By Heather Haddon 

Starbucks Corp. will require customers in the U.S. to wear masks at company-operated stores starting next week, as retailers look to keep employees and patrons safe amid rising coronavirus cases in parts of the country.

Customers will have to wear masks in about 8,900 stores Starbucks runs beginning July 15, the company said in a blog post Thursday. The number of new coronavirus cases have hit new daily highs this week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and hospitalizations are straining hospital systems in several states.

Companies with consumer businesses have faced many challenges in trying to figure out how to safely operate stores during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the virus spread earlier this spring, some retailers and restaurant chains that stayed open had to race to buy masks and other protective equipment for employees.

Costco Wholesale Corp. in May faced criticism and a boycott over its decision to require that all customers wear a mask. Employees and security guards have faced attacks by some patrons who refused to cover their faces.

Starbucks is sending signage about the new mask requirement to store managers and offering them resources on how to de-escalate situations where customers won't wear masks, the Seattle-based company said in a message to employees viewed by The Wall Street Journal. In some cases, workers may have to "respectfully refuse service with kindness," according to the memo.

"We want the focus on partner and customer safety to guide us, and do so in a way that ensures you are feeling supported," Starbucks said in the message.

Some Starbucks workers who already must require customers wear masks because of local rules say some patrons have resisted the mandates. One Michigan barista said enforcing the policy has been uncomfortable, and she is looking for new employment after more than a decade with the coffee company.

"I fully expected one woman to throw her drink at me. I didn't sign on for this. I don't like not feeling safe at work," the barista told the Journal.

A Starbucks spokesman declined to comment about any individual workers but said the company is making sure employees have the support they need.

In its blog post, Starbucks 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."

At locations where local government mandates for masks aren't in place, customers who don't wear masks will be able to order items via drive-through windows, delivery or by using the company's curbside pickup option, Starbucks said.

The pandemic has forced other changes at Starbucks. Last month, the company said it was encouraging employees to take unpaid leave until September because it was keeping dining areas closed at most of its cafes in the U.S. In May, the chain reopened stores with reduced operations and lowered worker hours.

Starbucks also said in June that it would close, renovate or move 400 traditional cafes in the U.S. and Canada over an 18-month period and would aim to open 40 to 50 pickup-only locations.

In addition to running its own stores, there are about 6,350 Starbucks locations operated by outside companies under license agreements. The company shares policies with licensees, but it is their choice whether they implement them, the spokesman said.

Micah Maidenberg contributed to this article.

Write to Heather Haddon at heather.haddon@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 09, 2020 18:44 ET (22:44 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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