Dirty Little Secret

by Katie Lee

The bathroom — not the kitchen — could be affecting customer return rate at restaurants.

By Bill Balek

In a restaurant, it’s no surprise that an incredible amount of time and effort is spent on cleaning and maintaining the kitchen and its equipment and supplies. From sanitizing prep lines and degreasing equipment to mopping floors and cleaning out sinks, restaurant kitchens are cleaned regularly and thoroughly. After all, customers visit a restaurant for the quality of its food, and a dirty kitchen often means sub-par fare.

But, while the kitchen is of most importance, restaurant owners, operators and managers also need to pay attention to another room that can highly affect the patronage of their facility: the bathroom. 

The Hidden Costs of a Dirty Restroom

Unlike the kitchen, the restroom is highly trafficked by customers. If a bathroom is dirty and unkempt, that will be the last impression a customer is left with about the restaurant overall.

Customers prefer to frequent businesses that look and feel clean as cleanliness is often a reflection of a business’s image overall. The implementation of proper and effective cleaning can directly affect customer satisfaction. The positive image that a clean facility creates is a lasting one for consumers.

In 2010, Procter & Gamble facilitated a cleanliness satisfaction study of leading fast food or quick-serve restaurant chains in the United States that documented factors deemed as annoying to customers. Among the most annoying:  unpleasant restrooms. Cleanliness had the highest correlation to customer satisfaction at these establishments. Participants noted that if a restaurant were clean, they would return there again and again. In fact, cleanliness topped value, speed, convenience, variety and order accuracy.

Additionally, a 2011 Harris Interactive Study for Cintas Corporation found that 94% of 1,000 adults surveyed would avoid a business in the future if they encountered dirty restrooms.

According to Cintas’s senior vice president for facility services, Mark Thompson, “Dirty restrooms cost businesses lost sales, customers, referral and repeat business…If customers are not satisfied with the state of a restroom, they will take their business elsewhere.”

The Look and Feel of Clean

While the cleanliness of a restaurant’s restroom can clearly have a direct impact on its business, managers often find restroom cleaning to be one of the most laborious and difficult tasks in the facility. Restroom cleaning is often delegated to various staff members, which means staffers are often not properly trained on the right tools, techniques and solutions for cleaning. This can ultimately result in restrooms that typically do not meet acceptable levels of cleanliness.

In restaurant restrooms, cleaning for aesthetics and cleaning for public health are dual priorities. Selecting the right products and processes for effective cleaning and disinfection can help ensure that restrooms are both aesthetically and hygienically clean.

Training Staff Prevents Spread of Germs

In a study conducted in partnership between Clorox and ISSA, professionals surveyed said they believed only half their staff was aware of all the risks associated with the spread of germs and that even more of those same staffers do not understand the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting. While a restroom may look clean, staff must also ensure it is properly disinfected to prevent the spread of germs and potential illness. Managers need to be sure to rely on product label instructions to train staff and review cleaning protocols regularly to combat this knowledge gap.

Clean and Disinfect Correctly

Remind employees to always follow label directions on cleaning products and disinfectants. It is important to note that the directions on most disinfectant products require cleaning the surface first. Employees in charge of bathroom cleaning and maintenance should first clean surfaces with a general purpose cleaner to remove germs, and then follow with an EPA-registered disinfectant to kill germs. For disinfectants, it’s important to review the label instructions for dwell time, the amount of time necessary for the disinfectant to reside on the surface in order to effectively kill the germs. The surface should remain wet during the dwell time to properly disinfect and kill the germs.

Technology Saves Time

Patrons expect a clean, fully stocked and pleasant experience when they use the restroom. Technology can help create this atmosphere without creating additional work. Typically, staffers are tasked with restocking bath tissue, refilling soap dispensers, and managing supply orders through manual checks, stall by stall. Thanks to technological advances in bathroom supplies and equipment, including hands-free dispensers, high-tech restroom systems can become increasingly vital in helping building and facility managers efficiently manage restroom upkeep. The most advanced restroom facilities are now using sensors to transmit information from dispensers to a web application accessible to managers and cleaning staff indicating product refill levels.

Cleaning is often thought of as an operational cost, but if a restaurant lacks cleanliness, it can mean a difference in revenue year after year. Patrons have many choices when deciding to eat at a particular establishment. The best way to make their choice an easy one — and to keep them coming back — is to be dedicated to being clean. Take the necessary and noticeable steps that instill confidence in them so they can be assured that you take cleanliness seriously.


— Bill Balek is the director of legislative and environmental services at ISSA where he oversees the association’s legislative, regulatory and environmental programs. He has over 30 years of experience in the cleaning industry. For more tips and information, visit issa.com/infectionprevention.

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