Previously Starbucks’ customer base had its own individual criteria for choosing a favorite coffee spot among the company’s many outlets. It might be a comely barista, the pastry selection or the free Wi-Fi signal’s clarity.
For the immediate future, however, I suggest abandoning all criteria but one: The strength of the cellphone connection, because chances are you’re going to need it.
Since two trespassers were arrested in a downtown Philadelphia Starbucks in April, corporate has been doing the Social Justice Limbo where management sees just how far it can bend over backwards and still maintain a functioning business.
Now that headquarters has decreed it’s ‘Come One, Come All’, everyone is welcome to use the bathroom, occupy furniture and log on to the Internet. If they happen to buy something, so much the better, but it’s no longer required.
It’s a brave new business model that’s a combination of temporary office suite and homeless day shelter.
Last week saw the company issue new guidelines for employees who might want to tempt fate and call 911. It’s a bureaucrat’s dream. The decision-making process includes observation, self-doubt, second-guessing, second opinions, re-checking the manual, calling corporate and then hoping the problem went away while the staff was negotiating with itself.
Incidents that qualify for an immediate 911 include: Fire, robbery, selling drugs, destruction of store property or a gas leak (although God help the employee if the leak was simply Venti bean burrito exhaust).
Other incidents are a judgment call and require a corporate-choreographed decision-making process. First the ‘partner,’ as Starbucks laughingly calls its employees, is to “assess” the ‘guest’s’ behavior. Is it culturally appropriate or is it cultural appropriation? It’s important for the partner to separate the behavior from the individual. The process resembles Evangelicals and homosexuality – hate the sin, while loving the sinner.
Behaviors that are currently held in corporate disrepute include “being unreasonably noisy, viewing inappropriate media, verbally abusing people, making unwanted sexual advances and indecent exposure.”
Step three of the pre-emergency call journey is the partner “[considering] how any decision will affect the customer’s experience.” Will not cursing out the person who tripped over his shopping cart mean the guest suffers increased stress? Will he/she/zir experience heightened sexual tension if they’re prevented from groping an adjacent guest? And could the partner be judgmentally assuming “indecent exposure” when the guest was only trying to increase air circulation?
Assuming the incident hasn’t been resolved by customers acting on their own initiative, the partner will then ponder “whether the customer or situation is safe to approach and whether an employee’s chosen response would be the same for any customer in the same circumstance.”
Before this glacial minuet brings the partner within hailing distance of the disruptive guest, another partner must be asked to “observe and verify” the behavior. Only then is management to approach and introduce themselves and ask for the person’s name.
In no time at all I predict Starbucks will be home to the type of colorful human-interest stories – often featuring bodycam footage – that are commonly associated with Waffle House and Walmart parking lots. As one observer commented to CBS, the new Starbucks “will be a homeless camp. But at least we won’t have to deal with them on the street.”
That’s the current action plan, but savvy Starbucks employees know corporate policy can change on a dime. The Philly manager was following store policy when she called the cops, but that didn’t stop her from being fired when the media called corporate.
The real partner policy will be a series of informal questions designed to insure they keep their job. The first will be: Is the unruly guest a minority or passing as one? If the answer is ‘yes,’ the call decision is ‘no.’
If the guest isn’t a minority, but is also not wearing a MAGA hat, the partner must investigate further. Is the guest part of a protected group that may include whites? This normally involves something of a sexual nature and may require the use of intuition, Gaydar or checking for wallets attached to pants with a chain.
If the answer is even a remotely possible ‘yes’ the call is still a ‘no.’
The truth is no Starbucks employee was ever fired for the customer calling 911, and since under new policy the customer is always right, let them make the call.
And all this is before Tuesday’s shutdown of all Starbucks’ outlets for “Re-Education Day” where highly paid trainers hectored the white partners in an attempt to stamp out “unconscious bias.”
My last prediction is once that’s complete, all 175,000 Starbucks employees will be easy to spot: They’re the people not on the phone when all hell breaks loose.