Starbucks is pausing its popular buy-one-get-one-free promotions as coronavirus cases rise.
The Seattle-based coffee giant confirmed to USA TODAY that it has canceled Happy Hours scheduled for December and early January to prevent crowds of people from gathering.
“Given the rise in cases and the current guidance from the scientific community to not gather indoors in large groups for prolonged periods of time, we decided to pause Happy Hours in December and January 7,” Starbucks said in a statement to USA TODAY. “We are temporarily moving to other promotions such as Double Star Days and will reassess future plans as we continue to monitor the situation.”
Reuters first reported the suspension of Happy Hour events Tuesday citing an internal memo to employees.
Starbucks shared a Dec. 1 letter with USA TODAY that Rossann Williams, executive vice president, president U.S. company-operated business and Canada, sent to U.S. employees.
“We will always prioritize your safety and in this moment, we all have a role and responsibility – as Starbucks partners – to protect each other, our customers and our business as we navigate this pandemic,” Williams wrote.
It’s not the first time Starbucks paused the promotion. It did at the beginning of the pandemic and reintroduced its Happy Hour events about three months later, starting June 18.
More than 5,400 Starbucks employees signed a petition on Coworker.org asking Starbucks to stop the Happy Hour events and cancel them for the remainder of 2020.
Starbucks was one of the first major chains to change how it operates in mid-March and shifted most of its restaurants at the time to a to-go model. It also has been encouraging customers to use the Starbucks app to reduce the number of interactions with employees at stores by ordering and paying ahead.
“From the beginning, we have used three simple principles to guide our decisions through COVID-19 – prioritizing the health and well-being of our partners (employees) and customers; playing a constructive role in supporting health and government officials as they work to mitigate the spread of this virus; and showing up in a positive and responsible way to serve our communities,” Starbucks said in its statement to USA TODAY Tuesday.
Starbucks is giving away free coffee through Dec. 31 to “any customer who identifies as a front-line responder to the COVID-19 outbreak.” (Learn more here.)
The company also is holding its annual “Starbucks for Life” contest through Jan. 4 with prizes totaling nearly $3 million up for grabs.
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko