By Billy Manzo, Federal Hill Pizza
How many times have you visited a restaurant bathroom and were so disgusted that you just walked right out? Be honest. It’s happened to me. I’m sure it’s happened to you.
The bathroom is one of the most important parts of the customer experience. People use it for any number of reasons beyond the obvious—to wash their hands, to make a phone call, to enjoy some personal space—and they expect it to be clean. That’s especially true in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a recent survey by the Bradley Corporation, which specializes in commercial washrooms, more than 60% of Americans—millennials and Gen Xers in particular—are willing to spend more at businesses that have clean, well-maintained restrooms. The study also found that nearly three out of four Americans make it a point to visit a business because they know it has nice restrooms. Let’s also not forget that some of the best Instagram traps are restaurant bathrooms—think selfies in front of neon signs that say, “S*&# Happens.” Bathrooms are an extension of your brand. They tell part of your story.
You call this crazy? I call this “clean bacteria marketing.” It’s like a common cold: You want everyone coming into your place to catch it—in a good way. Because when they do, they’ll tell two friends, and those friends will tell two friends, and that translates to more customers walking into your pizzeria and more dough in your pocket.
Making Cleanliness Part of Your Culture
Unfortunately, many bathrooms don’t get the attention they deserve. According to that same Bradley Corporation study, 67% of Americans have noticed more trash and paper towels littering countertops and floors recently. They also report seeing an increase in unflushed toilets. Plus, a whopping three-fourths of Americans say they’ve had a “particularly unpleasant experience” in a public restroom due to the condition of the facility—a number that’s crept up over the years.
That’s troubling. After all of the hard work you put into running your business, the last thing you want is a one-star Yelp review because there was no toilet paper in the stall. Remember, if the public-facing rooms are not up to speed, your customers are wondering what’s happening in the kitchen or other rooms that nobody can see!
Listen, I know that, on any given day, you have a lot on your plate, but your restrooms are one of the busiest—and most scrutinized—areas of your restaurant. Fortunately, while they can be expensive to furnish—can ceramic tile get any pricier?—they don’t cost a lot to clean. Whether you’re getting down on your hands and knees to do it yourself or hiring someone to do it for you, you need to find a way to work bathroom maintenance into your budget and schedule.
When we developed our business plan for our Providence, Rhode Island, location of Federal Hill Pizza, I told my wife, “We need to hire a full-time cleaning person for the entire restaurant.” Every day, our cleaning person washes the floors, wipes down the tables and cleans the bathrooms. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, when we were shut down for indoor dining for months on end, the bathrooms were cleaned daily! Why? Because I’m type AAAA? Partly, yes, but also because I have made cleanliness part of our culture. And you can, too. Here’s how to do it.
Top 10 Tips for a Five-Star Bathroom
- Keep supplies—toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, etc.—handy so that you can quickly restock when necessary. If a customer is forced to go to the bar or to a waiter and say, “Excuse, me, there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom,” that’s like a customer complaining that you ran out of pizza. Every day before your shift starts, you should go into your bathroom and check your paper towels and your toilet paper. You gotta have your head in the game.
- Check the overall structure. Make sure there are no holes in the wall and no chipped or stained tiles, especially on the ceiling. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into a restaurant bathroom and seen spots on ceiling tiles. There’s no reason for it. You had a leak? Okay, go to Home Depot, and change out the tile!
- Pay special attention to problem areas. These include windowsills, the area behind the sink spigots (where water tends to pool) and the corners of the room. Dust mites and garbage gather in floor corners, and cobwebs can form in ceiling corners. If I see a cobweb when I walk into a restaurant bathroom, I know for sure that bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in eons.
- Clean and sanitize toilets and urinals daily. Keep toilet brushes and cleansers where you keep your restocking supplies. This way, if an accident happens during the day—and, as we all know, accidents happen—you can remedy the situation quickly.
- Empty garbage cans throughout the day as needed. We’ve all been to restaurants where the trash bins are overflowing, so the customers just toss their paper towels on top of the heap. That’s disgusting. It’s like washing your hands next to Mount Vesuvius.
- Don’t forget about doorknobs and stall locks! These are some of the most germ-infested surfaces in commercial spaces. Run a disinfectant wipe along them at least once a day.
- Sweep floors daily and mop after closing. You don’t want your customers eating off your bathroom floor, but you want your bathroom floors to look like they can.
- Monitor your hand soap dispensers. They should be as new as possible. If they get old, then ask your supplier for a new one. Remember, if you buy the soap, you get the hand dispenser for free, so there’s no excuse for shoddy dispensers.
- Mirrors must be smudge- and streak-free. I don’t care if you wipe them in a tight S-pattern or go “paint the fence” style like the Karate Kid—just make sure your customers can see their reflections without having to squint.
- Your bathroom should not only be clean but smell clean. And if you don’t like the smell of disinfectant, throw a few air fresheners into your shopping cart while you’re picking up the ceiling tiles. (Or, for a sweet touch, add a bouquet of fresh flowers to a mantel or tabletop.)
Your restaurant’s territory starts from the sidewalk and stretches all the way from the dining room to the kitchen to the bathroom. That means the energy you put into every other area should be the same energy that you put into the bathroom. As restaurant owners, there are many things we don’t have control over—pandemics come to mind—but you can certainly control the quality of the food that you serve and the cleanliness of your bathroom.
One of our longtime customers recently came for dinner after we reopened the dining room when the pandemic restrictions were lifted. “I want you to know that I tell everyone to come here,” she told my wife and me. I figured she was going to tell me how much she loves the food. But she went on: “You guys have the cleanest bathroom….”
A little “clean bacteria marketing” goes a long way.