If you have ever taken a social science class, you have probably heard about the law of unintended consequences. Sometimes a policy generates unexpected benefits, but usually it creates unexpected problems and even perverse incentives. Although this reality usually develops because of government programs, it also surfaces within companies and corporations.
Last year Starbucks announced that anyone has the right to use a Starbucks restroom. The company did this because two African-American men were denied access to a Starbucks restroom in Philadelphia and subsequently arrested. Reeling from this infamous incident, the company announced that everyone is a customer of Starbucks and thus free to use their restrooms.
This changed policy may not have affected the Starbucks near you, but it has had a decidedly negative impact on Starbucks located in cities with lots of homeless people. The New York Post found in their survey of a few Starbucks that “a half-dozen toilets were locked or barricaded” because they needed extensive cleaning. One of their columnists observed that, “Finding a usable Starbuck’s toilet in the Big Apple might actually have gotten harder since last spring’s announcement—and not just for non-customers.”
I don’t want to gross you out about what happens in these Starbuck’s restrooms, so let me just say that they need cleaning because of “extreme soiling” and other problems resulting from “incontinent vagrants.” One Starbucks employee (who wisely decided to remain anonymous) lamented that the company policy was hurting everyone. He observed, “Letting everybody in has resulted in nobody getting in.”
Like I said, this may not be a problem for your local Starbucks, assuming you live in the suburbs. But it has become a major problem for Starbucks in certain urban areas. Sadly, the Starbucks policy is hurting its brand image of an upscale coffee bistro when it has restrooms that look and smell like the restrooms at a homeless shelter.