Free WiFi for everyone!

Credit: Photo by Jeff Greenberg via Getty Images

Outside of libraries and parks, there aren’t many public indoor spaces where one can simply relax and hang out without being compelled to purchase something. But after a month of bad PR following a racially charged incident in Philadelphia, a new Starbucks corporate policy could essentially turn the chain’s coffee shops into public hangouts.

Over the weekend, Starbucks sent an announcement to its employees declaring that anyone can now use Starbucks’ cafes and patios regardless of whether or not they’ve made a purchase. Officially dubbed the “Third Place Policy,” the decision comes a little more than a week after a separate declaration that Starbucks bathrooms would be open and available to whoever needs them.

The policy aims to create “a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect.” By “connect” the statement probably refers to human interaction rather than access to free WiFi, but it’s good to know that you can pop into a Starbucks for a minute to fire off that important email without feeling self-conscious or getting suckered into paying for a Frappuccino.

More importantly, the Third Place Policy removes the justification that the (now-former) manager of a Philadelphia Starbucks used to call the police on two black men on suspicion of "trespassing" after they sat down for a few minutes without ordering anything. It does include vague stipulations that everyone visiting Starbucks is responsible for “using spaces as intended, being considerate of others, communicating with respect [and] acting responsibly,” which probably provides enough leeway for racist jerks to kick people out if they really have their hateful heart set on it.

It’s too early to tell what kind of effect (if any) this might have in changing the vibe at Starbucks or creating a more welcoming atmosphere. But the new open door policy is certainly a step in the right direction. Now if they could just stop writing offensive stuff on people’s coffee cups…