Restaurant Restrooms: The Most Important Space in the Place?

Giving new mean to the word "restroom" at Emma's Kitchen in Laurel, Montana

Giving new meaning to the word “restroom” at Emma’s Kitchen in Laurel, Montana

On a month-long road food research trip, I might visit more than 100 eateries and coffee shops. Which means that, because of my t.b. (tiny bladder), I visit about the same number of bathrooms, or restrooms as they call them in the States. So after awhile, I get a pretty good sense of what makes a good restaurant washroom, to introduce a third term (I promise, I won’t add “water closet”).

The most critical thing about a bathroom is its cleanliness. Indeed, I know a few women, in particular, whose first impulse on rating a restaurant is to check the tidiness of its bathrooms. Admittedly, restaurant workers whose primary focus is cooking and serving food don’t have time to regularly check if some slob has dribbled on the floor, missed the garbage with the paper towel or just been generally slovenly. But they can set the standard, empty the trash occasionally (overflowing bins are the biggest sin I regularly see), and hope the customers follow suit.

Keeping it clean at Squish in Banff

Keeping it clean at Squish in Banff

Solving that knotty problem of opening the bathroom door without getting germs all over your hands

Solving that knotty problem of opening the bathroom door without getting germs all over your hands

What makes a bathroom attractive? Well, stone tile looks great in high-end joints, though you’re probably paying for it in higher entree prices. No, in the affordable spots most road trippers frequent, basic design and good, wear-resistant materials and fixtures are good enough for me.

A pretty swank sink in this restaurant restroom

A pretty swank sink in this restaurant restroom, maybe a tipoff that lunch ain’t going to be cheap

What I am looking for are things that are easy to use and understand. Most of all, I’d like some consistency, like in railway tracks. Maybe they should have Apple design bathrooms.

It seems restaurant owners, or their designers, are constantly seeking new, clever ways to indicate which restrooms are for women and which are for men. So you get cowboys and cowgirls, hombres and mujeres, knights and damsels, and countless wordless diagrams that I have to spend precious seconds deciphering while my bladder’s bursting. Please, can we just stick with “men” and “women” or at least those international stick figures?

Can anyone tell me which is the men's and which is the women's?

Can anyone, at a quick glance, tell me which is the men’s and which is the women’s?

This is a little more obvious

This is a little more obvious

It would also be nice to have some consistency with soap and paper towel dispensers and faucets, which have as many variations as door signs. Some faucets are activated by motion detectors, though often they only work if your hands are at the precise distance removed; some of these dispense too little water, others never seem to shut off. Some faucets require you to move a handle up, some down, some up and to the side. There are even the old-fashioned taps, though some require you to turn them clockwise, others counterclockwise. I think I’m okay with motion-detector taps, if they’re properly calibrated.

Which way do you turn this tap?

Which way do you turn this lever?

Creative bathroom taps, though a little fiddly with wet fingers

Creative bathroom taps, though a little fiddly with wet fingers

Soap dispensers can have levers that must be pulled up or down or just pushed in. I like the newer style that produces a foaming soap rather than the gel that needs more water to rinse off; some of the foams come with a nice, natural scent.

An artistic soap dispenser and easy to figure out

An artistic soap dispenser and easy to figure out

I think I prefer manual paper towel dispensers to the motion-sensor ones. With the latter, I’m never sure whether to put my hands at the front or side of the machine. I think the best of the manual ones have a cone at the bottom and you merely pull a perforated sheet down and off. It’s pretty simple for my small brain to figure out.

As for electric dryers, I think the kind with enough force to blow your face into a funny shape are, in our impatient world, quickly replacing the ones so slow you eventually just wipe your hands on your pants (Wait, is that just me?). Electric dryers produce a much tidier bathroom, but I’ll leave for now the argument about whether electric or paper is more environmentally friendly. Hey, the most energy-efficient system is to not wash at all, but I’m sure advocating that will bring the hygiene police down on me.

Automatic flushing appliances also seem to be supplanting manual. I’m fine with that, as long as the toilet doesn’t flush just as I’m sitting down. And what happens if the electronic systems malfunction? As for urinals, I’m all for the waterless ones. They really don’t, or shouldn’t, stink, and they sure save a lot of wasted water.

It would also be nice to have some consistency in locks. I’m all right with the sliding locks on cubicle doors, as long as they work. I’m thinking more of the lock on single-occupant bathrooms. Again, there are a variety of ways these doors are locked. The best, and simplest, involves pushing a button on the handle when locking and just pushing the handle down to unlock. No guess work involved.

The idiot-proof bathroom lock. Just twist the handle and you're outta there

The idiot-proof bathroom lock. Just twist the handle and you’re outta there

Finally, I don’t really care about segregation of the sexes when it comes to single-occupant restrooms. Same sex is fine with me, as long as it’s the most efficient. But why is it in some places there’s only one bathroom for patrons and one for “employees only”? Aren’t there a lot more customer than employee trips to the bathroom in a day, and shouldn’t said customer come first?

I guess this place doesn't like dogs lapping from the bowl

I guess this place doesn’t like dogs lapping from the bowl

Actually, I’m always surprised that many high-traffic places—especially bars and coffee joints that, you know, make you have to pee—will only have one bathroom per gender, or one bathroom period. Though someone told me that many restaurant owners consider adding more bathrooms waste-d space.

Having read all this, you might think I’m a bit anal about this topic. But with all the time I’ve had sitting and thinking on restaurant thrones, it’s become a bit of a poop project.

This being Santa Fe, is there any surprise that this bathroom at Tune-Up Cafe is artsy?

This being Santa Fe, is there any surprise that this bathroom at Tune-Up Cafe is artsy?

626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado, not only served my best road-trip meal of 2013. It also had the nicest bathroom

626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado, not only served my best road-trip meal of 2013. It also had the nicest bathroom, though a little hard on the eyes

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One thought on “Restaurant Restrooms: The Most Important Space in the Place?

  1. LotusRapper

    BTW, restaurant restroom/bathroom cleanliness and decor is an important consideration for me too. Its quality and presentation speaks volumes about the proprietors and their perspectives on customer service.

    Like

    Reply

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