Starbucks in Xi’an faces backlash over “consume to occupy” policy

One of the Starbucks branches in Xi'an.

28th May 2024 – (Xi’an) A Starbucks store located in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, has sparked controversy with reports of a “consume to occupy” policy, leading to discussions across various online platforms. In response, Starbucks’ official customer service confirmed the existence of such a policy, where customers who do not make purchases may be politely asked to leave, although the company does not enforce mandatory consumption.

According to local media outlet “Headline News,” a video shared by a Chinese netizen captured an incident where a Starbucks employee in Xi’an asked a recently seated man to leave. In the video, the man inquired, “You’re not allowing me to sit, right?” The Starbucks employee responded, “If you want to sit, you can place a mobile order and find a seat at the nearby shopping mall.” Eventually, the man decided to leave.

The video’s uploader stated that the man was asked to leave only a minute after sitting down, and claimed that a total of three people were approached by Starbucks staff. Given the relatively low number of customers at the time, it is unclear why they were not permitted to sit. Subsequent online searches revealed several social media posts from netizens discussing Starbucks’ implementation of the “consume to occupy” policy.

The circulated news triggered a wave of comments from internet users. Some expressed their disagreement, questioning the logic of preventing people from sitting if they are not consuming food or beverages. Others argued that Starbucks is a commercial establishment, not a public space, and therefore customers should be expected to make purchases. It is worth noting that Starbucks has faced intensified competition in recent years in Mainland China from local brand Luckin Coffee.

In response to inquiries made by “The Paper,” Starbucks stores located on Linyin Road in Shanghai and Hailar in Inner Mongolia confirmed that they do not bar non-paying customers from taking seats. However, during busy periods, they may prioritise seating for paying customers through negotiation.

“The Paper” subsequently contacted Starbucks’ official customer service, seeking clarification on the existence of a “consume to occupy” policy. Despite repeated inquiries, the customer service representatives consistently responded with a generic statement, “We are committed to providing a better experience for our customers,” without directly addressing the specific policy in question.

In contrast, “Yangcheng Evening News” reported that Starbucks’ official customer service confirmed the existence of the “consume to occupy” policy, clarifying that customers who do not make purchases may be politely asked to leave, but Starbucks does not enforce mandatory consumption.