For some coffee drinkers, walking into Starbucks is as normal for their everyday routine as regulars strolled into the 1980s sitcom “Cheers.” Baristas know their customers’ go-to drinks and names at first sight. But with both baristas and customers unable to go inside to get their orders, largely due to COVID-19, the restaurant chain knew it needed to get creative to keep its regulars.
Since March 15, Starbucks store-owned chains closed their dining rooms, allowing drive-thru or to-go only. That also left temporary closures for company-owned stores in malls and university campuses. While some hospital locations remained open under reduced operating hours, store managers have noted large decreases in their regular customers. First-responder vehicles and ambulances rarely fit through the drive-thru lanes, and put themselves at risk of getting caught in traffic lines between an emergency. In turn, they have had no choice but to opt out.
That left store managers like Nicole Westin in Greenville, North Carolina, getting creative to reach the large community of hospital workers who were responsible for a revolving circle of repeat customers.
According to Starbucks, Westin overheard a conversation from a COVID-19 first responder in the drive-thru window. She asked how to get coffee to the first-responder’s hospital departments in need, and the first-responder offered to pick it up for her team. Since then, that location has continued to prepare coffee, water, snacks, and handwritten encouragement notes.
But she’s not alone. In Airdrie, Alberta, a store manager named Maria Gaw organized “coffee travelers” to take drinks to two long-term care facilities for the nurses. One of the nurses who found out what the “coffee travelers” were doing “broke down crying” when she was called.
In Skokie, Illinois, store manager Thomas Winklebeck gave his personal cell phone number to the Skokie Fire Department so they were able to call him directly. With his help, first responders could receive their orders in the restaurant parking lot or the front of the store.
And the list continues. Since March 25, Starbucks has reportedly been giving out more than 1 million free tall-brewed (hot or iced) coffees to front-line health care workers and first-responders. Although lobbies were scheduled to stay closed until May 3, free coffee deliveries will continue on for first-responders until the end of May.
“Thanks to @Starbucks for helping to keep us fueled up during the pandemic,” tweeted the official Sheriff’s Office from Charles County in Southern Carolina. “The company has offered first responders free tall coffees for their work on the front lines. We appreciate you all for working through this as well! #ItKeepsUsRunning #ThankYou.”
But Starbucks isn’t the only coffee franchise that has gotten involved in humanitarianism for health care workers. Dunkin Donuts locations are assisting in other avenues to help those affected by COVID-19. In Dickson City, Pennsylvania, franchisees and store employees joined together to set up a makeshift sewing workshop. They’ve sewn more than 60 masks in a few days to give to a local assisted living facility.
“We are beyond thankful and honored with this gift,” said Caroline Bailon, Medical Technician at The Garden of Greenridge, via a Dunkin’ press release. “Words cannot express the joy we have for these masks.”
Dunkin’ has also donated more than 40,000 gift cards to medical workers at 157 hospitals across the country. Participants who want to get involved in the donations can specify their favorite healthcare worker on a Dunkin’ gift card. Additionally, they can choose to donate funds to the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation, which focuses on food banks, first-responders and hospitals.
Donations to these foundations also help fund Dunkin’ sampling trucks, who go to healthcare facilities and emergency sites in the Northeast to pass out free cups of coffee and MUNCHKINS donut hole treats to health care workers.
In the coming months, restaurant chains will choose to open on a store-by-store basis and may vary their reopening process by state. Click here to find out the status of all 50 states in the coming weeks.