Starbucks might be taking its bathrooms private again.
The coffee chain, which opened its café bathrooms to the non-purchasing public after a high-profile incident in 2018, could soon be walking back its restroom policy in order to maintain a “safe environment” for patrons and staff, CEO Howard Schultz said.
Schultz hinted at the policy change Thursday, in an interview at The New York Times’ DealBook D.C. policy forum.
“There is an issue of just safety in our stores, in terms of people coming in, who use our stores as a public bathroom, and we have to provide a … safe environment for our people and our customers,” Schultz said during a conversation with The Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Schultz broached the topic during a discussion regarding mental health, which he claimed to be the “No. 1 issues” that Starbucks is dealing with “as a company.”
“[The] mental health crisis in this country is severe, acute and getting worse,” Schultz said.
When asked by Ross Sorkin how the company plans to “deal” with the issue, Schultz responded by saying Starbucks needs to train its employees and “harden” its stores.
“I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open,” he said.
Starbucks had previously announced its open-bathroom policy in the wake of a 2018 incident at a Philadelphia location, where two Black men were arrested while waiting to meet with a business acquaintance in the store. One of the men had previously asked to use the restroom but was denied, the Associated Press reported at the time.
Starbucks previously had no fixed policy on bathroom access, Schultz said in the wake of the arrests, and decisions were ultimately up to individual stores.
After the incident, Schultz himself said Starbucks bathrooms would be open to all, as would the café areas, regardless of whether someone makes a purchase or not.
“We don’t want to become a public bathroom,” said Schultz, “but we’re going to make the right decision a hundred percent of the time and give people the key.”
Starbucks also included the directive in its “third place” policy, which aimed to position its cafes as welcoming spaces for the public, so long as visitors use the spaces lawfully and respectfully.
On Thursday, however, Schultz appeared to express uncertainty that Starbucks would be able to provide safe spaces for the public, especially during what he feels is a worsening mental-health crisis in the country.
“Again, Starbucks is trying to solve a problem and face a problem that is the government’s responsibility,” Schultz said. “And when I think about the issues that we, our business is facing and the challenge that our people are facing, almost every, every question you ask is a question about what the government’s responsibility is, and what I realize more and more, the government is no longer gonna solve any of these problems.”