Starbucks Is Going Drive-Thru Only After Employees Petitioned Because of Coronavirus

March 20, 2020 Off By Emma Ockerman

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Starbucks will temporarily close the inside of its North American locations for two weeks, the company said Friday — after days of pushback from employees. Drive-thrus will remain open and offer delivery.

Employees are guaranteed pay for the next 30 days even if they decline to come into work at continuing locations. Cafes near hospitals and health care centers will remain open to serve health care workers combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

“Any partner serving in our stores that remain open will be there because they want to be there to serve our community at this time,” Rossann Williams, executive vice president of Starbucks and head of U.S. retail, said in a statement posted online.

Earlier this week, Starbucks employees launched a petition urging the coffee juggernaut to close temporarily because of the outbreak, as other retailers have done. The company had transitioned to a “to-go” model, which meant customers could come up to a cafe counter and order if they promptly left. But employees stressed to VICE News that customers weren’t following those rules and that they felt they were putting themselves at risk daily.

The petition, written by Philadelphia-based barista Anyia Johnson, garnered nearly 35,000 signatures from employees and customers alike to better protect the safety of the company’s “partners” — what Starbucks calls its employees — and customers. Johnson told VICE News Wednesday: “Coffee is not essential at all. Starbucks is not essential. And yet we’re still open.”

In Friday’s corporate announcement, Williams, the Starbucks executive, said that aspects of the business were essential to first responders and health care workers. Shelter-in-place orders so far have also asked pickup and drive-thru retail food locations remain open if possible.

“Let’s be real,” Williams said. “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.

Editor's note 3/20: This story and headline have been updated to clarify that stores are not fully closing as well as who signed the employee's petition.

Cover: General overall view of closed Starbucks Coffee store at The Shops at Montebello mall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Montebello, Calif. California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered the state's 40 million residents to stay at home and shelter in place. (Kirby Lee via AP)