In a recent survey we conducted, we asked people what the most important features were to them when considering dining at a polished casual dining restaurant. The top response? “Clean bathrooms” which 72% of the respondents said was “very important” or “fairly important”. A bathroom is symbolic for how much a place pays attention to details. And the condition of a bathroom is an indicator for how clean the food prep areas may be. Famed chef and restaurateur David Chang once said (in regards to bathrooms):
“If they care about that… rest assured everything will be taken care of.“
Bathrooms aren’t strictly the domain of operations but an integral part of the brand experience. A restaurant’s brand is collectively made up of all the experiences someone has. Whether their initial exploration on the website, the food and service, the presentation, and yes, their experience in the bathrooms. Great marketing layered on great product and great operations helps to build noteworthy brands, and bathrooms are another example of where brand marketers need to be thinking about guest experience. Beyond cleanliness, consider what a guest may be experiencing in the bathroom and why they may be there (beyond the obvious). For some, it’s their time to check their phone so they don’t feel they’re being rude at the table. For others, its their chance to get themselves together in the mirror. In a New York Times article, a bathroom attendant by the name of Pat Velasquez said:
“People cry in here. They lean on my shoulder. I’m like a psychiatrist. Sometimes they’re drunk and throw up. Or they come in and make private calls. Or they want to smoke and are disappointed that I’m here, so they can’t.”
No matter what the reason is, there is an opportunity to make it an experience that is memorable, reassuring, and even fun.
create moments and memories
Some restaurants go high design with their bathrooms like The Capital Grille in Nashville and others utilize small touches that make the bathrooms Instagram-worthy like Citrus & Salt in Boston or Vic’s in New York City.
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Vox recently covered this movement writing about restaurants that are redesigning their bathrooms for the purposes of social media. In the article, Noa Santos of interior design company Homepolish states:
“Five years ago, commercial spaces weren’t thinking about applying their branding to the entirety of their space, and so the bathroom was an afterthought, but the expectations are totally different today.”
While being a conversation piece gives guests another reason to talk to someone about the restaurant, it is not strictly about a photo opportunity. The scent of the soap, hand towels, fresh flowers, lighting, hooks for handbags, catering to parents, and music can all create a memory for a guest.
So does that mean you should start to market your clean bathrooms like liquor stores promote “coldest beer in town”? Not exactly, but you shouldn’t overlook where you can give guests a well thought out brand experience from before they enter the doors, through everything inside the restaurant, and once they leave. Acquiring a new customer is more expensive than retaining one, so looking at every opportunity to make the guest experience optimal once you have them through the doors. It will strengthen the connection between your brand and them and create long-term value. Brand marketers should be thinking about every guest touchpoint, including the last place where people want to associate with food. So what’s your bathroom strategy?