- Starbucks will require all customers to wear masks while visiting its company-owned U.S. locations beginning Wednesday, the chain said on its website.
- In jurisdictions where masks requirements are not in place, customers who are not wearing masks can order from the drive-thru, via curbside pickup or delivery.
- On its website, the company said it "is committed to playing a constructive role in supporting health and government officials as they work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."
Starbucks’ announcement comes as a growing number of states have put mask mandates in place following skyrocketing cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. Wearing face coverings in public can prevent the spread of the virus, especially if someone is asymptomatic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A report published in Health Affairs estimates that mask mandates already in place may have prevented as many as 450,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S.
A few national retailers have put a mask mandate in place for customers, including Costco, Dollar Tree, Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens and CVS. Starbucks seems to be the only national restaurant chain to make such a move. But not all customers have been willing to comply. Social media is riddled with video examples of angry customers refusing to wear a mask at retailers and restaurants alike. This creates a challenge for restaurant workers over how to handle such customers. Should restaurant employees, many of whom make minimum wage, be the enforcers of a mask mandate and risk potential verbal conflict, or worse?
According to Business Insider, some restaurants have closed over this very issue. Hugo’s Tacos, for example, closed after its employees were "harassed, called names and had objects and liquids thrown at them." A California McDonald’s employee was grabbed and assaulted by a customer after telling him to wear a mask in the drive-thru. A Starbucks' barista was assaulted by a customer in Texas after asking the man to wear a mask while a California Starbucks barista was shamed by a customer on social media for denying the customer service when she refused to wear a mask.
McDonald’s extensive reopening playbook includes "talking points for confronting customers" who don’t want to follow guidelines, according to the Wall Street Journal, and the assumption is that there is some level of training that goes into handling such customers. But training and talking points won’t necessarily stop an angry customer from verbally or physically assaulting an employee.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association sent a letter to the National Governors Association in early July urging governors to require consumers who aren't encumbered by a medical condition to wear face masks. The RILA said the patchwork of state and local rules has made it a challenge for companies to enforce their own policies, adding that retailers are "alarmed with the instances of hostility and violence frontline employees are experiencing by a vocal minority of customers who are under the misguided impression that wearing a mask is a violation of their civil liberties."
On its website, Starbucks said its mask mandate decision is part of its "continued effort in prioritizing the health and well-being of partners and customers." However, as some highly visible scenarios have revealed, that may be easier to achieve if its employees aren’t the ones enforcing the mandate.