By John Lofstock, Editor.
A new national survey revealed that 63% of Americans have had a particularly unpleasant experience in a public restroom due to the condition of the facilities. That’s bad news for operators looking to grow foodservice sales.
The top restroom complaints were: a really bad smell (82%); toilets that were clogged or not flushed (79%); and an overall appearance that’s dirty, unkempt or old (73%).
For businesses, an unpleasant restroom experience creates negative customer perceptions, according to the national survey conducted by Bradley Corp., a manufacturer of bathroom and locker room furnishings. Almost three-quarters of consumers believe a bad restroom indicates poor management. Another two-thirds say it lowers their opinion of the company, shows the business doesn’t care about customers, and gives the impression the company is lazy or sloppy.
An unpleasant restroom can also cause lost sales since 64% of Americans say they’ll either think twice about patronizing the business or will never frequent it again.
“It’s clear that the cleanliness of public restrooms is very important to customers,” says Jon Dommisse, a researcher for Bradley Corp. “It pays off for businesses to provide clean, easy-to-use washroom facilities to ensure the user has a good experience.”
The survey also demonstrates to what lengths Americans will go to avoid coming into contact with germs in public restrooms, such as operating the toilet flusher with their foot (64%), using a paper towel when touching the restroom door (60%), and opening and closing doors with their hip (48%).
In the survey, consumers also cited concerns over the lack of hand washing in the food and health industries. More than 76% are most concerned about people not washing their hands in restaurants.
Bradley’s Healthy Hand Washing survey queried 1,015 American adults Aug. 1-5 about their hand washing habits in public restrooms. Participants were from around the country, ranged in age from 18 to 65 and older, and were fairly evenly split between men and women (47% and 53%).
While 63% of customers reported an unpleasant experience in the Bradley survey, results from a study by Cintas Corp. were even more disturbing for retail establishments. Fully 95% of people avoid patronizing a business in which they have had a negative restroom experience.
Growing From Good to Great
Clearly, the message has been sent: if you are not committed to cleanliness, don’t expect your customers to return. With 88% of those surveyed by Cintas identifying overflowing receptacles and 80% identifying paper towels and toilet paper left on the floor as signs of a dirty restroom, it appears restroom patrons are sending a very clear message to convenience stores. Simply exchanging paper towel dispensers for hand dryers can make a big, positive change on the appearance of cleanliness.
Although hand dryers have long been an alternative to paper towels in public restrooms, Excel Dryer set the new industry standard with a high-speed and energy-efficient hand dryer, the XLERATOR. The XLERATOR dries hands three times faster (in 10-15 seconds) than conventional hand dryers, eliminates their maintenance and waste, while creating a more hygienic restroom environment.
If customers walk into a restroom and it isn’t clean, and then you say, ‘Would you like to buy some food from us?’ it’s going to reflect poorly on your entire store. That’s why top quartile chains like Thorntons have designed restrooms that feature bright lighting, floor to ceiling tiles and hands-free XLERATOR air dryers that are motion activated. When furnishing the restrooms, Thorntons looks for equipment that is durable and easy for its team members to clean, which helps ensure they are more likely to stay clean.
Buc-ee’s is another c-store chain well-known for its sparkling restrooms. Its latest location in New Braunfels, Texas has 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.
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. Tips include:
• 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.
• 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 towels.
• Wipe down all the walls with an all-purpose cleaner and paper towels.
• Clean sinks and faucets with all-purpose cleaner and paper towels.
• 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.