John Piper's restrooms at Aviano's Italian Eatery in Greenwood, Ind., aren't beautiful, but folks still comment on them while ordering. That's because Piper's employees wipe them down with Clorox throw-away wipes four or five times a day.
In fact, when construction workers visit, the staff makes an extra trip to the latrine. "It only takes one or two of them to hit the men's room and suddenly you've got mud on the floor and the sinks are filthy because they rinse their hands," he said. That extra clean touch makes Aviano's so popular that folks wander in from the Chinese restaurant next door and the fast-food chain in the parking lot to use Aviano's bathrooms.
Researchers at Kimberly Clark Professional in Roswell, Ga., understand the need for clean bathrooms. According to a recent survey, 61 percent of respondents are so concerned about germs they use a variety of avoidance strategies to not touch faucets, dispensers and other restroom surfaces. Some use paper towels like gloves to manipulate faucets and door handles, while others even flush with their feet.
A study in May 2006 by Creative Consumer Concepts and BrandIQ revealed that when it comes to choosing a sit-down restaurant based on atmosphere, 89 percent say the restroom must be clean and well-stocked. Eighty-two percent of fast-food patrons told Kimberly Clark surveyors that their purchase decisions are influenced by cleanliness,
"When we took the kids on car trips, the first thing my wife would do when we stopped for lunch was go to the restroom. If they weren't clean, we wouldn't eat there," said Tom Wilscam, the founder of Einstein Bagels and now vice president of franchise sales for Juan's Mexicali.
But tracking the actual dollars associated with these walk-outs is a bit trickier. Piper isn't even convinced a respectable restroom translates to higher sales. "I wish I could say it turns out to be big profits," he said. "But it doesn't. We have a cleaner store, but the other restaurants still clean our clock financially."
Andrea Hoffman, a marketing consultant in New Jersey, said one in five meals Americans consume these days is prepared in a commercial setting. She said toilet facilities become a way to spotlight a consistent brand image.
The cleaning basics, as Brian Cauff, owner of Knish Knosh in New York knows, aren't difficult: People want toilets and sinks that work; ample toilet paper and towels; no urine on the seats or paper on the floor; and no odors.
Wilscam ensures this pristine restroom experience by assigning bathroom duties to the food runner. It's mandatory they check with the manager the first hour Juan's Mexicali opens, just after the lunch rush, several more times throughout the afternoon, and a couple of times in the evening. Each person signs a card indicating they checked toilet paper and soap levels, and cleaned specific areas. Piper requests his crew make restroom cleaning a two-step process: Round one involves disinfectant and gloves, and round two requires Windex and paper towels for mirrors and fixtures. This ensures an employee in a hurry doesn't use a toilet rag to wipe down the mirrors.
William R. Griffin, president of Cleaning Consultant Services Inc., urges restaurants to take this a step further. "The bathroom is not a place to do virtual cleaning: eyeball it and walk away if it looks pretty good," he said. "If urine and body fluids aren't removed, the decomposition process starts and smells set in. Then they get into the floorboard, the walls, and you won't get them out except with a bulldozer." In other words, dumping the trash and swishing a little blue cleanser in the bowl when someone has a free moment isn't adequate. Griffin suggests giving an employee at least 20 minutes to complete the cleaning process.
The disinfectant alone must stay on the toilet seat and sink surface for seven to 10 minutes to kill germs – spraying it with one hand and wiping it off with a rag in the other is futile. It's extremely important the staffer don a pair of gloves, apply cleanser to a scrubbing pad and reach inside the toilet bowl, making sure to
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scour underneath the ring. Otherwise, the resulting build-up carries odors and eventually stains the toilet irreversibly. Ditto the floor immediately surrounding the toilet – it needs physical scrubbing.
And take the urinal screen out daily to clean the trap, says Lynn Krafft, associate editor for the International Custodial Advisors Network. "If you apply a quaternary ammonium disinfectant and a bowl swab every day, you won't need those smelly little urinal blocks that announce to every user that this is really a filthy fixture no one takes time to clean.," he said.
Finally, have the cleaner on duty go into a stall, sit on the toilet and look aroundfor cobwebs, dust and broken hinges. If he sees them, so does the customer.
Stocked to the hilt
Nine out of 10 people told the Kimberly-Clark surveyors that they prefer restrooms with automatic or touch-free sinks, soap and towel dispensers. Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications for the Soap and Detergent Association agrees these gadgets represent tomorrow's necessities for an acceptable restroom.
Unfortunately, these options initially cost two to three times higher than their traditional counterparts, so restaurant owners need to focus on overall savings in water, supply, repair and labor. James O'Connor, spokesperson for Technical Concepts in Mundelein, Ill., breaks it down:
Service Investment Annual Savings ROI
Autoflush $18,000 $3,960 22 percent
Autoclean $8,400 $4,004 48 percent
Autofaucet $15,600 $5,888.59 38 percent
Autosoap $3,900 $4,041.21 104 percent
AutoAir freshener $900 $1,212.34 135 percent
If those costs aren't in your budget range today, Sansoni said, then at least use a liquid soap dispenser as opposed to a bar of soap lying on the sink. Even a pump bottle of antibacterial soap from the local grocery store shelf cuts it with most patrons, he adds.
Wilscam prefers the toilet paper dispensers that hold two rolls, so his staff replaces the spare and patrons never dig in their purses for Kleenex or ask strangers for a supply handed under the door.
As a final touch: Sansoni recommends owners post signs asking for feedback on the restroom and providing a phone number to headquarters if that's appropriate. "You want to showcase that you care about this business and the presentation all the way around, not just the quality food you serve," he notes.
Put some thought into the restroom as a design statement, too. "They're boring," said Wilscam. "So we tried to make it a little fun while you have to be in there." His wallpaper, for instance, is a play on the many ways he can twist the name Juan: "So you're the Juan," "Juan-derful," and "Thanks for Juan-dering in." Over the urinal and toilet seats hangs a sign saying "If you just enjoyed our hot sauces, consider washing your hands before using the restroom."
He uses wall sconces for lighting, and pipes in music – both touches Hoffman say go a long way in making yours a destination restroom. She recommends clients select calmer music than the rest of the establishment, and spring for upscale touches like upgraded tile, slate or marble floors and heavy wood doors on the stalls. Pictures, potpourri and candles also can add to the ambiance. "Just be sure to change some of the decor every month so repeat customers can see you take care of it," she says.
"A plain restroom is like dressing up in a suit and not putting on socks," is Wilscam's philosophy. "I'd look silly.
"It's not the big things that win in the restaurant business – it's the details," he said.