Can You Sit in Starbucks Without Buying Anything?

Can You Sit in Starbucks Without Buying Anything

Studying? Reading? Writing? Mindless scrolling? Maybe just need to run to the bathroom? You can pretty much do it all at Starbucks. The atmosphere is usually pretty calm and relaxing. Most of Starbucks’ stores even have comfortable seating—and WiFi. 

It’s important to have access to restrooms or maybe a safe place to have a meeting, take a call, or even just read a book. But can you enjoy these benefits and just sit in Starbucks without buying anything?

In 2018, Starbucks released the “third place policy,” which welcomes paying and non-paying customers to use their spaces, including seating. The policy is part of Starbucks’ commitment to the mission “to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Key Takeaways

  • Paying and non-paying customers are welcome in Starbucks’ spaces.
  • Friendly employees don’t mind non-paying customers using their facilities.
  • There are limited alternatives for free seating.

Continue reading to learn more about Starbucks’ policy on sitting in their stores and what happens if you don’t pay.

Starbucks’ Official Seating Policy: A Controversial History

What started as a simple attempt to use the restroom escalated quickly and led to outrage and accusations of racism directed at Starbucks. A Starbucks manager was terminated following a 2018 incident where two black men were asked to leave while they waited for a client to arrive. 

It all began when the men refused to leave after asking to use the restroom without placing an order, which staff told police, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. According to employees at the time, this was against Starbucks’ policy. 

Starbucks Reacts!

It wasn’t long before Starbucks took action. Seeing the error of their ways—more so, their current policy—Starbucks offered their doors to anyone and everyone. In an attempt to align with their mission statement, the “third place policy” was created.

Starbucks Official Seating Policy: What You Need to Know

Starbucks’ mission statement is quite clear: to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. It was also clear that the old policy didn’t align with the coffee company’s mission. 

Now, the new policy welcomes community members with open arms. The policy allows both paying and non-paying customers to use any and all Starbucks facilities, including restrooms and seating. Starbucks does require patrons who use their facilities to help them make a “safe and welcome space” by following these guidelines:  

“When in our stores:   

Use our Spaces as Intended

  • Sleeping, smoking, consuming alcohol, drug use or improper use of restrooms is not permitted.

Be Considerate of Our Partners and other Customers

  • Loud or unreasonable noise or behaviors that are disruptive to others are not tolerated.

Communicate with Respect

  • Obscene, harassing, abusive language, hate speech, racial slurs, gestures or actions are unacceptable.

Act Responsibly

  • Violating any federal, state or local law, regulation or ordinance, including any applicable public health mandate, is prohibited.”

The Experience of Non-Paying Customers at Starbucks

The idea of a third place is something most of us can get behind. The “third place” is meant to be a safe place, a place between home and work. So, the expectation of a relaxing environment that you don’t have to pay to experience or worry about the stresses of day-to-day life is one that Starbucks insists they strive to meet. 

A Positive Response

Most customers really enjoy this new policy, taking to Reddit to discuss the matter. 

User FanboiRyu asks: 

“How does everyone feel about the Third Place Policy? I know that Starbucks made official the fact that non-paying customers can use the space as well. Of course, I will never use it to my advantage, I feel like a coffee shop is a shop for a reason. But am wondering if anyone actually used this to their advantage (i.e., came in without buying anything and staying for hours). And to partners, how do you feel it what do you think when someone actually does this?”

The responses are mostly positive, with one user saying: “I’m cool with it.” Another says, “Everyone is welcome. Loiter to your heart’s content…” 

This policy has been a lifesaver for many students and work-from-home employees looking to get out of their houses for a few hours or without Wifi. It’s beneficial for travelers who just need to run to the restroom or enjoy the sunshine in a comfortable seat before hitting the road again. 

An Unfortunate Downside

Unfortunately, the policy has become somewhat of an issue when it comes to the more crowded Starbucks stores. The lack of seating for paying customers has led to some annoyance from the staff and paying customers. It also unintentionally welcomes a dangerous crowd that it seems Starbucks just didn’t foresee.

Most of the non-paying customers enjoy the use of the facilities and follow the guidelines appropriately. However, with some of the more busy stores, paying customers are finding it difficult to grab a seat.

“A lot of times in my city, seats are taken. Maybe sometimes a seat in between two people on those communal tables, but it’s hard to find a seat. I end up always having to resort to the patio. 😩” says the Reddit poster. 

There are also concerns of drug usage and paraphernalia that some of the more bothersome characters leave behind. Another Reddit post reads: “The company is committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome. This includes the junkies that like to shoot up in my store’s bathroom. They leave us wonderful gifts such blood splatter and used needles.”

This obviously leaves customers concerned about the people Starbucks is allowing to take advantage of their facilities. It also leaves them wondering if they are even safe in a Starbucks store. 

Perspectives from Starbucks Employees and Managers

Most Starbucks employees have been noted to be friendly and courteous when it comes to non-paying customers. Though some employees have had to deal with the random bad seed, most agree with this barista’s statement: “Starbucks is a third home for ANYONE! Everyone is welcome :)”

Here’s what one Reddit user has to say: Former Partner

“Third Place Policy benefits us because we also have expectations from customers for providing that free space. The rules are posted, and they give us leverage for handling incidents. (Some stores don’t enforce this, of course, but we certainly do.) That said, I’d never really even notice someone coming in to use our space and sitting quietly in the corner to study or work or what have you. Until it actually disrupts business, I’m cool.”

Alternative Third-Place Experience

There are many options for third-place establishments if you would rather not go to Starbucks. However, most restaurants, cafes, etc., require you to order something, even if it’s just water. 

Many of them also have a limit on how long you can use their facilities, sometimes requiring you to order something else if you want to stay longer. There are only a couple of places where you can actually work (public libraries, community centers) that allow you to stay however long you need for no fee.

Other third-place establishments include:

  • Public libraries
  • Churches
  • Community centers
  • Parks
  • Gyms
  • Book stores
  • Bars (not a good choice for work or reading)

In Conclusion

Starbucks is among the only establishments that allow you to sit in their stores without purchasing anything. Their third-place policy allows non-paying customers to use their facilities for as long as they need. 

All they ask in return is that people respect their environment and help maintain a safe experience for everyone. Most friendly employees encourage non-paying customers as long as there is room and they are behaving appropriately. Starbucks even lets you take advantage of their WiFi, free of charge. 

So, enjoy a sunny day out on a Starbucks patio while you read your favorite book. But remember to be kind, warm, and courteous to the people around you.


Are employees required to clean up “biohazard” material like drug paraphernalia or blood?

Absolutely not!! Starbucks’ policy requires employees to contact a biohazard cleaning company.

Does Starbucks treat its employees well since some of the customers don’t even pay?

It would seem so. According to Comparably, “at Starbucks, 61% of employees feel they are paid fairly, 79% are satisfied with their benefits, and 74% are satisfied with their stock/equity.”

How long can you sit at Starbucks without buying anything?

As long as you need to. You can sit at Starbucks from open until close, as long as you follow their guidelines to make it a “safe space.” Starbucks states: “We do not have any time limits for being in our stores, and continue to focus on making the Third Place experience for every Starbucks customer.”

Can you sit in a Starbucks and do work?

Sure! Starbucks’ policy also states: “Our environment is so much more than just a place to enjoy your beverage or food. We provide a comfortable venue where you can be alone or with other people and think and do work.”

Can you use the Wifi at Starbucks without buying anything?

Absolutely! You can absolutely use the Wifi at Starbucks as long as you need to. Though it would be considerate to purchase something, it’s not necessary.

Can I use the bathroom at Starbucks without buying anything?

Please do! Starbucks encourages all customers, both paying and non-paying, to enjoy the use of their facilities, including the furniture, restrooms, and patio areas. They do require you to follow the guidelines and be respectful and considerate to other patrons and their employees.

Christopher Mize

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