For as long as I can remember, most businesses seem to have had the same restroom policy: Bathrooms are for paying customers only. That’s probably your policy, right? Well, if that’s the case, you may want to reconsider. Starbucks has.
The giant coffee chain recently announced that anyone can use the bathrooms in their stores, regardless of whether they purchase anything.
“We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision 100% 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,” said Howard Schultz, the company’s executive chairman, as quoted in USA TODAY.
This move, of course, comes after the company’s embarrassing incident in Philadelphia when the police were called on two men who were accused of trespassing, after using the bathroom and waiting for a friend without purchasing anything.
Starbucks isn’t the only organization facing this issue. As I write this, officials in Santa Fe, New Mexico, have been experimenting with a program they call Happy Toilet (that name could use a little work), where shopkeepers in the main business district are voluntarily opening up their bathrooms to the general public in exchange for reimbursement from the city. Organizers argue that the program — which emulates a similar program in Germany — will help increase foot traffic in stores and make it easier for the town’s retirement-age population to do their shopping without worrying about the location of a nearby restroom.
“People need a restroom, especially visitors who don’t have houses a few blocks or a few miles away,” one local merchant said in a report from the Santa Fe New Mexican. “And we won’t have people buying things if their bladder hurts them.”
Portland, Cincinnati, Boston, and Washington D.C. have also launched programs to provide more public facilities in shopping areas, according to the same report. Sharing apps like Lulu that allow merchants and restaurants to make their bathrooms available for a fee are also starting to gain popularity.
So, what about your business?
There are many good reasons why you should only make your bathrooms available to paying customers. You’re not a train station, right? You sell clothes or cosmetics, and your business isn’t there to provide bathroom facilities to the general public, for goodness’ sake. Even if you’re in the food trade and you let nonpaying customers use the facilities, there’s a potential risk of people loitering in your store, causing disruption or bothering other paying customers. There’s an added cost for supplies. And what if someone accidentally slips or hurts themselves while using your bathroom — who’s liable?
But, hey, it’s 2018, and these very reasonable excuses just aren’t going to cut it in today’s environment. Look at what happened at Starbucks. A store manager was forced to decide on the intent of the two men who entered the store. You don’t need that kind of PR, do you? You also don’t want to put your employees in the same situation. Who are we — or your employees — to judge another person? The easiest thing to do is to do what Starbucks is doing: Just let that person use your bathroom and hope that he or she then goes on their way.
The takeaway is this: It’s time to revisit your bathroom policy. Consider changing it to allow the general public to use your restrooms, regardless of whether they make a purchase or not. That’s clearly the growing trend.