After racist incident, Starbucks accepts what it really is — a public bathroom for all to use

Photo: JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

 

This just in: you don’t need to be a white person to use a Starbucks bathroom without purchasing something from the counter.

In fact, according to Howard Schultz, the executive chairman of the coffee mega chain, you don’t have to purchase anything at the restaurant in order to use its facilities — not a Unicorn Frappuccino, not a Cake Pop, not a Sous Vide Egg bite (anybody know what that thing is?) and not even a Tall Blonde. From now on, all you have to do is walk into Starbucks and you are welcome to relieve yourself in one of its spacious stalls.

On the heels of yet another racist incident blowing up in the media — this one in which two Black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks after asking to use the restroom and sitting down without purchasing anything — Schultz announced a new policy, whereby pretty much anyone can use a Starbucks bathroom, paying customer or not.

In his own words, speaking in Washington D.C. this month: “The first thing we want to make sure is that regardless of your station in life, the colour of your skin, your sexual orientation, your gender, your ethnic background — everyone is welcome at Starbucks. And in terms of the bathroom, we’re going to have to make sure that — we don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision 100 per cent of the time and give people the key, because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than.”

If you’re a white person who doesn’t believe racial bias was at play in the Philadelphia incident ask yourself how many times you’ve been handcuffed after sitting in a restaurant without buying any food. I’ve been told, “buy something or leave.” But I’ve never been arrested. When white people loiter we’re considered a nuisance. When Black people loiter they’re considered a threat.

But an open door bathroom policy is precisely the right move for Starbucks not just in an ethical sense but in a practical sense too. Schultz may not want the company to be “a public bathroom” but the truth as anyone with a bladder knows, is that Starbucks already is a public bathroom. If you’re downtown running some errands and nature calls, where do you go? Starbucks. Or McDonald’s, or Tim Hortons, or any other massive chain restaurant where you stand a good chance of slipping into the bathroom unnoticed. Public restrooms are so rare in many North American cities and so rarely attended to (a.k.a. disgusting) big chains operate as public lavatories almost by default. Starbucks is arguably the official public bathroom of planet earth. (I’ve used its facilities in a pinch, in at least eight different nations around the world.) It’s about time the coffee chain came to terms with its status as international emergency toilet, because stringent bathroom policies flat out do not work.

Coffee and fast food chains are simply too crowded and their employees too busy to police the bathroom activity of every customer. Unless those employees are racists on the lookout for Black guys who dare use the john without buying a latte, most cashiers tend to bend the “bathroom is for customers only” rule. Or break it entirely. I certainly did when I worked at a Subway chain in Halifax, where half the city must have peed without approaching my register. If you work in fast food, it’s often difficult to remember who is a paying customer and who isn’t because chain establishments, especially those in urban areas, are packed day and night. The bottom line is that there is very little consistency in how the “customer-only” bathroom rule is applied, leaving it open to gross abuse by prejudiced staff behind the counter.

Of course it makes perfect sense that some of these staff — not only prejudiced ones — are wary of open door bathroom policies because they fear overcrowding in their workspace and extra grimy facilities (that they inevitably have to clean).

But in an age where public confrontation is routinely broadcast in real time on the internet, the corporate leaders at the helm of these restaurants need to ask themselves a serious question: What’s worse for business? A dirtier-than-usual bathroom with a long lineup? Or the PR nightmare that ensues when an employee tells one kind of customer they may use the restroom, and another kind of customer to get lost?

Source :

Toronto Star

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