Starbucks Closes Stores to Carryout Customers After Employee Pressure

The coffee chain also announced that all employees would be paid for 30 days whether they came to work or not.

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, we’ve seen unprecedented measures to curb the virus’s spread. For restaurants, that’s generally meant axing dine-in options and accepting only carryout and delivery. But as Starbucks has learned, sometimes even carryout can put customers and employees at risk—and so on Friday, the coffee giant announced it was going a step further, limiting the majority of U.S. stores to only drive-thru and delivery orders.

In an open letter to Starbucks partners (the company’s term for workers), Rossann Williams — EVP and president of U.S. company-operated business and Canada — explained that, after a live discussion with nearly 6,000 employees, “I heard two things very clearly during our conversation: your concerns for safety and the need for clarity around COVID-19 catastrophe pay.”

A closed Starbucks store on the 3rd Street promenade in Santa Monica, CA.
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor/Getty Images

For the former, Williams wrote, “We’ve all recognized over the last week the challenges and complexities of trying to reduce ‘social gathering’ in our cafés even as we removed furniture and reduced our services to grab-and-go. While we have worked hard to exceed any public health requirements, our cafes in some areas are experiencing high traffic, and we need to do more to prevent the spread of this virus.” She then continued, “Today [March 20], we are making the decision to close access to our cafes altogether for two weeks and limiting our services to Drive Thru only. Some exceptions will be made for those cafés serving in or around hospitals and health care centers in our efforts to serve frontline responders and health care workers. These changes apply to our company-operated stores in the U.S. and Canada, and our licensed partners will make decisions for their properties.

As Nation’s Restaurant News pointed out, about 60 percent of Starbucks’ U.S. locations offer drive-thru, and delivery is available in about 50 markets—meaning though drive-thru lines could become unwieldy, plenty of people will still be able to get their coffee.

Later in the letter, Williams discussed what she saw as the importance of trying to stay open despite these difficulties. “Lattes aren’t ‘essential.’ But in times of crisis, the government asks convenient food and beverage outlets to remain open when possible for pickup, Drive Thru, or delivery. Like grocery stores, gas stations, and other daily conveniences, our stores are part of a support system the government is counting on to be in service to the community,” she wrote. “Each ‘shelter in place’ and other city or state closure notices that have been announced (as of today) explicitly call for convenient food establishments to remain open, if possible. This is especially important to serve thousands of frontline responders and health care workers who are on the front line, which is why our stores in or around hospitals, or communities with limited food options, will remain open with partners who are explicitly choosing to continue to serve.”

Speaking of choosing to serve, this choice was part of Williams's second major announcement: an update to Starbucks' pay policies. “Any partner serving in our stores that remain open are there because they want to be there to serve our community at this time,” she explained. “To guarantee that, we are going to pay all store partners for the next 30 days, whether you come to work or choose to stay home. We understand the pressure you may feel, and we hope this brings you some reassurance that, especially in difficult times, we are a different kind of company.”

Williams also announced changes to the Care@Work benefit and CUP Fund grants to “help with critical issues like childcare and financial hardship.” Then, yesterday, Starbucks further explained, “Partners who are able and choose to continue to come to work will be eligible for Starbucks Service Pay, an additional $3 per hour for shifts worked as scheduled Mar. 21 - Apr. 19.”

Despite the offer of paid leave, on Sunday, Starbucks CEO and President Kevin Johnson provided his take on what he saw. “On Saturday morning, something incredible happened. Our partners in every region around the U.S. and Canada showed up before dawn to open drive-thru-only experiences at their stores. They filled in for each other at short-staffed nearby stores. Our stores that could open, did. Our partners showed up. They showed up for their communities,” he wrote on the Starbucks website. “It is the responsibility of every business to care for its employees during this time of uncertainty, shared sacrifice, and common cause. I hope to see many business leaders across this country doing all they can to retain jobs, pay employees, continue benefits, and demonstrate compassion as they make critical decisions.”

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