Starbucks under pressure to keep restrooms open to public

In June, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, specifically addressed the restroom issue at Starbucks during his speech at a conference.

Schultz stated that the company needs to ensure the safety of their customers by strengthening the security measures in their stores and addressing the issue of individuals using their facilities as public restrooms. Schultz did not specify the specific problems they have been facing with their open-restroom policy. With Starbucks serving a customer base of 100 million, ensuring safety within their stores is a significant concern.

“I believe we cannot maintain the accessibility of our bathrooms,” he stated.

Since 2018, the stance of the chain has been different, where stores in the restroom would no longer be allowed for customers or paying patrons. Employees are informed about this change.

The announcement came after two Black men were arrested and later arrived at the police station without any apparent reason. An employee informed him that he needed to purchase something to stay and asked the man to use the restroom. This encounter, which was filmed and went viral, happened at a Starbucks in Philadelphia.

In a memo to employees in 2018, Starbucks stated that the policy of open-restroom is intended to help maintain a workplace environment in alignment with our “mission” – a sociological “concept” referring to a community place that is neither a workplace nor a home, but rather a “third place”.

“Our local leaders, in accordance with relevant local jurisdiction laws, possess the capability to alter store operations and restroom accessibility in order to uphold our Third Place Policy. This policy encompasses various alternatives that are at their disposal,” stated a representative from Starbucks in a statement to the Guardian. “No adjustments have been implemented to our restroom policy.”

Some Starbucks locations have closed their public restrooms, which the American Restroom Association (ARA) advocates for as they believe public restrooms should be well-designed and safe. It should be noted that Starbucks has not officially changed its bathroom policy, despite comments from Schultz.

Plumbing codes such as international regulations do not exist in the country, making it essentially optional for businesses to ensure proper enforcement. Steve Soifer, the president of the group, highlighted that these codes are necessary for establishments to maintain open toilet facilities for both customers and visitors.

However, Soifer contends that Americans have limited alternative choices.

Soifer expressed, “The issue lies in the absence of alternative options.” “For instance, when you visit New York City and explore its streets, your choices are limited to public libraries or museums. The restroom facilities must remain accessible to the general public. Everything else is uncertain and unpredictable.”

“Attempt to locate city-constructed public restrooms in New York City, they are practically non-existent.”

ARA said that they were trying to get funding to create a “national toilet map” for the US, which will show all the public restrooms in the country. In comparison, Iceland has the highest number of public toilets with 56 per 100,000 people, followed by Canada, France, and the UK. According to a study conducted by the British bathroom supply company QS Supplies, there are only eight public toilets per 100,000 people in the US. Soifer stated that there is no official count on how many government-operated public restrooms there are in the US.

People in the US protested that Americans should not have to pay to use public facilities, so instead of shutting down the restrooms entirely, the building fills the gaps with 70s-inspired restrooms that are free to use. Pay-to-use toilets were once widespread in the US, but they are more commonly seen across Europe.

Soifer mentioned that we have no options now. It has never happened before and we were thinking about investing in public toilets by getting rid of the need for counties and cities to pay. We thought about eliminating the scarcity of public toilets in the US for people to use.

The concept of constructing public toilets, known as the “Portland Loo” initiative in Portland, has inspired other progressive local governments, including San Diego and Sacramento, to make efforts in constructing their own free-standing restrooms around the city.

Local authorities frequently encounter high expenses and face political challenges when attempting to construct additional restroom facilities. The proposal to establish public toilets in the Noe Valley district of San Francisco faced disapproval from California’s governor, Gavin Newsom. The construction of these lavatories would require a significant time frame of three years and entail a financial burden of $1.7 million. This initiative provoked widespread outrage and earned the moniker “Toiletgate”.

The immediate solution is to build municipally funded restrooms that are accessible and clean, which will allow the broader public to access them. This is because businesses like Starbucks already have functioning facilities.