Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz questioned the future of the chain’s open bathroom policy at The New York Times’s DealBook D.C. policy forum on Thursday. The policy was instituted in 2018 after the police were called on two Black men in Philadelphia after attempting to use the bathroom in a Starbucks store without making a purchase.
“I don’t know if we can keep bathrooms open,” Schultz said at the forum.
Schultz blamed increasing mental health concerns among employees as the reason for possibly closing bathrooms again, citing safety issues stemming from more people entering Starbucks stores.
“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” Schultz said.
The policy states that “any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase.”
At the time of the initial policy in 2018, Schultz — who was serving as executive chairman — said he wasn’t looking to turn Starbucks stores into public bathrooms.
“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,’” Schultz said at the time. “We want you to be ‘more than.’”
This follows other employee-based statements from Schultz as unionization efforts continue in several hundred stores. Recently, Starbucks increased benefits for employees including pay raises, paying for travel to abortions, and the return of the Black Apron.