Starbucks CEO Mulls Mobile, Drive-Thru Only Order Options Amid Coronavirus Concerns

  • March 13, 2020 at 10:20 AM EDT
  • By Glenn Taylor
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As coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads throughout the U.S., Starbucks has a plan to aid in the “social distancing” recommended to prevent consumers from catching or spreading the virus. Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, indicated that some cafés may soon offer limited seating or only take orders via mobile or drive-thru.

“As we navigate this dynamic situation community-by-community and store-by-store, we may adapt the store experience by limiting seating to improve social distancing, enable 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 wrote in a letter to customers on March 12.

Locations in the U.S. and Canada are preparing to modify operations if needed. Starbucks already closed more than 2,000 out of its nearly 4,300 locations in China in late January as COVID-19 spread across the country, but the company has since reopened 90% of those locations for business. Other major U.S. businesses within China such as Apple, Nike and Ralph Lauren had mass store closures, with Apple shuttering all of its 42 locations and Nike and Ralph Lauren closing approximately half of theirs. Apple has since reopened all of its stores in the country.

Starbucks will close cafés in the U.S. and Canada temporarily only as a last resort, Johnson said. The retailer closed a downtown Seattle location on March 5 after one of its baristas was diagnosed with the virus, before reopening the cafe on March 9, and 13 additional employees are self-quarantined.

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Starbucks is offering “catastrophe pay” for up to 14 days to baristas who have been exposed to the virus.

There is precedent for the decision, especially if mobile-only ordering is implemented in certain stores. The coffee giant already has been testing a pickup-only store in New York City’s Penn Plaza. Customers order their drinks ahead through the Starbucks app, then come to the store to pick them up. Customers can track the progress of their order on a digital status board before picking up their coffee and food from a Starbucks barista.

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