View Full Version : Restaurants and their bathrooms.

not what you'd expect
05-27-2012, 07:30 PM
How do you feel about restaurants that restrict bathroom use to customers only?

Is it okay to use the restroom of a restaurant without purchasing anything?

Personally, I am not comfortable using the restroom in a restaurant unless I'm a paying customer. Others have no problem with it though, as we are finding out with our new deli.

We are the only place in town that has not restricted restroom use to customers only. Not yet anyway. Some people do ask and are given permission. Sometimes, the permission is probably less than friendly, if you know what I mean. Others don't even ask and some even lie and say they are waiting for the rest of their party, but then disappear.

I get irritated about this and I don't want to. I need to either restrict the use of the bathroom or let people use it cheerfully. I don't want to piss people off, but it's not free to maintain this bathroom either. The water alone is terribly expensive.

So, what say you?

05-27-2012, 07:34 PM
I don't mind restricting bathroom use to paying customers only if there's another alternative not too far away. But if there's only one place with a bathroom nearby, it seems kind of cruel to tell people without money to take a hike.

05-27-2012, 07:36 PM
While I understand the POV of the store owner, I don't know. Let me give you a scenario:

I'm driving down the road and I've suddenly got to pee. If I run into a store and they refuse to let me use their bathroom, it pretty much guarantees I'll begrudge them and not go back again. Granted, I always try to buy something in situations like this, but I usually don't buy it until after I pee. . .so, you wouldn't know if I was a real customer or not until after you let me in the bathroom.

Just my $.02

05-27-2012, 07:42 PM
So, this guy goes into a pizza restaurant, just to use the can. The manager, seeing this, phones the police, and reports it as a trespassing offense. But the guy in the bathroom, overhearing this, makes a point, when he comes out, of buying a slice of plain pizza, just so he is a real customer, not a trespasser, and he displays the receipt when the police arrive. This is called "Cheese it, the cops."

Capt Kirk
05-27-2012, 07:54 PM
This is a dammed if you do dammed if you don't, personally I feel guilty if I don't buy something when I use the bathroom at a gas station but plenty of people don't. Maybe a middle ground, a sign "customers only" with a more open policy, because sometimes you just gotta go. Feel free to say no to the Homeless(sorry but...), intoxicated and the guy next door who treats you bathroom as his own IMHO

Capt Kirk

05-27-2012, 08:17 PM
In Washington State, the law requires businesses to allow any customer to use an employee restroom if three or more employees are working at the time, and the request doesn't pose a security risk.

So if an establishment has a public restroom, they can't be denied anyway.

05-27-2012, 08:34 PM
About the only type of place I'd actually use the bathroom without being a customer is a national retail chain. I figure that for all anyone else knows, I am a customer but rethought my purchase or couldn't find what I needed. But that's still weasly and I know it. I'd never go into any restaurantish place and expect to be able to use their bathroom unless I bought something.

I guess more objectively, have you noticed any of the non-customers using the bathroom coming back some other time and becoming customers? If not, I can't see how it'd be worth it. The fact that no one else allows it makes me think you wouldn't have to worry about ill-will directed toward your deli for restricting the use.

not what you'd expect
05-27-2012, 08:53 PM
This is a walking, touristy kind of place. There are public restrooms in town, but they are at the other end of the street. Probably most of the people using the bathroom are tourists.

I don't know if that matters.

05-27-2012, 08:59 PM
I dislike using the bathroom in a business unless i am a patron. Typically I find some fast food place and make a nominal purchase on the way out - a coffee or iced tea, typically.

05-27-2012, 09:18 PM
I was once in a small casual restaurant in NYC, and a VERY pregnant woman rushed in off the street, and asked to use the restroom. She stressed that it was urgent. The manager refused her, saying it was store policy. It was only after some of us started yelling at him that he relented. Some circumstances trump store policy.

05-27-2012, 09:36 PM
I'm fine with restricting bathroom use. Most places around here are "customer use only" and even have the doors locked, so you have to go to the counter and make a purchase in order to get a key or be buzzed in. I'm always delighted when I find an unlocked bathroom door, but these are usually in places where homeless people and drug addicts wouldn't get much past the front door in the first place. Depending on the part of town you're in, the merchants really do have to be concerned about people using the bathroom as an actual "bath" room, or IV drug use. If the policy keeps them out, the bathroom relatively clean, and me in, I'm all for it.

05-27-2012, 09:38 PM
Since you are just a small deli, I don't think there's anything wrong with a "restroom for customers only" sign. If someone wants to ask, and you want to allow it, then they may reward you by actually patronizing you someday. Or maybe they'll just take advantage of you, but it'll probably only be the once.

Also, check relevant laws of course to see if you are required!

05-27-2012, 11:03 PM
Not sure if this helps, but if I were in your shoes, this would be my mindset....

Water really isn't that expensive. I'm not sure what city you live in, but as an example in Phoenix, 12,000 gallons costs $34.29. In Boston it's $65.47 per 12,000 gallons. A toilet flush is about 1.6 gallons, but let's assume 2 with hand washing, etc. So even if you're water bill is tied to your sewer bill, worst case you're talking 2.5 cents or so per flush.

I don't know if you advertise, but if you do, it's to entice people to come into your shop. There are few advertisements or marketing programs that will get people in the door (that otherwise wouldn't have come in) for 2.5 cents per customer.

I'd look at it as a marketing expense. You're differentiating yourself because you are one of the few "friendly" places that lets people use the restroom. People want to shop at a place that has a message and a personality. The open bathroom policy becomes part of who you are (you're not like the other restrictive shops), and I think that is a positive thing. If only one out of 10 people that came in from the outside to use the bathroom bought something, you'd still just be spending 21 cents for a paying customer, that you may not have otherwise had. I'd imagine your bathroom policy would be good for the bottom line.

I'd go one step further - to increase the number of people that entered your Deli, and to let people know what kind of deli you are, you could have a sign outside your establishment that said, "Our bathroom is NOT just for customers - come on in".

Once someone has gone into the deli to use the bathroom, maybe you can help convert them into a paying customer with signs in the bathroom or in the Deli. ("Long Day? Rejuvenate yourself with an ice-cold lemonade and chicken sandwich").

Wouldn't that be neat to try for one month and see what happened?

I recognize that you need to keep the bathroom clean, and there are other costs involved, but as someone that sometimes goes to touristy areas, I find the atmosphere in some of the artsy mom & pop shops a little stuffy, and off-putting. A "bathroom for customers only" sign lessens the appeal of those shops because they seem less friendly and only interested in me if I spend money with them. Guess how long I like to be in a store I subconsciously think is unfriendly? Not long.

Your open bathroom policy in contrast says, "I want you to be comfortable (whether or not you buy from me)". I have a strong suspicion that message will garner you extra traffic and extra sales that would more than offset your costs.

05-28-2012, 04:37 AM
aaelghat makes a good point and has a reasonable rationale, but there's no guarantee that your particular area and situation will make this a profitable marketing venture. It might be worth talking to a local marketing consultant for a couple of hours and see if a public bathroom would even increase your profitability. If every other shop in the area has a private restroom, as you mentioned, and there are public restrooms right down the street, then it's possible you wouldn't lose anything by keeping your restrooms for customers only. You can still make exceptions in exceptional cases, of course (like the hugely pregnant woman or the mother with a young child who's about to vomit). There are local factors to consider, like the cost of water/paper/soap/electricity, the increased maintenance to keep it looking nice, and the accelerated depreciation of the toilet/sink/door hinges/floor tiles. It all sounds like small stuff on its own, but if you aggregate the costs it might not be worth it.

05-28-2012, 05:09 AM
You could charge a nominal fee for non-customers - just 25c or so, to offset the water and cleaning supplies.

Lynn Bodoni
05-28-2012, 05:26 AM
I vastly prefer to be a patron if I'm gonna use the bathroom. However, if I gotta go, I gotta go.

I think that there's a law in at least some areas of the US that restaurants MUST have publicly accessible bathrooms. This is definitely something to check into before anything else. Even if it's legal, I probably wouldn't patronize a restaurant that restricted bathroom access.

I've worked in places that don't have public bathrooms. And when you make an exception, it seems like about half the time, the person who needed that potty so desperately pays you back by making a humongous mess in the bathroom. I completely understand why you would prefer to restrict bathroom access. I'm just saying that it might not be legal, and it might not be wise.

not what you'd expect
05-28-2012, 06:49 AM
It's a tricky situation. I want to be friendly, but when the special events happen in the courtyard, I could see it getting out of control. And I hate it when they throw the paper on the floor instead of the trash can that is right there.

Well, I think we'll keep it open for now and hope the public doesn't abuse it too badly. Thanks you guys.

05-28-2012, 02:58 PM
Quite frankly I'm surprised anyone would even give this a first thought, let alone a second. If I have to go to the bathroom, I have to go and I'm going to go at the first place I see.

And frankly, unless I'm some homeless meth head looking for a place to give blowjobs for drug money, the restaurant shouldn't care.

Now I can understand resticting access if there is a special event outside the restuarant. You don't want dozens of people coming in there messing up the place and displacing the actual paying customers.

05-28-2012, 03:04 PM
There are many restaurants near the bus station, and not one of them lets you use their bathroom if you're not a customer. There are no bathrooms at the bus station.

They fiercely enforce this rule at the McDonald's near the bus station (I was once bodily forced out of a bathroom stall by an employee - I was planning to use the bathroom and then order something, but they didn't let me.) I have sometimes gotten around this rule by ordering a glass of water at McDonald's (costs nothing, but enables me to use the bathroom as a "customer.")

05-28-2012, 03:21 PM
Not sure what state you live in...

Illinois requires any retail establishment that has a restroom for employees to allow the public to access it during normal business hours if the restroom is safe to access and the person has a medical reason.


Ohio has a similar law


05-28-2012, 03:39 PM
As someone who needs a bathroom NOW when she needs one, please leave your bathroom open to customers. That is really a personal request but people like you that allow me to use your bathroom allow me to actually leave the house. (Honestly, if it were a tourist area with only one set of public washrooms, I probably wouldn't be able to go there without you letting me use yours.)

I promise to clean up after myself and I will probably buy a soda on the way out anyway (or maybe a sandwich or pepperette. Do you have pepperettes?) but, honestly, if I bought something from every place I have ever used the bathroom I would have either been broke or homebound by now.

(However, I have never been denied use of even a 'Customers only' bathroom. I think the desperate, crazed look in my eyes makes people sympathetic.)

05-28-2012, 03:43 PM
As a theorectical business owner I can't imagine not allowing decent folks in need to use the facilities. Once I became a real business owner I suspect my mood would change so much I'd require 500 dollar security deposits for even my customers to be allowed to use them. A small but non zero fraction of people are just thoughtless pigs and I look forward to the day of big brother recording everything and I hope the first place the cameras go are in "public" bathrooms.

05-28-2012, 09:04 PM
Some 10 or 15 years ago, a bar in Pamplona closed its restroom during Sanfermines, claiming that they were tired of spending more time replacing the roll of paper and cleaning the room than serving drinks.

City Hall and the local government discovered that this was legal. The next meeting of the local Parliament passed a law decreeing that the restrooms of a public establishment (bar, restaurant or hallway restrooms in hotels) are public; they must be open to the public when the place itself is.

Of course, "courtesy demands courtesy": it is considered extremely impolite to use a place's facilities and not order anything, but at the same time if you're in a hurry well, you are. You'll come back at a better time and order something.

Going to Madrid, where "customers only" signs are common, or to Barcelona, where I've had to ask "dude, I'm carrying an armful of stuff, I'm about to pee myself, and you want me to order and grab a drink before I pee? Are you sure? And by the way, does that bathroom have a place for me to leave my drink on?" feels so... uncivilized.

Tom Tildrum
05-29-2012, 08:29 AM
I'm driving down the road and I've suddenly got to pee.

"Well, I'm running down the road trying to loosen my load, got a world of trouble on my mind"

-- The Eagles

not what you'd expect
05-30-2012, 04:55 AM
I'll never hear that song in the same way again.


05-30-2012, 05:10 AM
I'd be happy to be charged a few dollars to use the bathroom of an establishment. I just don't want to have to wait in line with other customers so I can buy a nominal item. I gotta go. Fighting that kind of urge with rules is quite an uphill battle.

Maybe other people would be upset at the idea of explicitly playing to use the restroom. I find that the purchase of a nominal item as a fig leaf is silly and inefficient.

05-30-2012, 09:44 AM
When I go into an establishment to use their bathroom I then order something. Well unless the line is long. But I certainly won't order something before I use the restroom. For all I know they don't even have one or it's broken. Then I'll have to use the bathroom AND have bought something from a place without a bathroom!

05-30-2012, 09:57 AM
You should put a tip jar outside the bathroom and see what becomes of it. If water is a cost concern and everyone using your bathroom is as nice but hurried as all of these full-bladdered Dopers, then you might be able to recoup your costs.

Tom Tildrum
05-30-2012, 10:23 AM
I once was on a document-review project where I was gonig through hundres of boxes in a warehouse that had no bathroom. To pee, I had to go the convenience store down the street, and I felt guilty just using the bathroom, so I would typically buy a drink. This was poor planning on my part.

05-30-2012, 10:38 AM
It's a tricky situation. I want to be friendly, but when the special events happen in the courtyard, I could see it getting out of control. And I hate it when they throw the paper on the floor instead of the trash can that is right there.

Well, I think we'll keep it open for now and hope the public doesn't abuse it too badly. Thanks you guys.

Question: Is the trash can right next to the door? :dubious:

Because I wash my hands and then use a paper towel to get out of the bathroom. No sense in contaminating my hands on the door handle (because I don't know who didn't wash their hands and touched that door handle before they left -- so now I want to avoid getting fecal coliform bacteria on my hands) right before I'm about to order a sandwich and eat with my hands. I might attempt to toss the paper towel in the general direction of the trash can, but if you wanted to avoid this, you might place the trash can right next to the door. Then people who do this can open the door, drop the paper towel in the trash and proceed to your counter where they will order food.

I think you should look at every potential non-customer bathroom user as an advertising/marketing opportunity. Give them a small sample of something, maybe you'll sell a sandwich you wouldn't have otherwise by locking down your bathroom for patrons only.

I tell ya, I really hate that attitude, especially in a restaurant. If the owners/employees get snippy with me about it, I am more likely to leave and find a place that does have an open-bathroom policy than I am to buy something just to use your restroom. You won't even let me stop to pee on a road trip? Then why should I give you my money? I'll go over here to Bubba's open-door policy restaurant, use theirs, and maybe even pick up a snack before I get back on the road.

05-30-2012, 10:45 AM
I'll go over here to Bubba's open-door policy restaurant, use theirs, and maybe even pick up a snack before I get back on the road.

And unfortunately thats the bathroom thats more likely to look like someone's ass exploded or they had a firehose for a wanker.

05-30-2012, 10:47 AM
You could charge a nominal fee for non-customers - just 25c or so, to offset the water and cleaning supplies.

I was in a restaurant that had a lock box on the bathroom. "See hostess for token" was on the door. A token cost $5.00 if you were not a customer, but was given free to customers. Cool idea.

05-30-2012, 11:52 AM
Personally, I try to avoid using public restrooms, escpecially if I don't plan on purchasing anything. I think it's only fair to use bathrooms in places where I'm eating or shopping.

There is an exception to that. I know that once or twice when my little one was a toddler, we ran into the problem of being out longer than planned and she had to use the potty. Places are nice if they can see that it's for a wiggling 2-year-old. I made a point to buy a drink or something because I know that each flush adds to their water bill.

Once my child threw up on a long car trip. I pulled over into a convenience store's parking lot. The sign said the bathrooms were for customers only, but the owner was so sweet and gave me loads of moist paper towels and a plastic baggy to put her messy clothes in. I didn't end up buying anything since I was concentrating on the mess in the car, but I did appreciate the nice man for helping me. I know that it cost his business to hand out that box of paper towels, water, and the plastic bag. Maybe he was only out $1 for all of that, but I appreciated it.

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