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Starbucks suspends U.S. Happy Hours due to crowd concerns as COVID-19 surges

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp customers in the United States will have to pay the full $5.65 for a second grande Eggnog Latte this holiday season, as the company suspends two-for-one deals due to overcrowding concerns amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

FILE PHOTO: A Starbucks logo is pictured on the door of the Green Apron Delivery Service at the Empire State Building in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Happy Hour events scheduled for Dec. 17 and Jan. 7 have been canceled, according to an internal memo to employees posted inside stores and seen by Reuters. The temporary suspension has not been previously reported.

Last December, the world’s largest coffee chain held the events each week, totaling four that month.

“Partner care and safety remains the top priority,” the note said. “However, with the anticipated rise in cases as a result of holiday travel and the latest guidance from the scientific community to not gather indoors in large groups for a prolonged period of time, we feel it is best to pause Happy Hours.”

Rossann Williams, Starbucks’ president of U.S. and Canada retail, originally alerted employees to the pause on Dec. 1, the company confirmed in an email to Reuters.

Williams had told employees in a memo that they all shared a responsibility to “protect each other, our customers and our business as we navigate this pandemic.”

A spokeswoman said the company would re-asses Happy Hour in early January. A Dec. 3 event was also cancelled.

Happy Hours helped lift Starbucks’ slumping sales when the company re-introduced them in October 2018. Visits increased more than 11% during the events on average during the fourth quarter that calendar year, according to a January report from advertising platform inMarket.

The events boost foot traffic during a normally slow time of day – afternoons and evenings. But as the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and Canada this year, Happy Hours in those markets also helped offset reduced visits during breakfast hours as people stopped commuting to work.

Happy Hours are on Thursdays from 2 pm to 7 pm, usually scheduled every few weeks, for customers who download the Starbucks app.

Starbucks had suspended Happy Hour and Double-Star Days promotions in the U.S. and Canada earlier this year as government restrictions shut dining rooms. It restarted the deals in June, according to media reports.

Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Sam Holmes

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