Have you ever bought a pack of gum or a drink you didn't want, just so you could use a business's washroom?
Well, if Starbucks is your go-to for restroom emergencies, you may find yourself out of luck the next time you're in New York.
In Manhattan, the coffee chain has been steadily closing some of its restrooms to customers, The New York Post reports. Some locations have declared toilets off-limits to the public, mainly because staff have been forced to wait in line among customers while they're on bathroom breaks.
A source, whom the Post did not name but described as "familiar with the company's New York plans," said the bathroom closures are not a stated policy of the company. Nevertheless, the source said: "Starbucks cannot be the public bathroom in the city any more."
One unnamed employee told the newspaper the cost of fixing and maintaining the bathrooms was another reason for closures. "We closed off the public bathroom because it was just too messy."
Typical Starbucks locations in the city have fewer than 20 seats, the minimum for a food establishment to be legally required to have a public restroom, The New York Post says.
The news has prompted some sympathy from online commenters. Let's face it: Public washrooms can get pretty grody.
"Can you imagine the 'mess' that is left behind by all the 'dregs' of society … kudos to StarBucks [sic]" one reader wrote on The New York Post website.
But others are indignant.
"[I] you're going to sell me something that makes me need to pee (at $4.30 a cup) then take away the bathroom, guess what? I won't drink your coffee any more … Not a great business move," another commenter wrote.
The food site Eater saw the closures as another sign that the company is no longer adhering to its home-away-from home image. Earlier this year, Eater reported that some Starbucks locations were covering their electrical outlets to prevent customers with laptops from loitering.
"First they cover the outlets, now this? Why even bother having tables any more?" Eater said.
Do restaurants – even small cafes – have an obligation to provide washroom facilities to their customers?