Time to clear up the confusion over the Starbucks photography policy
It is time to clear up some confusion surrounding the Starbucks in-store photography policy: Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Starbucks had a “no photos in store” policy. In the year 2010, this is simply not the case. I don’t know exactly when this policy changed though I have some theories about that.
***Here is the Starbucks photo policy ***
Customers may take photographs for personal use while in our stores.
Members of the media may not take photographs or film in store without permission from Starbucks Media Relations.
***A little background story***
Last December I decided I would write a blog article about a then-new Starbucks in Bellevue Square, in Bellevue, Washington. My blog article is here:
Store design and community: Just beautiful Bellevue Square and Pier 55
Shortly before I wrote that article about the Bellevue Square Starbucks, I confirmed via email the Starbucks photography policy. I had heard from a variety of people that non-professional photography is fine in a Starbucks, but members of media must contact PR. (This blog is definitely considered non-professional). While I definitely felt that I could freely take photographs of the new store, I contacted a few people above the store level and alerted them to my plan. Even if I am sure that I can take pictures, if the store partners aren’t on the same wavelength, I could (hypothetically speaking) cause alarm or problems in a store. That definitely isn’t my plan.
So in summary, the day that I took the photos for the above blog article, everything went as smooth as pie. In addition, as I visit a variety of stores in Seattle, for the most part I rarely get hassled about store photos. Those stores which are high profile “beacon” stores are totally accustomed to customer after customer walking in the door with a camera in hand. I believe that the Starbucks store photography policy is better understood in Seattle than most places.
Recently, I ended up having the conversation again about what the Starbucks photo policy is, in conjunction with this blog article here:
The faces of Starbucks: Seeking pics of real people, real partners
^ Please click on that link! That contest involves prizes and is still an active contest until August 28th!! Please share that link.
Since all of the photos that I’m seeking are non-professional, there is not any problem about any possible violation of the Starbucks photo policy.
I know that a number of partners will be in disbelief reading this blog article, but if you need further confirmation, then send an email to press@Starbucks.com for more information about the photo policy.
In fact, recently I did send such an email to press@Starbucks.com which is how I ultimately received back the black and white photo policy listed above.
I’ve actually had baristas tell me that they only allow customers to take pictures in their stores (even if it is friends just trying to capture memories with other friends) if the customer stands towards the entrance of the store. This is just a false notion entirely. I would say that the current photography policy weighs in favor of allowing photographs over not allowing them.
***What does all this mean?***
From here on out in this blog article, I’m just giving you my opinion and educated guesses, and take everything I say with a grain of salt…
I think that at one time there was a more firm “no photos” policy but that began to erode away in 2008. In the summer of 2008, Starbucks opened up a beautiful and unique store in the SODO neighborhood of Seattle at 4th and Diagonal, This store was perhaps one of the very earliest prototype stores for the repurposed wood and reclaimed wood themed stores. It’s a visually lovely story, and looks fairly unique because it does really look like the store design team used it to experiment with a number of ideas. The only disappointment associated with that store is that the store design team never gave that store the lovely chalk menu boards that most reclaimed wood-themed stores have. People started taking pictures.
But in 2009 there were big developments in the area of store design: First and Pike Starbucks opened, as well as University Village, 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, Roy Street, and even Disney France. By 2009, I believe that Starbucks began to think, “it’s a great idea to have people taking pictures of our innovative stores and showing them off!” In fact, it’s great PR to have photos on the web of smiling faces inside stores, beverage in hand, in innovative stores with great store design. Those photos should nearly be encouraged! LOL
By 2009, the store photo policy evaporated. The good PR possibilities looked like they would outweigh the risks.
So what kind of photos does Starbucks not like? I think that the intent of the photos is what is important, but the problem is that there is no way for Starbucks to tell baristas, “Only let in customers with good intentions.” If I walked into a Starbucks and started taking photographs of tables and then posted a blog article which said, “look, here’s a store that never does lobby slides. Look how messy these tables are” I have no doubt that such an article would make a few PR people wince just a little, even if briefly. If I walked into a Starbucks and took photographs of tables and posted a blog article that says, “look, here is a remodeled Starbucks with lovely tables made from wood reclaimed from fallen trees in a nearby park” then the same photos have completely different significance.
Despite what a few people may think, this blog is non-professional, non-traditional media, and it’s just a hobby. The question really then becomes when is someone professional photography? That would be newspapers, magazines, professional blogs possibly, television, etc… In the event that professional media needs to take photographs in the store, in my experience, what happens is that both a PR person and an Edelman person will baby-sit the event. I have been to in-store events with both PR and Edelman people there because professional media was at the event. Amazingly, I would say that traditional media, such as the Seattle Times Coffee City blog, fairly automatically uses the right channels before just snapping pictures automatically. And based on what I have seen in the stores, my own conversations surrounding this topic, and my own use of photos in this blog, I would say the policy weighs in favor of allowing the photographs over not allowing them. Starbucks probably never wants to perceived as trying to hide something, nor do they want to be perceived as a big bad corporation that would harass a couple of guests taking pics of each other while having fun in a store.
By the way, Starbucks can’t really ever know how a person plans to actually USE a photograph at the time they’re being taken. A good example of this happened earlier this year when I was visiting the Starbucks at First and Pike. One morning I dropped by the First and Pike Starbucks, and happened, as luck would have it, to be standing near two bloggers from Serious Eats. That blog employs professional bloggers who are paid to produce content. The story of Serious Eats visitng this Starbucks is here:
Serious Eats drops by First and Pike Starbucks
As I stood there watching the two women from Serious Eats take photographs, I had the passing thought that the two women could actually be professional media. In the end though, they produced a very positive article about the store which then ran in a busy and popular blog. Should the two of them have had a PR or Edelman person with them? Maybe so, maybe not. Did it even matter in the end? Definitely not. The store handled it perfectly right: Don’t make a big deal and treat the two customers with great customer service. And visit the Serious Eats blog if you’re hungry! That is a fun blog.
I would absolutely encourage partners to get their answers clarified through official channels: press@Starbucks.com.
Hope this blog entry has been helpful!
(Photo for this blog entry borrowed from Wikipedia Commons).
BOSTON STARBUCKS REBEL
In these days, where all phones now have cameras, its basically impossible to stop a person from snapping a photo in Starbucks.
Wow, I had no idea there were policies just for photographing in stores! I’ve never run into any problems while taking pictures. A guilty pleasure of mine is photographing Frappuccinos. I don’t know why, but they make a very fun photo study. At least to me! 😉
Very interesting post! I’m glad to know this—makes it easier to avoid confusion if and when I ever encounter a Starbucks that sends me and my camera packing, so to speak!
I should read the policy in full I know but as a professional portrait photographer I have clients that love Starbucks and may have met their current sweetie there. What should I tell them if they request a portrait there? I had that happen for another local shop and they were very accommodating. I also last year had a wedding salon session to shoot and when the girls went to the kiosk in the mall we were told no photos but Calumet street & College Ave in Appleton are very open to it! (Thanks @kristenlkrause) So I guess the question is what if the photographer is professional but has no intent to give the images to someone who will use them maliciously or for profit.
@BostonStarbucksRebel – You bring up a great point about phones with cameras – And that’s probably also part of the reason of the relaxed policy. When I was in lawschool, the courts I experienced didn’t allow phones in the courtroom for that reason! You could take a phone into a courtroom so long as there was no camera on it.
@Lem – I’ve never thought of that scenario. In all honesty, I think part of the issue is just being polite. That doesn’t have so much to do with the photography as much as not bothering other guests. If you wanted to take a couple photo and do it in such a way as not to disturb or distract other guests …? Maybe you could plan on doing it right when the store first opens or right before close?
There is a Starbucks in Bellevue (store #303 not the one linked to above) that has a lovely mural along a wall. I wanted to take pics of it because it’s a beautiful piece of art, imho. Thankfully I was there at close and the place was nearly empty so it was pretty easy to take the pics without getting in the way of other customers, but I could see that could possibly be a problem with a professional couples pic. ?? I really don’t know.
BOSTON STARBUCKS REBEL
I wonder how many images on Flickr are from inside Starbucks
At my store, I only ask customers to refrain from taking pictures involving the partners as that can be very awkward and weird for some of us.
BOSTON STARBUCKS REBEL
@Diele, thats a good policy of only taking pictures of the store and not necessarily people who you don’t have explicit permission to photograph. Although the rules surrounding pictures in public is somewhat ambiguous in itself. If people don’t want their photographs taken of them they should politely ask them to STOP. I know at the school I go to the release form states that the student does not want their likeness used in any format.
@Boston Starbucks Rebel -“I wonder how many images on Flickr are from inside Starbucks”
The Flickr site came up with almost 302,000 hits with a search for “Starbucks”…in a quick scan of a handful of pages, it looks like roughly 20% have been taken from inside a Starbucks (about 60,000).
(Interesting note: in the few minutes that I did this “research,” the total hits for Starbucks went from “almost 302,000” to 307,958!)
There are two Starbucks groups on Flickr. One official and one unofficial. The key difference is posting to the Official group you relinquish rights to your photos and Starbucks may use them.
Here is an interesting discussion on the evolving Starbucks photography policy.
Hi Mel, here in ARGENTINA we are notified about this policy last week and also told me that this is a Global policy now… :-S
Thank you for clearing this up! I had been hearing about their policy for some time now.
It was always my understanding that the old photography policy was about keeping competitors from gathering information. The setup of the store, especially behind the counter, along with menu boards and cafe layout were proprietary while the company was growing rapidly into new markets. Now with stores everywhere, it’s easy to see where that is no longer necessary. Great conversation!
Thanks for this blog entry. And so timely, too! A couple ladies were in my store Thursday taking photos and my baristas (as well as their bright fliash!) alerted me to it. The policy must have been updated while I was gone from the company, because I wasn’t aware of the ‘personal use is OK’ part … but I was super nice with the ladies and just asked that they ask next time since they scared my baristas more than anything.
Good to know the official policy so I can pass it around my store, though!
This was a really interesting post, Melody. I take a bunch of pictures inside Starbucks but never really considered that they have a policy…I guess I should have. But I’m glad to know that it’s okay. When with friends, some baristas are even nice enough to take the pictures for us 😀
wow! I had no idea the policy was no longer in effect. Partners at my store have been enforcing it even still today! I will let everyone know. Thanks Melody
I am leaving this comment only because I recently had the occasion to reconfirm again with the Starbucks headquarters that non professional photography is fine inside a Starbucks. It would good to hear from them again the same thing that I had previously told was true, and it confirms that the information in the blog article is still correct information right now too.
What the Starbucks policy is on photography varies based on which part of Starbucks you talk to, and even which person you speak with within a department. I and others went back and forth with various people at Starbucks when the whole flickr fiasco heated up.
It’s been over a year, and the group is still locked down, and there is still no definitive policy.
Welcome SteelToad. The policy is clear. It changed in 2009. Starbucks doesnt reopen that flick account for other reasons. If you are speaking with anyone at the SSC the will tell you the policy as stated in this article. I have verified it with global communication department, press, and digital strategy. The problem is that once you leave the SSC partners tell customers the wrong information. This is peeve of mine like you would not believe. Partners are quick to give out the pre 2009 info of “no pics.” Given a bad experience a friend in Chicago had, I am not even sure that most DMs, RDs, or who knows RVPs got it right. There remains great confusion once you leave downtown Seattle and the HQ.
Melody, with respect, please look through the group, in particular
Towards the end you will see where after months of back-and-forth with Anali Orr, Matthew Guiste, and others at Starbucks seeking to clarify the policy, I did in fact receive an email stating that the policy did allow photography just as you say … and then the next day I got a call from that persons supervisor saying that the information I was given was incorrect. It was very shortly after I pointed out the inconsistencies from Starbucks corporate (not from a store) that the group was entirely locked down. Please review the group and it’s discussion.
The group message from Anali Orr
29 Jan 10 – This group has helped inform us of the inconsistent experiences photographers have in our stores. We have put group discussion on hold until we have more updates on an official policy for photography in our stores. We appreciate your patience and encourage you to check back in the following months for an update.
As I said, It’s been a year. It is convenient however that Starbucks gets rights to any pictures submitted to the group as long as the groups exists. (check the group rules)
I know Ms. Orr, and I understand why that flick group was shut down, and why that was posted. I would encourage you to send an email to email@example.com if you need further clarification. The email I cite above comes from the director of digital strategy, and Ms. Orr is on his team. You can argue with me all you like, but I think it would makes sense for you to contact the HQ yourself if you believe that Starbucks has provided me with false information.
Thank you, I will try *again* to get some clarification from Starbucks, and perhaps even getting the flickr group active again instead of serving as a beacon of failure. Please don’t take my statements as an argument with you. We are both working from different facts, and thus, a disagreement, but I’ll do what I can to update my facts if possible.
One thing remains though, the group has been sitting there for a year with no update from Starbucks, and so it appears to anyone who chooses to look up Starbucks or coffee on flickr that Starbucks cant get its act together.
The Starbucks (company) Flickr group still accepts photos…they just locked the Group Discussion portion. I upload to the other group, however.
Well, I took your advice and emailed firstname.lastname@example.org I got an ‘Out of Office’ reply on Friday, but did get a followup reply today.
– what the policy was,
– what was the status of the flickr group,
– if there were any plans to change the photo rights relinquishment requirement for the group,
– if the current policy had been sent out to the stores (part of the main issue)
The reply I got:
“I have reviewed your inquiries. There are only two responses needed. The first is, you may take photos in the store for personal use. If you want to take pictures for any media outlet(newspaper, magazine, internet, etc.) you must contact our media department, (206) 318-7100 or email@example.com. All of our stores should provide you with the same information. The second, is that we do not have any announcements about the Flickr group. You will want to keep an eye on Starbucks.com. Any changes will be announced there.”
So no information on a corporate sponsored discussion group that has sat dormant for more than a year, The policy is that photos are allowed, and stores ‘should’ tell me the same. So it’s pretty much where it was all along with no definite clarification. The problem has always been that the stores ‘should’ indicate company policy, but that’s just not what happens. One store will be as friendly and accommodating as they can, while another will give you a scowl or a warning as soon as they see your camera. I guess I’ll just wait and see
“Should” is not a great verb here. It suggests that we have a policy but we don’t really care if our stores know it. In any case, you can take pictures inside a Starbucks.
I carry around a copy of the email that I recvd from Sbux re: this photo policy. (as just written above, ‘yes, we can take pics inside any Sbux cafe for our own personal use’.) I keep it in my purse. I just feel I should always be ready when a barista at some odd store might pop out and tell me otherwise. I’m very glad to keep this printed policy on hand!
I am a professional photographer and I just took a couple to a local starbucks as part of their engagement photos yesterday. The staff there were very rude about telling I could NOT photograph in their store without written permission from corporate and also that I could not take any photos of their logo or even their sign/building outside. It’s simply not true. You cannot forbid someone from photographing a building from public space. The couple was disappointed to say the least and I will not return to that store. The staff were very rude about it. Oh – and they were wrong. Just another reason that I can’t stand starbucks.
Heather, I am really sorry that you had a bad experience when it comes to the photos. The policy changed in 2009, and sadly lots of baristas don’t know of the change. If you photos really were for non-commercial use, you should’ve been able to take a few pictures. I really recommend that you contact Starbucks and let them know.
I want you to know that it’s not like that everywhere. You can just take a look at this blog and see that I take photographs all the time. I think one reason that Starbucks changed the policy is to try to prevent the kind of bad relations experience that you had. Some stores are current on the policy!!!
Here’s a link to contact Customer Service:
Or you can call them up too:
Retail Customer Relations
Mon – Fri 5 AM – 6 PM (PST)
PS: Technically, you cannot be prevented from taking photos from a public space. Though there are a mix of interesting legal issues if you do happen to photographing the logo and using the image in photos for commercial purposes. I’m no trademark attorney, but I suspect that Starbucks, at least in theory, can prevent the logo from being used in such a manner. Not likely anything would happen to you though, and like I said, I’m definitely NOT a trademark attorney so I’m not very confident in what I’m writing to you now.
see!!!! poor couple! this is exactly why I carry the printed email from Sbux with me! I want to always be able to SHOW them the POLICY if ever they are wrong about ti!
It is not every shutterbugs duty to call Starbucks customer service because their outlets “aren’t up-to-date” on the correct policy. It is STARBUCKS duty to notify and train their locations on the POLICY. Come on now, it’s been over a year since the flickr group was shut down and they were forced to face this face.
Bringing in the policy email is a good idea, but a store that is so woefully uninformed on both policy and simple photographers rights isn’t going to give a half-a-hoot about some piece of paper you printed on your computer.
Heather: you’re a professional photographer, and you were using the store for your own commercial purposes, using it as a set. That is commercial photography, and would need permission from Starbucks. The part about shooting outside though, as you already know, is complete bovine excrement.
@SteelToad – Sure it’s true that Starbucks has the responsibility to tell their partners about the change that happened in the photo policy. The reality is that this is precisely the kind of thing where Starbucks won’t be aware that a store isn’t up-to-date (and many stores ARE knowledgeable) unless someone calls.
You’ve just perfectly demonstrated why – though most people groan and hate hearing complaints – anyone who knows about a brand realizes that every complaint phone call is SO valuable. Most people will suffer in silence, and every complaint phone call is an incredible opportunity to laser focus in on a piece of the business that needs improving.
Here’s what could have happened starting over a year ago.
Notice from Starbucks to all outlets: Here is a new Starbucks policy regarding people taking pictures in the store … yadda yadda yadda … inform your area manager when your staff have been trained on the new policy and any previous photography policy have been expunged from your training materials.
Then each area manager makes sure they’ve heard back from each outlet. It’s not that hard, given over a year, to make sure your people know what to do.
You can be damned sure that when Starbucks rolls out a new drink, every store that will be serving it knows how it is made, just use that same process. It sounds like you are just saying, of course they’re going to screw up, it’s your job to call them on it. It’s not like it’s a matter of a little too much cream in my latte, in the case of outdoor photography, it’s First Amendment rights.
Store Review: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. «
[…] it, wrong. You ARE aloud to take images in Starbucks stores. I’ve seen lots of info on this (SbuxMel Photo Policy) and received email form Starbucks press saying that you can take images for ‘personal […]
Starbucks Photo Policy? « The Month of the Heart of Winter
[…] but if it’s global or not, I still have to probe. I find this blog post helpful in some way -Time to clear up the confusion over the Starbucks photography policy by starbucksmelody.com. Customers may take photographs for personal use while in our […]
Here it is the very end of 2013 and I had my camera out playing with it when a Partner came over and told me that Starbucks had a no camera policy. Did the no camera policy come back or was the partner not trained correctly on this policy?
@Dave – The partner was totally wrong. Starbucks has been almost welcoming of photos for a while – There are official Starbucks profiles on Instagram, and Pinterest too – think how often you’re encouraged to share your pics and hashtag them. #SpreadJoy You should contact Customer Service and complain, and ask to get feedback back to the district manager too.
If it were me, I would try to directly contact the DM. I’d gently ask for the DM’s email info – I know that some partners will freak out about this – and they should not!
totally amazzzzing and yet, not so much! that this is still EVER an issue!
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Starbucks MUST allow their customers to photograph their stores…there is no way around…it’s simply their fault when they build those perfect-looking stores! 😀
I also had my bad experiences with photographing Starbucks…some Barista didn’t want me to make photos of the inside of stores. But the crazier thing that I did even have had a few problems with taking photos of the outside of stores. Especially in malls…had some arguments with security staff in malls that didn’t want me to. Mostly I explained them why I photograph and then they let me, and if not, I was so brave to wait some longer and take my photo when they left.