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Where have all the chairs gone? This is why many downtown SF Starbucks locations are seatless

Interior of Starbucks at Stockton and Sutter streets near Union Square in San Francisco. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Where have all the chairs gone? That was the question posed by a Standard staffer during a recent morning editorial meeting. She was referring to the Starbucks at the corner of Stockton and Sutter streets, just off of Union Square. 

Populated by a lonely hightop table and a slim bar without stools, the place appeared to be offering grab-and-go service only—even though the cafe’s floor was clearly large enough to accommodate tables and chairs.

She wasn’t the only one in our newsroom to have encountered a seatless Starbucks in the city. A few months ago, I came across a very similar scene at 1390 Market St., where I popped in for a hot chocolate one day to find nary a place a place to sit and sip it.

Interiors of the Starbucks at Stockton and Sutter streets just off Union Square. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Being that we journalists can be quite cynical, we wondered if removing chairs from these locations was a corporate strategy for deterring unhoused people from hanging out in the cafes. Or perhaps it was a monetary decision aimed at moving more caffeine addicts and their dollars through stores at a faster clip.

We reached out to the corporate coffee king to find out why certain local Starbucks locations are apparently no longer offering seating—and to ask if this was a growing trend across the company.

Here’s what Starbucks had to say: The cafes located at 264 Kearny St., 442 Geary St. and 1390 Market St. are pick-up only locations and designed to be that way. 

“That’s the store model,” a spokesperson for Starbucks said.

A lone hightop table sans chairs at the Starbucks on Stockton and Sutter streets. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Starbucks locations at 390 Stockton St., 462 Powell St., 865 Market St., 780 Market St. and 359 Grant Ave. removed cafe seating more than a year ago in response to Covid public health protocols, the spokesperson continued, explaining the decision in polished PR-speak:

“At that time, Starbucks was empowering local leaders to adjust operations based on local Covid-19 factors in the interest of prioritizing the health and well-being of our partners and customers,” the spokesperson said. “So the change continues to work for partners and customers, and local [Starbucks] leaders simply haven't reversed it.”

As for our more cynical questions about keeping SF’s unhoused population out of Starbucks stores and trying to prevent even paying customers from hanging out too long, the spokesperson insisted that the lack of seating was simply a Covid-era change that hadn’t yet been reversed.

So, will Starbucks be bringing chairs back to these locations anytime soon?

That was above the pay grade of the spokesperson we interviewed. However, the representative did say the company endeavors to listen to local partners and customers to “to create a warm, welcoming third-place environment for everybody.”

Christina Campodonico can be reached at