BrainTrust Query: Great Sandwich. Lousy Washrooms.

Discussion
Feb 09, 2011

Compliantia recently conducted a
survey asking people what they would do if a restaurant’s washroom lacked
soap, was generally unsanitary or had a strong smell. Eighty-nine percent of
respondents indicated they would take their business elsewhere.

That is a lot
of customers to lose but, lost sales aside, it also suggests a huge credibility
problem for the brand. How does a QSR reconcile the family-friendly message
of their advertising campaign with the bacterial experiment taking place in
your washrooms? Dirty washrooms let customers down; they let the brand down.
They imply the business doesn’t walk the talk. They imply the restaurant doesn’t
care. Dirty washrooms hurt credibility and the brand.

Why are washrooms such an issue with
customers? What the industry calls "Health
and Safety," customers call "Hygiene." Hygiene is tightly coupled
with food preparation and the facilities bear witness to the safety of the food
preparation and the food itself. A recurring theme in the survey was that if
the washroom was dirty then so was the kitchen. Customers can’t see the
kitchen. They can see the washroom and can imagine the staff using it … right
before they prepare their meal.

What can a restaurant do about it?

First, set the expectation with training.
Yearly turnover can be 100 percent or more in the quick service restaurant
business which means training needs to be done relentlessly and repeatedly.

Second,
daily processes involving the store owner/franchisee, managers and assistant
managers should be set up to ensure washrooms are cleaned repeatedly and thoroughly.
Standards should be posted and detailed.

Last, district and regional managers
should have the means to communicate and rate a store’s performance in
all key areas, including washrooms. A store scorecard should be completed by
the district manager monthly or quarterly and the washroom set up as a "critical" item
which will critically affect and lower the score unless standards are met.
Measurement, in and of itself, actually breeds compliance. Measure relentlessly,
score aggressively and your washrooms "performance" will improve.

Discussion Questions: Why does maintaining clean restrooms appear to be such a hurdle for so many QSRs? Are there other operational “blindspots” that you believe need attention at retail?

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20 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Great Sandwich. Lousy Washrooms."


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Many times I’ve noticed the washrooms that are dirty are in understaffed operations. The old mantra doing “more with less” just isn’t true–especially when hoping someone will be motivated to clean the toilet on a regular basis. Regular inspection of expectations is the key–as long as you have enough trained staff.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 3 months ago

QSRs focus all their energy on serving as many customers as quickly as possible. However, while a customer who sees a long line may skip a restaurant that day, they’ll still probably go back. A gross bathroom will lose you a customer for life. Even if adding more staff is not possible, QSR restaurants need to find a way to keep their bathrooms sparkling. It will pay off in the long term.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
When giving seminars or working with clients we often use the term restaurant clean to indicate the standard that they have to match. Part of our restaurant clean discussion deals with the restrooms for the reasons pointed out in the article. Restroom cleanliness impacts how customers view the cleanliness of the entire operation. If it isn’t clean, then perhaps the food prep area isn’t either. I am not offering any excuses for a less than clean restroom, but suspect there are two issues that result in their condition. First is that they are dealing with a very wide segment of the public whose personal hygiene standards may vary significantly. Second, the business tends to come in three time compressed waves–breakfast, lunch, and dinner–and given the pressure they are under to control labor, what personnel they have is waiting on customers. This also means the heaviest restroom usage by patrons is also in a very limited time frame. This does not mean I condone dirty restrooms in any environment. We stress that for the two reasons… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

If the question is why is it so hard to keep QSR restrooms so clean, the simplest answer is that it’s a nasty job that few minimum wage, low emotionally vested employees are willing to take on.

Having worked in bars and restaurants as a student I can assure you people find the most creative ways of getting public restrooms dirty.

That’s no excuse, but it is the answer to the question.

Dan Desmarais
Guest
Dan Desmarais
10 years 3 months ago

I can’t really tell you how to fix QSRs, other than measure, measure, measure and then measure. You’ll find the patterns and then the exceptions.

I can tell you that there are many restaurants where I will not take my family after terrible experiences. Only one chain has been so bad that we now avoid them completely.

Carlos Arámbula
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
Bathroom duties are usually assigned to the employee at the bottom of the hierarchy, and it’s one function where lack of consistency compounds the problem. It’s also the one area where customers’ senses are assaulted when not done properly. Customers who walk into a filthy bathroom will add to the problem since they tend to be careless in their rush out of the facility, and often out the location as well, employees refuse to do a good job and simply had deodorants to mask the mess and it never works. The scent invades the dinning area and once it’s captured by customers, it’s impossible to ignore. As a customer, bathrooms provide a peek at the complete hygiene of a location, it’s the tip of the iceberg. The calling card of a restaurant. And if the visible aspects are not adequately addressed, the customer will apply those to the whole operation. While other operational aspects like decor, state of the dinning room, and outside appearance also count, customers are more forgiving if they see a visible… Read more »
J. Peter Deeb
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

This is a management issue that needs a process in place (e.g. cleaning every 30 minutes) but also needs follow up by the supervisor or the franchisee. Assigning your newest, least trained, most likely to turn over employee is not the answer. If I was running an operation, my supervisor would have this as a critical item and if a reliable system of employee cleaning was not working then management would have had to do the cleaning. I have seen many managers and franchise owners doing the dirty work because they know it is critical to their success.

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Has anyone read Kitchen Confidential? (Anthony Bourdain) In that book, now at least 10 years old, one of his recommendations really stuck with me; “you can tell the most about a restaurant by taking a good look at its bathroom–the whole story is there.” This is a rule that is worth following, especially if you intend to be a repeat customer. It also suggests that maybe we get out of the drive-through line and take a good look under the hood of some of our favorite QSR joints. Good idea!

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
10 years 3 months ago

Restrooms are not a profit center, so often don’t get the attention they need and deserve. Making them a critical part of operational scorecarding, that affects a location’s ratings is a great idea. Keeping restrooms clean doesn’t have any short-term ROI but sure has a long-term one. Same for parking lots and parking garages.

As an aside, one of my favorite industry stories comes from industry guru Harold Lloyd, who years ago was doing operational checks when he ran across an employee leaving a restroom, after using it, and not washing his hands. He said to the employee “Don’t you see the sign that says ’employees must wash hands before returning to work’?” The employee answered “I’m not going back to work. I’m going to lunch!”

Thomas Mediger
Guest
Thomas Mediger
10 years 3 months ago

My father used to be a plant manager for a major US food manufacturer. He always stated that his USDA inspector once told him that you instantly tell how a food inspection is going to go by visiting the restroom at the place you are inspecting first. As I travel around the US I now find myself visiting restrooms before I eat at a location that I have never been in before. Clean facilities are not just a QSR issue.

David Rich
Guest
David Rich
10 years 3 months ago

Al hit the nail on the head…”restrooms are not a profit center, so they don’t get the attention they need and deserve.” Although we all know there is a direct correlation to the brand experience and what we might buy (or not buy) in the short and long term; most executives unfortunately don’t. We all know “what gets measured, gets done.” All our research shows when this is done (and there is a system operationally in place for associates to make it happen)…cleanliness will improve. A great study…thank you Compliantia for conducting!

Tony Orlando
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Our bathrooms do not receive the traffic of a fast-food restaurant, but we have customers and employees who use it daily. We clean at least twice a day, plus we added dollar store paintings and silk flowers to the women’s restroom to make it a peaceful experience. Brand new TOTO toilets were added a few years back, with fresh paint on the walls.

There is no excuse for dirty bathrooms in any business, and it does make customers feel bad, and in that case they probably will not return.

s sarkauskas
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

This is easy:

1. Nobody likes to clean a bathroom, especially one used primarily by someone else, and not for just $9 an hour. If your teenage child does a slapdash job at home cleaning the bathroom, what do you think he does on the job?
2. The public treats “public” restrooms horribly. They often will not tell anyone when their waste clogs a toilet or they have vomited, they put tissues in the sink, they don’t flush, they leave dirty diapers lying around, they “sprinkle when they tinkle” and don’t wipe the seat, and they take pregnancy tests in there.
3. It is not a profit center, and little emphasis is placed on regularly scheduled cleanings (i.e., cleaning it every hour, whether it needs it or not.) If a bad restroom hurt a manager personally financially, you would see cleaner restrooms.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Pardon my language, but WT#?! The key word here is “if”: how did we go from a common sense observation that people wouldn’t patronize a dump to the claim that QSR’s (restrooms) ARE dumps? Or that “there is a huge credibility problem for the brand” (is a whole industry segment a “brand”)? This isn’t an issue, it’s a rant.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
Ryan and others are certainly right about the reasons. How many staff members are willing and able to do this part of their job to the standard that customers and employers require? There really is no way to make it anything other than a non-negotiable part of earning a not very satisfactory wage. It wearies me that we have this discussion– – with mainly the same comments in response to mainly the same problems – on a regular basis. What will it take for lessons to be learned? Unless even the lowest paid, least intelligent member of staff believes that encouraging customers to return (rather than flee and spread the disgusting word) is essential to their continuing employment, it just ain’t gonna happen? Or maybe this should be an exclusively management responsibility–if staff see the boss doing the dirty work, it might make some sort of impression. As an aside, I have noticed on my current trip to the US signs in each restroom advising that it is illegal for staff to leave without washing… Read more »
Richard Cooper
Guest
Richard Cooper
10 years 3 months ago

“Restrooms are not a profit center”? Maybe not in a strict interpretation but think about an unsanitary restroom in terms of LOST profits which, if measured, would potentially add up to representing several thousands of dollars over a 12-month period.

I have had a close consulting relationship with the hotel industry and public area facilities, inclusive of restrooms within the domain of the hotel, are monitored by SUPERVISORY staff every 3-hours with most of the full-service flags.

Some QSR businesses make this critical issue an embedded task of the Assistant Manager on duty.

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Ask McDonald’s. They started and perfected the clean bathroom. It is their clean bathrooms that drives customers into their restaurants. They are the model for the industry. Their restrooms are cleaned every hour, and they have an employee sign-up sheet that indicates the condition of the restroom and that it has been cleaned. This is closely followed by management and is a key part of their operations and quality control. Clean restrooms DO reflect on a well run organization, and the customers love it!

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
The idea that a clean restroom is NOT a profit center is fine. Maybe it’s not. However, if consumers don’t shop you because of it, there is no profit at all. For years McDonald’s served as ‘rest areas’ for our family vacations on the road. That ended years ago. The stop didn’t include just use of a restroom, it included purchases of a shake, coffee, soft drink and sometimes a snack to go with it. We watched the signs and planned stops based on availability of the ‘Golden Arches’. On trips today, we avoid them at all costs. Not because of the food, but because of the rest rooms. Starbucks–maybe due to their ubiquity–as much as McDonald’s has become our stop of choice. Not always because we ‘need’ a fix, but because we can count on the consistency of experience including restrooms. Not a profit center? Silly me, I spend every time I stop. This doesn’t just follow our trips anymore, it follows most places we go. I recently walked out of an Olive Garden… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
Water closets as profit centers? I think maybe that’s an inverted way of looking at the question. A perfectly maintained one merely meets patron expectation. But an unsanitary one is an anti-profit center because it is symbolic of the brand. Fabien’s post raises another, global issue that should not be overlooked–restaurant restrooms are just one area where organizations must commit to a performance management discipline. Training people is helpful, but only successful if well-designed and properly enabled practices are in place. That includes a system of measurement and reporting that is transparent to all concerned parties–upper management, local managers and front-line workers. For perspective, let’s take our minds out of the toilets and consider how the performance management principle applies in many other areas of our retail businesses: replenishment in the produce aisle; planogram maintenance in the center store; promotion execution on the end aisles; fluff and fold maintenance in apparel stores; and yes, food quality standards at QSRs. We measure some of these very well; others very poorly. A business culture that recognizes the… Read more »
Brent Perekoppi
Guest
Brent Perekoppi
10 years 3 months ago

Well maintained restrooms go well beyond daily operating procedures. How many times do you go into a beautifully renovated retail operation–QSR or department store–and find a restroom that was last renovated when the building was built 40 years earlier? Investing in the restroom is rarely a priority. This only compounds the ongoing cleaning problem; cracked tiles, water stained paint and dripping taps means that even hourly cleanings will never result in a customer friendly rest rooms experience and makes the life of the $9/hr associate even harder.

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