By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
If your c-store aims to be taken seriously as a foodservice destination, image is everything. Retailers who spend as much time focusing on the cleanliness of their store and maintaining a pristine restroom as they do planning the menu succeed by solidifying their place in customers’ minds as a safe, sanitary location with a professional food operation.
Fail on basic clean restroom practices and customers are likely to dismiss your food offering as a being of questionable quality from a less-than-hygienic location.
Following a few simple best practices can help your chain make the leap to a traffic-driving destination.
“If a customer comes in and uses your restroom and it’s clean, they assume the rest of the store is clean,” said Jere Matthews, vice president of operations at York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores. “Especially if they’re thinking about buying foodservice, customers will have more of a propensity to buy food items at a store with a nice bathroom as opposed to at an establishment where the bathroom is old or dirty—they may then equate that to the rest of the store and how the store is run overall.”
Rutter’s set about upgrading its restrooms several years ago, and today prides itself on offering the kind of clean and aesthetically pleasing restrooms guests are accustomed to finding at a five-star dining establishment. Today, whenever a store is remodeled, the 57-store chain is certain to also update the restrooms to keep them in top shape.
Rutter’s restrooms feature hands-free fixtures, including sinks, urinals, toilets and hand dryers, as well as a hands-free paper towel dispenser, so guests don’t have to touch a knob or crank to get a towel.
Today, customers are increasingly concerned with avoiding germs and that extends to touching fixtures previously used by strangers. Customers often associate hands-free fixtures with a perception of cleanliness and sanitation, a feeling that can extend to the rest of the store.
Rutter’s restrooms also feature a button near the door that guests can push if they are unhappy about the conditions of a restroom so a clerk can arrive to attend to the problem.
“We’ve received incredible feedback from the buttons in our restrooms. When a customer pushes the button it’s a discrete way for them to alert us to an issue that we can get started correcting right away,” said Alex Henry, communications manager for Rutter’s.
Employees at Rutter’s are required to fill out a checklist at various times throughout their shift, noting they have attended to all restroom cleaning requirements. The chain provides its stores with a bathroom cleaning machine that staff is required to use a specific number of times per day. The staff wheels the machine directly into the restroom and it sprays down the room with sanitizing materials.
“Rutter’s has an expectation of our employees that they will check consistently on the bathrooms, so it’s part of a daily routine all of our employees are part of, and it’s part of our culture in our stores. Our employees are expected to meet our high standards for cleanliness,” Henry said.
Growing From Good To Great
Buc-ee’s is another c-store chain well-known for its sparkling restrooms. It’s latest location in New Braunfels, Texas opened in May and has already attracted attention for its superior restroom operation. The 68,000- square-foot store (yes, 68,000 square feet), not only features 60 gas pumps, 80 soda fountain heads and 31 cash registers, but an impressive 83 restroom stalls. The massive restroom was even named the winner of Cintas’ 11th annual America’s Best Restroom contest in November, beating out posh hotel lavoratories to stand beside past winners, such as Chicago’s Field Museum, in the bathroom hall of fame.
In a follow-up whitepaper titled “Becoming America’s Best Restroom,” Cintas Corp. provided tips on how businesses can utilize a multi-level approach to taking their restrooms from passable to exceptional, and possibly even find themselves on a future Best Restroom List.
“Businesses often don’t recognize the negative impact that poorly maintained restrooms can have on the customer experience,” said John Engel, senior marketing manager for Cintas. To help your customers see your store in a better light, consider the following Cintas tips.
• Define Clean for Your Core Customers. Different demographics might judge a satisfactory restroom differently. Mothers want cleanliness and baby changing areas, while the younger demographic might be more apt to notice the amenities and remember if the soap dispensers were low or the toilet paper was missing.
• Develop a Checklist. To ensure restrooms are getting the attention they need, a cleaning schedule and an employee checklist is key. An effective cleaning strategy includes a recurring combination of spot cleaning, daily cleaning and deep cleaning methods. Schedule cleanings between peak business times and train employees on procedures.
• Use Products That Perform. Invest in products that will help maintain cleanliness and keep your restrooms smelling clean, such as air fresheners, auto flushes and urinal screens. Cleaning solutions and tools, such as mops, wipes and chemical dispensing systems, should always be on hand. Use deep cleaning services that combine chemicals, agitation and extraction to remove all contaminants and debris from restrooms on an ongoing basis.
• Measure Cleanliness. If you want to ensure your restrooms are up to par, consider investing in tools, such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) meters or black lights. An ATP meter detects the presence of microbial contamination on restroom surfaces to determine if the correct solutions and procedures were used. Blacklights can also detect surface contamination.
• Partner for Success. If keeping your restroom in top shape is a struggle, consider partnering with a facility services provider. Typically, in-house employees will perform daily maintenance tasks while service providers ensure that restrooms are constantly stocked and regularly deep cleaned.
Easy As 1, 2, 3
The easiest way to stay on top of restroom cleanliness is to “operationalize it,” recommended John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm.
As the former president of Jimmy John’s Subs, Matthews is well versed in the impact clean restrooms have on customers. He advised c-store retailers to add the specific tasks involved in cleaning the restroom right into the opening or closing duties of the c-store staff or, if you have a separate foodservice staff—to your foodservice operation opening/closing checklist.
“Dedicating an attention to detail by including bathroom cleanliness in an operational schedule is critical,” said Matthews. “Cleanliness of the foodservice operation and all ancillary areas creates an atmosphere of trust. Customers trust that the level of detail being applied to the overall cleanliness is also being applied to the protection of the consumer in the form of food safety and sanitation.”
Daily Restroom Checklist
John Matthews, founder of GRAY CAT ENTERPRISES, recommended employing the following daily checklist for employees to follow, in order to keep your restrooms in top order.
• Clean the mirrors with glass cleaner and paper towel.
• Wipe down all
the walls with an all-purpose cleaner and paper towel.
• Clean sinks and faucets with all-purpose cleaner and paper towel.
• Clean toilets with a toilet brush and bowl cleaner, making sure to clean under the toilet lid and rims and the complete outside of the toilet.
• Clean the floor from corner to corner removing any movable items and cleaning under them.
• Fill the soap, towel and toilet paper dispensers, if needed.
• Clean and empty the garbage cans.