Facts about Starbucks against free bathrooms charge them all

In May 2018, in response to protests, Starbucks changed its policies nationwide to allow anybody to sit in their stores and use the bathroom without making a purchase. Using a large panel of anonymized cellphone location data, we estimate that the policy led to a 7.3% decline in store attendance at Starbucks locations relative to other nearby coffee shops and restaurants. This decline cannot be calculated from Starbucks’ public disclosures, which lack the comparison group of other coffee shops. The decline in visits is around 84% larger for stores located near homeless shelters. The policy also affected the intensive margin of demand: remaining customers spent 4.1% less time in Starbucks relative to nearby coffee shops after the policy enactment. Wealthier customers reduced their visits more, but black and white customers were equally deterred. The policy led to fewer citations for public urination near Starbucks locations, but had no effect on other similar public order crimes. These results show the difficulties of companies attempting to provide public goods, as potential customers are crowded out by non-paying members of the public.

That is from a new paper by Umit Gurun, Jordan Nickerson, and David H. Solomon.  Can there be any doubt about the excellence of Kevin Lewis?


how would you like the daily job cleaning 'public' toilets near populations of homeless people?

You could find people to do this. You'd need to give them: Hazmat suit, powerwasher, the right to also powerwash the occupants.

Don't you know we have a hazmat suit shortage? You don't even need one anyway, just save them for healthcare workers

The reality is that homelessness and public health are best handled by government not the corporations. The private sector is the best at vanity/Veblen/inessential goods but for the essentials it is very apparent these days that it is losing out. Even something like treatment for infectious diseases doesn't make much market sense for them so they don't bother.


All of this will be resolved when President Sanders makes everything free. Every human has a right to have someone else clean up their urine and feces.

Free Starbucks coffee, too?

Yup. Get your money for nuthin and the ...

Obligatory +1 for Dire Straits reference

"Yup. Get your money for nuthin and ..."

...then you do the walk. Do the walk of life, yeah do the walk of life.

I live in New Zealand which has free healthcare and other socially-democratic policies that Sanders would approve of, and the most polluting element at the Starbucks stores here are self-righteous American tourists.

That sounds wonderful. Try the homeless of NYC or SF for a few weeks and you'll change your mind.

Harun: that's the whole point: the homeless are unpleasant in America because they are so bad off. If there were policies to help them as in all other developed nations, they are not so unpleasant to be around.

In the UK, the number of "homeless", though it goes up whenever the Conservatives are in power, includes many who are housed in temporary apartments and given benefits, and are better off than many who are employed in the US -- they would look like any other customer in Starbucks.

No. The US spends enormous amounts of money providing (or attempting t) services to homeless people, especially state and city governments. It’s not a lack of state support. They’ve tried getting every homeless person in New York into public housing, but within months most of them wander back out into the streets.

I’d bet more money is spent on homelessness in the US per homeless person than almost anywhere in Europe.

The issue is that the US spends money trying to deal with homelessness - the final result of a myriad of issues (housing prices vs wages, student debt, the drug war and prison industry, mental health, poverty, drug addiction, etc) and lack of help at earlier stages (public housing, income support, affordable education/training, unemp insurance, etc) rather than providing those services or dealing with issues beforehand -- so it is the most inefficient way of dealing with the problem, and so the problem is just a big money hole.

In the UK, for example, the problem is handled at earlier stages and in more efficient ways -- homelessness does go up every time a Conservative government is in power, coinciding with the cuts to local services and national programs (austerity); this is not to say that the cycle of Labour expansion and Conservative austerity is not beneficial -- the debt and slower growth from a runaway, never-ending Labour expansion of government would surely have devastating long-term effects if left totally unchecked, but the austerity does too when it goes on too long, and it is most notable in the rise in poverty and homelessness.

That said, the rough sleeping population is very small even today ma ny years into a Tory gov (real homelessness - the homeless population who are not rough-sleepers in the UK are sometimes better off than many who are not considered homeless in the US: I have a friend who lived for several years in "temporary housing" and was considered homeless, his one bedroom apartment was large enough to take in another friend as a roommate, and was nicer than an apartment I was renting down the street and was a more secure tenancy).

The rough-sleeping population in on e are of Los Angeles - the original Skid Row - is 4,800, which is approximately the rough-sleeping population in England. Yes, in all of England. And this is during a spike in homelessness in the UK.

"The city says that 4,800 homeless people live there, of whom 23% have an addiction and 43% have a mental illness. They are a fraction of the 50,000 homeless people estimated to live in the Los Angeles area"

See tables for US and UK here, where you can see the total rough sleepers in England has roughly doubled since 2014, from 2,414 to 4,751.

Of course, there are many more homeless than these worst-off rough sleepers - just as there are in the US - and although the Tory austerity has driven the recent spike, they too are putting action plans into place. From 2018:
"The extent of homelessness across England is a national crisis. The past three years have seen the number of people sleeping rough in England increase by 73% and is predicted to rise by 76% in the next decade. Shelter has calculated that in England 268,330 people are either rough sleeping, single people in hostels, households owed the statutory duty by a local authority or homeless households being accommodated by social services. Since December 2010, the number of households in expensive temporary accommodation alone has increased by 66%.

There has no doubt been many positive moves to address the crisis this year. The Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force in April, provides a new legislative framework for local authorities to refocus their work on preventing homelessness. In August, the Government made the welcome announcement to maintain Housing Benefit for all supported housing and set out its plan to make good on its commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027 in the Rough Sleeping Strategy, including new funding commitments for dedicated outreach teams and for emergency bed spaces."

The article goes on to discuss the underlying structural issues which need to be addressed -- but already, even under austerity, a plan based upon prevention was underway. What is being done in the US? Are the strategies dealing with the prevention, are there affordable housing programs, income support, temporary housing, crisis centers, drug addiction programs, and other support structures in place?
How does Los Angeles spend the money that it puts into fighting the homelessness problem?

The city of San Francisco spends upwards of FIVE. HUNDRED. MILLION. DOLLARS. PER. YEAR. on homelessness services, and somehow their homeless are the worst in the country.

See my comment just above. I would also add a side-comment/question: that one reason for the high homelessness in LA and San Fran is probably the nice weather, and good begging/facilities/laws no? Like, people from across the country go there to be homeless, right? Maybe?

Yes. SF weather is great, many free services, cops won't beat you.

As one of those people who sees more homeless folks than 99% of people and who has worked overseas, I can say that the reason US homeless are so bad off is our ability to force treatment on them is massively worse than overseas.

At least 1/5 of my homeless patients are in active psychosis. Something like 60% have some form of psychiatric illness (substance use disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression all being common).

Worse, the non-insane homeless population gets habituated to insanity and ends up worse off. Likewise, the sane homeless population gets victimized quite heavily.

New Zealand and the UK afford physicians much easier routes to force the use of antipsychotics. This makes the homeless population vastly easier to house, provide benefits, and police (i.e. UK homeless shelters have far less security than US ones).

If you are willing to give me a process that does not involve multiple rounds of docs, a couple of rounds of court, and in-patient hospital stays during adjudication … all with the possibility of the patient being just barely competent enough to pass in front of a judge, I could drastically improve homelessness tomorrow. If you let me continue forced medications after return to competency outside of conditional discharge programs, I could do even better.

US laws on mental health and forced treatment are among the most liberal in the world. It has a massive impact homelessness that goes well beyond any silliness about budgets.

Here is a 1987 NY Court ruling that supports your argument:


This is hardly a public good. It is excludable and the filth shows that creates a lot of congestion, therefore rivalrous.

It strikes me that some folks won't want them to poop at Starbucks, and they won't want them to poop in the street. What does that leave?

Note that poop in jail is not a completely inhumane answer.

Send them to the wilderness or jail until they get their act together. Punishing vagrancy is a genuine public good.

Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses, are they still in operation?

Scrooge was correct: Defining Deviancy Down only makes the problem worse.

I propose that anybody proposing a solution to this problem:
1: remover private property use is up to the owner to grant permission.
2. Put your money where your virtue signaling is and take a couple homeless people into your home.

The solution is to horsewhip the Mayor of the city every time someone defecates on the street. The problem would disappear in three days.

Lots of solutions to please your priors. Much easier to ignore the issue.

Or we could have elections, and let communities who want to allow homeless people to crap in the street to do so, while allowing other communities to not permit that to happen.

They're incentivized to leave the civic space that was designed for uses other than defecating and sleeping, and go to family, where they will at least be connected to people who have an affection for them despite their illness? Or perhaps to shelters, with their difficult-to-live-with rules?

Yes, that is the harder thing, for all concerned. That is probably why the left likes the status quo, and no one much fights them on it.

But I am familiar with the psychology from my own town: we must pretend that letting people trash public areas, and rendering them unpleasant for everyone else, is the harder, more virtuous path. It is the path of compassion and love, magically accomplished entirely with fine words.

"the left likes the status quo"

That is one of the most unconscionable things I've ever read here. I bet if you were pressed you could actually name five things the left wants to do about the problem.

Peri is exactly correct. In my Central California coastal lefty (80% for Obama then HRC) bums are allowed to do whatever they want wherever they want to do it. They don't like the shelter because rules and sobriety, so they camp and sh*t everywhere. We have lots of needles on the beach.

Funny those kind hearted lefties oppose every construction project and keep high density housing out of their neighborhoods.

Virtue signalling is cheap.

The left believes that the government should provide ridiculously expensive housing with few rules (and lax enforcement) and offer--but not mandate--counseling because if you change the environment, people will magically improve their habits. That was tried in 60s and it failed spectacularly, but the left believes that one more social science study will make it possible to get it right this time.


Much of the Left deeply believes in Cargo Cult magic.

I strongly sense that though it thinks of itself as secular, the left in my town - which is synonymous with the powers-that-be - believes itself to be, in the presence of a homeless person, in the presence of sanctity, of someone exalted. They are high, we are low. I am not saying they have read Foucault, or the Bible, or whatever - they don't need to have. It is the air they breathe. You can see it in their frequent insistence that it is the greatest thing in the world, that boring regular folks should be made to "see" the homeless, drug-addicted or mentally ill or both. Behold! Thus, on this mystical grounds that we must see and have an interior reaction or spiritual experience or awakening, the ownership of the public sphere by "People Experiencing Homelessness" (that isn't even the right neologism but I'm having trouble remembering it right now, but of course I do know, "homeless" is not an acceptable term any longer) absolutely cannot be contested. But more than that, if people so "see" and propose solutions, these must not be allowed to work. Not even their own proposed "solutions," the ones that issue from folks who make their secure non-profit living off the existence of the homeless. These solutions attach the more virtue to their holders, the more they are obviously doomed. Thus, no one may be compelled to do anything. The police may not patrol the drug market surrounding the downtown resource center for the homeless. The strange, sometimes-lethal drugs must be sold and consumed. City's new lax policies must by word-of-mouth attract more and more homeless people, or other polities to direct them here, so that the problem becomes truly huge and harder to solve by the week. Too hard ro solve: and anyway, is it not your "unconscionable" bourgeouis illusion that there even is a problem ... why, there is nothing to solve! They're just people (and trash, and stabbings, and fires ... NO! They're just people!). And finally: the city's current scheme: to buy motels and - in some years' time, it will be many years, they move very slowly here - have fitted them out to give each unhoused person a room of their own, forever. To offer them conformity.

My own idea, emailed twice to all councilmembers and mayor, without response, was to "meet them where they are at," sorta honor what many street people seem to prefer and to actually be best at - camping/living in all weathers; I have often seen them shoplifting items from the camping aisle at Walmart, the trick is to go out through the garden department - and take an abandoned Home Depot property of some twenty acres, that the city bought twelve years ago and so it yields - and will not, probably ever - no tax revenue; turn the whole into a campground, with bathrooms; plant some trees to make it pleasanter ... so police, rather than being social workers, may simply tell the campers if you do not care to go to the shelter, this is where you may live, and only here. We have one campground in the area, in one little old state park now enmeshed in sprawl; and I can attest from volunteering there that it is full every single night of the year.

There is a school across the street from the old HD - also disused, perfect! - and that is where the "services" everyone is keen to offer could go.

But no, by recognizing that the homeless here are keen campers, and not so good with structure beyond that, well - it's almost like seeing them as the people they are, and not saints.

Also, it being substantially cheaper a notion than the 65 million in city dollars secured for the homeless in this year's budget, for the first round of motel-buying and so forth - it offers no quasi-religious feeling of sacrifice.

I am not surprised my proposal was ignored.

"That is one of the most unconscionable things I've ever read here."

No, that just observing that actions of the left, lovers of big government. For some reason every issue that's important to them has a large government fix to it. Most of the time it really does not look like they care about the problem, but more about the government involvement that they are proposing.

Correct. It is not a public good. The study tracked attendance, but did not track sales. If someone offers you a "free good" many people purchase something under a feeling of reciprocity, so we don't know whether Starbucks is worse off or better off from this change.

How many times have you stopped at a gas station, not purchased gas, used the bathroom, and, on the way out, purchased some candy?

"we estimate that the policy led to a 7.3% decline in store attendance at Starbucks locations relative to other nearby coffee shops and restaurants"

Assuming attendance is associated with sales.

Also, since attendance is down, and some of the new people are not spending, paying customers must be down by a multiple of non spending population.


The authors don't assume: " the correlation between our average quarterly change in cellphone visitors and Starbucks reported Americas quarterly comparable store sales growth is 0.85"

They also show visitors spend less time in the store after the bathroom policy change.

Top of the Kevin Lewis link:

"Affluent Americans have disproportionate influence over policymaking and often use their power to advance conservative economic policies that increase inequality. I show that this behavior is partially driven by affluent Americans' desire for social status."

It strikes me that this might be a rather perverse selection effect. I know quite wealthy, but also quite low-key, people. They aren't active in politics, and seek status and other (normal, healthy) ways, like having a nice garden or running in a marathon.

As a case in point, the wealthy son of a congressman was a wonderful little league coach for our kid. Some summers we compete with that family growing tomatoes, lol.

The problem, if I may frame it thus, is that a particular kind of rich person is unhappy, and seeks status or higher position in antisocial ways.

Why for instance did Thiel go Trump 2020? Was he that bad a judge of character or intelligence? Or did low character and intelligence not matter in Thiel's pursuit of something else..

Wicket slam on Bloomberg. Nice.

I don't mind anyone judging him or anyone else in that framework, but when looked at that way some people do prove to have more altruistic and pro-social values.

Bill Gates as poster child for that.

On the eighth day, Almighty God looked down on HIs creation and said, ‘I need a tiny, soulless technocrat to tell everyone else how to live their lives.’ And, He created (out of a clod of spucatum tauri) Midget Michael.

“If only Bloomberg had hired Russians to buy $100,000 in barely literate Facebook ads, instead of spending $700 MILLION, he’d be president now. That’s what the media have told us for 3+ years.” Sean Davis

It's kind of a tell, when someone talks about the $100k in ads, but not Russia's Internet Research Agency, the hacking of the DNC, the subversion of WikiLeaks, or the papers on Putin's desk.

But apparently Russia is vested in Trump/Sanders again..


What's wrong with you?

Why can't you see on the one hand, the Mueller report, and on the other an irrational response to it?

Are you broken in a particular way that everything must always be equal? Both sides?

A short circuit of some kind?

Do you have a kid? If so, that is concerning.

1. Affluent Americans do not have an especially disproportionate influence over policy-making. E.g., the Gilens-Page study that so many people cite has been ripped to shreds.

2. Did the author bother to consider that status competition is what helps to motivate rich people like Thiel, Gates, Bezos to create the wealth that envious people constantly complain about?

We want a set of social norms in which the Gateses and Soroses and Bloombergs and Zuckerbergs and Kochs and such gain the most status by doing actually beneficial things. Carnegie did his post-robber-barron virtue signaling by building libraries and schools. Gates is doing his by funding malaria vaccines and fighting disease and poverty in poor countries. We want more of that--ideally, every ambitious billionaire will, after his decades of ruthless winning at all costs, find it necessary or socially beneficial to spend some of his vast wealth actually making the world a better place.

Manhattan Starbucks actually had an easy-going open-door/open-restroom policy back in the early 2000s but gradually got away from that, I suppose as more of the wrong people people began taking advantage of it.

When I was mystery shopping various NYC businesses I relied on Starbucks as a place to get in out of the cold between assignments, jot down some notes and use the restroom while rarely ordering anything. I even mystery-shopped numerous Starbucks, and aside from some graffiti or mechanical problems the restrooms were generally OK. But times I guess have changed and now their sunny former policy is being forced back upon them.

I was in NYC visiting once when an attractive white homeless girl rushed into a deli, said "I gotta pee!" and when the store owner shooed her away, I told her to go to a fast food joint down the street. It's the least I could have done. In Manila you can pee in public without reprisal, and in the Greek countryside too, not so much in the city. No public toilets in any of these countries. Actually public garbage bins are also rare in Greece and Manila, people just toss stuff in the street (same in the countryside).

Are you a professional?

I am, and from my experience they don't care about you useing the restroom. The policy is in place to keep kids, tourist, and the homeless out. That was how we enforced our bathroom policy at a similar chain coffee store when I worked there.

Breaking news: woke capitalism hurts profitability (just as Milton Friedman warned).

7.3%; 84%; 4.1%

Apropos to nothing. Last night, I watched an (original) Star Trek TV episode wherein Kirk and Spock were in a serious bind, two against a Klingon army. Spock's "imprecise" estimation of their chances of success/survival was 1 in 7,400.4. Comedy?

This makes me wonder if this finding transfers to other businesses such as retail gas stations.

I get how this is bad for Starbucks, but the wealthier people have other options, and it’s a gain for poorer people. Corporations taking a financial hit to provide a modest public service strikes me as a good thing.

Yes, corporations should be forced to give away free stuff and be enablers. That's true compassion. Feel the Bern!

Starbucks was forced? Or did a $100 billion company decide it made sense to do it because it could make more money in the long run?

Starbucks is not making any more money in the long run, but all companies should be forced to follow its lead and put people before profits. Feel the Bern!

Their founder and CEO had political ambitions, and the change in policy was IMO heavily influenced by that fact.

Option 3: they made a choice, and chose poorly. This will cost them money over not doing it, even though they thought it was a good idea at the time

Then why not quietly change the policy. If Option 3 is true and Starbucks is still a profit-driven entity responsible to shareholders, then it is malpractice to not change the policy.

*quietly* change one of the most famous policy changes a restaurant has made in the past decade? They can't

But they probably will do it in this decade, attention be damned.

There are definitely still starbucks that have a pin code for the restroom. Whether that's official policy or just something the local manager did to keep homeless
people from camping out in there, I don't know.

Starbuck had to choose between being boycotted or having filthy toilets. Both scenarios were less profitable than before the incident of a few years ago. The management decided this was the lesser of two evils, although I suspect they are not so sure now.

The sanction of the victim has been institutionalized by the woke left. In today WaPo there is an article about the kamikazes of wokeness, those morons that virtue-signal through squandering the fortunes left by their hard-working and successful ancestors. Not even Rand could have imagined it. I am almost embarrassed by their dumbness.

They're probably making more money than they would have. And that's all that matters. Ayn Rand would be proud.

Why do Starbucks locations not simply hand out large paper cups (without the lids) for free?

Was this unexpected? And why is it a problem if Starbucks makes a bit less profit if it helps out the community? You'd have to be a real Scrooge to think otherwise.

Or a shareholder...

Less customers means shorter order waiting times for the remaining 90+ % customers. The remaining customers should be quite upset about it.

How old will MB be in 2024? 81?

Are you also a New York City taxpayer? If so, you individually owe $63,000 (Chicago taxpayers are a distant second - they owe $37,00 each). N.B. NYC can't print money as can the Fed for the national government. Not to worry - you can leave NYC and screw up Florida.

Now THAT is funny!

It would have been interesting to measure the negative externality on neighboring businesses very close to Starbucks (say, within eyesight). The shortest distance range that the study measures is 0-2km.

About ten years ago, my youngest son was cited/ticketed/court appearance for public urination at the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade.

The warden and I flipped out.

I called my lawyer who said he didn't need representation unless he was arrested; and not to plead to anything without representation. One of the lawyers at work [had worked in the NYC DA's office] said he likely wasn't in trouble unless he had caused property damage. Thankfully, it all worked out.

No wonder I have either gray or no hair.

Carnegie became famous and widely admired for founding libraries. So why doesn't Bill Gates found public loos?

"Carnegie became famous and widely admired for founding libraries. So why doesn't Bill Gates found public loos?"

Public loos are no longer possible. For one thing, they all have to be handicap-accessible, which triples the cost and therefore you can't have them. Because it's better that no one should have access to public toilets than that 98% of the population should have access. (I'm surprised public libraries are not obligated to make 100% of their materials accessible (although many do so to some extent by offering electronic text-to-speech readers, at least for in-library use).

And even if the loos were free, there's legal liability (what if you stab yourself on a discarded syringe?). Which no one will assume unless they must.

And then there are security issues. It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time when the NYC subway stations offered public bathrooms. I can't imagine how this could ever have worked, and indeed they were all closed because too many people got mugged in them. Nonetheless they were open for decades, and if people had been afraid to use them presumably they would have been closed, for why keep something open that no one uses?

Perhaps what's really needed is a return of pay toilets? (Even though they'd now have the burden that all must be accessible.) Because if the service is worth it to you then you'd be willing to pay for it, wouldn't you?

Or, you could just buy the cheapest item the business offers, throw it out, and use their facility.

There is a not-so-vast canon of scientific papers about how to provide better public toilet infrastructure.

I studied this and noticed:
While for statists issues like housing, health insurance, wages, and transport are mostly inpenetrable for market-based arguments – the issue of public restrooms immediatly opens them up for the merits of order by pricing.

Maybe because the impact of a free-for-all are immediatly visible, and also because "immediatly visible" means no (usable) infrastructure at all…

Three top (scientifically proven) approaches:

1) The cheap one: Putting a restroom attendant in the front (tips on display)

2) If you can afford the upfront investment: install gates, which you can only enter upon paying a fee.

3) If #2 applies to you but your main business isn't restrooms: Make that fee partially refundable as a coupon, redeemable at your business. That way you put a socio-normative price tag on the action of ruining a stall, as people will most likely not redeem a coupon if they have to face the people they've just did a number on.

Can this be explained simply by the rise in Order Ahead sales through the Starbucks App which tended to rise around that time period? It'll also explain why they saw the decline more for affluent customers and a decline in time spent in the store. Though the higher decline for places closer to homeless shelters probably can't be explained by app sales.

Was in a Starbucks in NYC a few weeks ago. Had to use the bathroom twice in a span of 1.5 hours. Both times I was first in line and had to wait upwards of 15 minutes for a single person to come out. Pretty obvious they were shooting up drugs of some kind ... had the faucet running the entire time. Needless to say, I dislike the don't-need-to-pay policy.

Some homeless folks in Santa Monica/Venice Beach use library, Starbucks, fast-food places, etc., restrooms for bathing, washing clothes. The doors are locked while they are doing that so the facilities are closed to everyone else, paying customers of course.
A viable solution needs to take consideration of the reality that if homeless folks don't have certain facilities they are going to be compelled by nature to whatever is available. God surely must have loved poor people. He made so many of them. He must have loved drug addicts too.

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