In an open letter to customers yesterday, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson laid out several possibilities for dealing with COVID-19 in the United States based on the “considerable insights” the company has gleaned from its experiences in China. The possibilities range from modifying operations by “limiting seating in order to improve social distancing” between customers, to temporarily closing a location.
“Starbucks has long marketed itself as a social gathering spot -- a ‘third place’ between work and home, a symbol of normalcy for millions of people who buy coffee every day. Its bustling cafes are designed to build community and promote interaction between customers and baristas,” point out David Yaffe-Bellany and Noam Scheiber for The New York Times.
“In recent days, however, that philosophy has come up against the threat of a rapidly spreading pandemic that has made people anxious about gathering in public places and sent shock waves through the global economy,” Yaffe-Bellamy and Scheiber add.
“At Starbucks, we believe it is our role and responsibility during this time to prioritize two things: the health and well-being of our customers and partners while also playing a constructive role in supporting local health officials and government leaders as they work to contain the virus. Through that lens, we will continue to make decisions with vigilance and courage informed by the latest science-based information and guided by Our Mission and Values,” Johnson states in the letter.
“Johnson said that the company will close a store temporarily as a last resort. Starbucks closed a downtown Seattle location on March 5 after one of its baristas was diagnosed with the virus. The cafe reopened Monday morning. Thirteen additional employees are self-quarantined,” CNBC’s Amelia Lucas writes.
In China, the company closed more than half of its its 4,292 stores at the peak of the coronavirus’ impact there in January, but most have reopened.
“Earlier this month, the company said the virus slashed its China revenue by millions of dollars, and it was suspending its effort to open new stores in the country,” Dan Weil writes for The Street.
Other possibilities in the U.S. include enabling “mobile order-only scenarios for pickup via the Starbucks App or delivery via Uber Eats, or in some cases only the Drive Thru will be open,” Johnson writes.
On Wednesday, Starbucks said “that it would pay any U.S. workers in a 14-day quarantine after exposure to the coronavirus. Starbucks also extended the benefit to all employees who are above the age of 60, pregnant or have underlying health conditions,” Heather Haddon writes for The Wall Street Journal.
“Our commitment is to always do what’s best for you, our customers and our communities,’ Rossann Williams, executive vice president for Starbucks stores in the U.S. and Canada, said in a letter to employees.
“Starbucks already granted paid sick leave and insurance to employees who work at least 20 hours a week. But not all franchisees extend all the same benefits as company-owned stores. Starbucks owns 8,867 cafes in the U.S., and licenses an additional 6,321 to franchisees,” Haddon observes.
“Starbucks has been keeping customers and employees up to date as the coronavirus situation worsens. Earlier this week, the company announced the first temporary closure and quarantine of a store after an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19. Last week, the company also announced that it would be pausing its ‘for here’ personal cup program but still offer the discount,” Joanna Fantozzi points out for Nation’s Restaurant News.
CEO Johnson’s letter yesterday “included important PR tactics. First, it had a compassionate tone. ‘Our hearts go out to all who have been affected by the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19),’ he wrote,” Seth Arenstein writes for PR News.
“Quickly, he got down to business. Using clear prose, he wrote that Starbucks will be ‘limiting seating to improve social distancing, enable mobile order-only scenarios for pickup,’ or in some cases drive-thru. As a last resort, Starbucks will close a store ‘if we feel it is in the best interest of our customers and partners, or if we are directed to do so by government authorities,’” Arenstein continues.
“Johnson’s missive also communicated hope. He noted 90% of its Chinese stores have reopened,” Arenstein adds.