A café in Sydney's CBD has banned customers from using reusable cups for their takeaway coffees in a precautionary response to the COVID-19 virus.
Pablo & Rusty's has today announced a number of measures to reduce the spread of the disease at their premises, including placing hand sanitiser at the counter for customer use, and sending home staff who present with cold-like or flu symptoms.
In addition, the café is not accepting reusable cups from customers as a temporary measure. "We're not the first to bring in this action," says co-owner Chris Tate, citing similar precautions taken by coffee shop and roaster 3fe in Ireland, and international coffee chain Starbucks.
However, he says enacting the cup ban was not an easy decision to make. Pablo & Rusty's is a B Corp certified company, a status bestowed to businesses that meet stringent environmental and community standards in their supply chains. "It goes against everything we stand for, but we also need to mitigate these risks to our staff […] I'd prefer to be safe and ahead of the game, instead of having to rush into a decision."
He says customers have been understanding about the newly enacted cup ban, though acknowledges some are frustrated by the decision. The cafe is still accepting cups from the in-house cup swap-system, where customers bring in a used Huskee cup (a brand of cups made from coffee husks), and receive their takeaway coffee in a washed Huskee cup from the café's collection. The drinking vessels are washed and sanitised in their commercial-grade dishwasher.
Other Sydney café are considering similar measures in response to increasing concerns about COVID-19. From Saturday, Sample Coffee in St Peters will temporarily ban diners from bringing their own reusable cups; only accept payments by contactless card transactions; remove self-service cutlery, napkins and condiments from tables and counters; and ensure a one-metre distance between dining tables. A no-handshakes, no-hugs and no-high fives policy between customers and staff will also be enacted. Additionally, these measures will be in force at their Surry Hills and Chippendale café from Monday.
"We're a public place and with a lot of foot traffic, and we have a responsibility to do something," says brand and impact manager Ainhoa Martinez. Like Pablo & Rusty's, Sample is a B Corp certified company. "It's painful and goes against our principles, but it also goes with our principles of protecting our community, customers and staff."
At Mecca Coffee, owner Paul Geshos says the coronavirus pandemic will affect more than reusable cups. "This is not just about cups. We have a duty of care to our staff – these guys are on the frontline," he says. He's considering a BYO cup ban, as well as broader measures to protect his workers who are a higher risk of exposure to the virus due to their close contact with customers.
For Tate, he anticipates things will get worse for the industry before they get better. He anticipates a number of offices in the CBD will instruct employees to work from home in response to the spread of the virus, severely impacting other hospitality businesses in the area. "Cash flow is king in this industry, but profits are already thin," he says. "We're going to see a lot of businesses reach breaking point."