Understanding Restaurant Guests’ Restroom Preferences

As indoor dining slowly begins to become a mainstream activity once again, it is worth reassessing the evolving customer preferences around foodservice restrooms. Now more than ever, poorly maintained restrooms can repel customers. In fact, a recent survey showed that 60 percent of Americans would leave a business immediately and be unlikely to return after encountering a dirty restroom. Restaurants that do not provide basic hand hygiene essentials run the same risk.

On the other hand, exceptional restroom care can make customers feel safe and give them an incentive to return, even serving as a competitive differentiator for foodservice operations. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the demand for washroom cleanliness, restaurants should now carefully consider how to meet or exceed heightened consumer expectations around restroom hygiene before offering full-capacity indoor dining.

Restaurant Restrooms Post-Pandemic

Most restaurant owners already understand the importance of restroom cleanliness and hygiene, but the pandemic has certainly changed consumer expectations. The following tactics can enhance restaurant restroom hygiene, customer satisfaction and the bottom line:

1. Keep hands clean with touch-free solutions.

New data shows that the preference for touchless features has increased as a result of COVID-19. In fact, 60 percent of respondents in one survey said their preference for touchless handwashing products in restrooms has risen “a great deal” because of the pandemic. There are numerous opportunities to transform restaurants restrooms into a nearly or completely touch-free experience. Restaurants can install touch-free hand soap dispensers, touch-free flushing technology and touch-free paper towel dispensers. 

Owners can also install door tissue dispensers near restroom exits to help guests avoid touching door handles on their way out. In addition, some customers may even be hesitant to touch a wastebasket at all in order to dispose of a paper towel and choose to flush it instead. For this reason, it is worth considering paper towels with the ability to dissolve after use to help avoid toilet clogs. All of these solutions keep hands clean and give patrons confidence that their wellbeing and safety is a priority for the restaurant.

2. Consider that most customers prefer paper towels over air dryers.

A survey from before the pandemic showed nearly 7 in 10 Americans (69 percent) already preferredpaper towels as their hand-drying method of choice. Now, some multinational companies and even entire countries are requiring the exclusive use of paper towels over jet air dryers. Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to retrofit restrooms to provide customers with paper towels, whether in addition to or in lieu of air dryers. 

Overall, it is crucial for foodservice operators to make sure customers have plenty of options available and stocked for proper hand hygiene, especially after many have focused their efforts on delivery and takeout business over the past year and may not have had restrooms open to the public.

3. Implement new cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

A 2020 survey found 62 percent of Americans would be likely to spend more money in a business with clean public restrooms. The same survey in 2019 determined that 45 percent expressed the same penchant for spending in establishments with clean restrooms. Restaurant operators should take note: that’s a 17 percent increase in just a year’s time, suggesting strongly that the pandemic moved public opinion sharply. 

A separate Harris Poll conducted during the pandemic revealed 61 percent of Americans would feel more confident if a facility has implemented additional cleaning and disinfecting protocols since the pandemic began, and 62 percent would feel more “self-assured” in a facility that frequently cleans and disinfects its restrooms. For restaurants, these findings demonstrate that prioritizing restroom cleanliness invites profits for the establishment and peace of mind for patrons. In response, managers can implement more frequent and comprehensive restroom-cleaning processes, making the cleaning process more visible to restaurant occupants. 

4. Look for innovations in restroom hygiene.

To stand out from other restaurants, foodservice operations can seek out the latest hygienic innovations that meet new consumer demands. For instance, some paper towel dispensers are specially manufactured with silver-ion technology that automatically repels pathogens lingering on the surface. 

In addition, there are toilet paper and paper towel dispensers made from recovered ocean plastic, meeting the continuously increasing consumer demand for sustainable solutions. After all, 90 percent of consumers say they are equally or more concerned about environmental issues after the COVID-19 outbreak. This opens the door for restaurants to focus even more on implementing environmentally responsible products in restrooms and beyond. 

To communicate sustainability to consumers, third-party certifications such as those from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) can be good indicators of sustainable manufacturing. Outside of choosing third-party certified products, effectively communicating the environmental responsibility of products directly to environmentally conscious customers is an ongoing challenge for foodservice operators. As such, innovations in this field could impact the future of the industry.

Back to Hygiene Basics

On top of new adjustments in response to the pandemic, restaurants still need to remember longstanding consumer preferences that have only strengthened over the past year. Consider the following insights:

  • Quality establishments need quality paper products. 

To meet the high expectations of diners in more upscale restaurants, owners should understand the attributes customers look for in paper products. In 2019, a poll showed strength, absorbency and softness are the top three features consumers desire. Even quick service restaurants should not settle for subpar paper products, especially with many consumers still wary of contracting COVID-19. While it’s true that every restaurant has struggled during the pandemic, investing in quality over price can pay off with regards to customer satisfaction and repeat business. 

  • Customers appreciate easy access to hand sanitizer. 

Though hand sanitizer in restrooms has been common for some time, the pandemic has popularized placing hand sanitizer stations at entrances and other high-traffic areas. At this point, failing to provide easy access to hand sanitizer can only harm a restaurant’s image. In response, restaurants with larger restrooms can consider installing multiple dispensers. In addition to restrooms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends placing hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol on every table in the dining area.

High-Stakes Hygiene

Before the pandemic, restaurant restrooms had an impact on customer satisfaction. Now, with new standards around cleanliness, these spaces can make or break a foodservice operation’s bottom line. It is essential for restaurants to review current restroom hygiene practices and adjust them alongside evolving consumer preferences. 

Creating a touch-free environment, increasing cleaning and disinfecting frequency and purchasing sustainable hygiene solutions are three simple starting points. At the same time, restaurant owners should not lose sight of longstanding consumer preferences such as the demand for paper towels over air dryers and easy access to hand sanitizer. With these best practices in place, the restaurant industry can rebound in the right direction and keep customers safe and satisfied, giving them the peace of mind required to be comfortable eating out again.