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Is Starbucks’ new bathroom policy unfair to paying customers?

Starbucks changes bathroom policy following racial firestorm. AP Photo

A little controversy at Starbucks just made it easier to find a place to pee. Chairman Howard Schultz recently announced that their bathrooms will now be open to anyone who needs to go, even if they didn’t buy a caramel soy chai macchiato or some such thing.

“We don’t want to become a public bathroom. But we’re going to make the right decision 100 percent of the time and give people the key,” said Starbucks Executive Chairman Haward Schultz. “Because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to use the bathroom because you are less than.”

The move follows an incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks last month. Two black men were told they couldn’t use the bathroom without buying anything. They sat down, and then had the police called on them for trespassing. Starbucks plans to close all their stores nationwide on May 29 for “racial bias training.” Tully’s and Dunkin’ Donuts will still be open, though.

Starbucks and bathrooms

With over 8,000 stores, that’s plenty of bathrooms now available to people previously too timid to ask for a key. KIRO’s Radio’s Ron Upshaw is not convinced it’s a good move.

“You open the floodgates,” he said. “Here’s the scenario: You come in and you buy an extra hot tall soy latte. I don’t buy anything. I come in and ask for key, and go to the bathroom and I’m in there for 15 minutes. I’m in there having a good time. I wash my hair, wash my fingernails, wash my face…”

“In this scenario that I set up, I am less than,” Ron said. “Not less than as a human being, less than as a customer. I’m not a customer. You’re a paying patron to that business. You deserve to use the bathroom before I deserve to use the bathroom. That’s just common sense.”

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“It’s common sense,” retorted KIRO Radio’s Don O’Neill. “And yet at the same time, if I’m in line and somebody’s been sleeping in a tent all night, and they need to use the bathroom, I’m totally OK with giving up my spot in line.”

Treading the line between convenience and access

The timing is serendipitous, considering the City of Seattle recently released a color-coded interactive map showing where to find public bathrooms in Seattle. They may need to update it now. Still, even with the convenience, Starbucks seems to be treading a delicate line between appearing welcoming and maintaining hygienic restrooms.

“There are people that are homeless that will leave their tents, go into a Starbucks, and they’ll basically take a bath in the bathroom. People are going to do heroin in that bathroom, too. That is the fear of a lot of businesses,” Don said.

“You want to show compassion, and at the same time you want to buy a cup of coffee and go to the bathroom and get to work on time.”

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