“What I realize more and more is that the government is no longer going to solve any of these problems,” Schultz said. “[Business leaders] have to do more for our people.”

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