As Starbucks closes for racial bias training, its new bathroom policy still seems like a bad idea

Today is the day that Starbucks is closing 8,000 stores for part of the day for unconscious bias training. From Money, here’s what the 175,000 employees will be doing this afternoon:


Starbucks’ employees will participate in the racial bias program that will include videos of top executives and board members speaking to the importance of diversity and improving as a company. The program will also have employees reflect on their experiences in a workbook, and watch a video that features Common, an Academy Award-winning rapper and artist.

No one seems to think the bias training is going to make a huge difference. It’s brief and besides that, there’s no evidence this kind of training works or that implicit bias testing is at all reliable. But at least some observers believe that if the training doesn’t work, the company’s change in policy will:

If nothing else, by instigating training Starbucks is signalling to its staff that racism is taken seriously and might cost you your job. But arguably the crucial thing it’s doing is to change the rules, giving staff fewer opportunities to express any prejudice they might have. It’s now company policy that customers can sit in coffee stores or use their loos (one of the flashpoints in the Philadelphia case) without shelling out for a latte, so staff no longer have to make potentially dodgy judgments about who looks as if they “shouldn’t” be there.

The change in bathroom policy may prevent a repeat of the incident that started all of this, but it’s also likely to create a slew of new problems. The reasons Starbucks and other shops reserve bathrooms for customers is that if they don’t do so they wind up with a lot of homeless people using the space as a place to change clothes, shower, or shoot heroin. That means the bathrooms may no longer be available or appealing to the customers who are paying the bills. From the Wall Street Journal:


“Drug use wasn’t happening in the bathroom every day, but it was definitely something that was happening once a week. The cops were called a lot,” said Darrion Sjoquist, 21 years old, who worked as a barista at a Seattle Starbucks two years ago.

Once, when he was taking out the bathroom trash, he said he was pricked by a hypodermic needle. He said he and other Seattle baristas asked Starbucks to equip the bathrooms with Sharps containers—the kind of locked boxes found in doctors’ offices—to encourage drug users to properly dispose of their needles…

One current barista at a Starbucks in New York City said drug use in the bathrooms is a frequent occurrence.

A former Starbucks facilities manager who oversaw several urban stores on the East Coast said those cafes had special kits on hand with rubber gloves, tongs and a box that store employees could use to dispose of needles, adding that employees often found small drops of blood splattered across the toilet and walls.

The article says employees aren’t required to handle needles or feces. They can contact an outside service to handle this. But that’s clearly not how it works all the time, hence the special cleaning kit with the tongs.

Do people applying for work at Starbucks really want cleaning up after junkies to be part of their daily job? Will customers want to allow their kids to enter bathrooms that may contain used drug needles? And does anyone want to buy coffee from a barista who may have just finished cleaning up these communal toilets?


I’m not going to make any predictions here but I think there’s enough of a downside to this that I can’t see it continuing for very long without upsetting a lot of people. Former fast food CEO Andy Puzder said today that Starbucks, “may have gone too far.”

Megyn Kelly made this point today on her show when she asked the obvious question: “Do you really want to deal with a mass of homeless people or whoever is in there, they could be drug addicted, you don’t know.” The answer for at least some customers is going to be no. There’s someone on this mini-panel with Kelly who is arguing that being nice to the homeless seems like a good thing. Well, okay, are you having them over to your house for a few hours then? I sort of doubt it.

Again, I don’t know where this will ends up, but I do think it’s going to be a lot more disruptive than woke CEO Howard Schultz anticipated when he made this change. Maybe the baristas can start preparing the coffee with tongs.

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John Sexton 7:00 PM on December 09, 2023