Coronavirus fears push Tampa Bay coffee shops to temporarily ban reusable cups

Leave your personal mugs at home.
[ Times (2005) ]
Published Mar. 12, 2020|Updated Mar. 13, 2020

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Coffee drinkers might want to leave their reusable mugs at home for a while.

Following Wednesday’s announcement from the World Health Organization declaring the coronavirus a pandemic, a growing number of Tampa Bay coffee shops and cafes have said they will temporarily stop filling customers’ reusable cups.

Even in eco-friendly St. Petersburg, where single-use plastic straws were recently banned and reusable mugs are commonplace, some cafes looking to protect the health of both their employees and customers are banning personal mugs for the time being.

At Craft Kafe, which operates locations in downtown St. Petersburg and further west on 66th Street, customers are no longer allowed to bring in their own coffee mugs. Customers are also being encouraged to use “contactless payment,” such as key fobs and Apple Pay, instead of cash or credit cards.

“Basically, we’ve been asked to be super mindful of our cleanliness and sanitary practices especially with our POS (point of sale) system, because we all use iPads,” said David Leatherwood, a longtime employee of the company.

Additional sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer bottles have been placed throughout the cafe, and employees who are feeling ill will be asked not to come to work, Leatherwood said.

“We’re trying to be as careful as possible but not panic,” he said.

Similar precautions are in place at other area coffee shops.

Black Crow Coffee Co., one of the pioneers in the local no-waste movement, said in addition to no longer accepting personal mugs, the cafe will temporarily suspend using their own mugs and dining ware and will instead serve everything on compostable alternatives.

“While the cases are extremely low in Pinellas, this is high season for travelers to St. Pete over the next few months,” the cafe’s owners, Deana Hawk and Greg Bauman, said in a statement.

Joshua Weaver, one of the owners of St. Petersburg’s Bandit Coffee Co., said that while the cafe has stopped accepting customers’ reusable cups for now, they will still be using their own ceramic mugs to serve coffee. Weaver said the staff will wash the mugs while wearing gloves and that the cafe’s commercial dishwasher has been tested for “soap and sanitizer functionality.”

A statement from Kahwa Coffee said that, in addition to no longer accepting personal mugs, the local chain has temporarily stopped using ceramics and reusable silverware.

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At many of these places, customers are offered a discount for bringing in their own cup. At Craft Kafe, Black Crow and Bandit, customers who show up with a mug will still receive the discount they would have been given.

These local initiatives come on the heels of a worldwide effort led by coffee giant Starbucks, which last week announced that all of its stores would temporarily suspend the use of personal cups and tumblers to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Several other local coffee shops and cafes have said they are still in conversations about what, if any, changes to their existing policy they will enact.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has also prompted some bars and local breweries to reconsider their growler and glassware policies.

At 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg, owner Mike Harting said they’re temporarily serving beers in disposable glassware as opposed to pint glasses.

"Just to feel safer, we’re going to switch to plastic cups for a while,” Harting said.

Most breweries that work with growlers — reusable glass or ceramic jugs — already use a high-pressure sanitizing system before refilling them for a customer, said Brent Morgan of Dunedin’s 7venth Sun Brewing.

“There’s no change for us,” Morgan said.

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