Dirty Restaurant Restrooms Turn Customers Away

As I talk with people about restaurant cleanliness, I often hear, ‘ I will walk into the restaurant restroom and if it is dirty, I walk out.’

No one wants to eat in a dirty restaurant. Unfortunately, the consumer has few tools to determine if the restaurant food is clean or if those cooking it are concerned about food safety. While it is often said you can’t judge a book by its cover, most of us will drive past a restaurant that looks poorly maintained or is dirty on the outside. Inside the restaurant, we have few ways to judge cleanliness. We can look at the floors, the tabletops, the cleanliness appearance of the server, the utensils offered and the restrooms.

Most of the aforementioned require us to be seated. Once seated, we may feel obliged to eat at the restaurant. Although, I know people who feel quite comfortable, and rightfully so, getting up and walking out if they notice a food safety indiscretion. But looking at the restaurant restroom becomes an easy and noncommittal way to peak into the cleanliness culture of the restaurant.

In a survey conducted asking the opinions of nearly 2500 people, fully 29% of restaurant patrons would never return to a restaurant if the restrooms were dirty. Even more significant to the restaurant management is that 50% of people who found a restroom dirty would tell friends or family.

For consumers, says Ronald Ruggless, Southwest Bureau Chief at Nation’s Restaurant News, the thought process goes something like this: “If the public-facing bathroom is dirty, how committed is the operator to assuring that the less-public food-preparation area is clean and safe?” – Bruce Horovitz, USA Today.

If the public restrooms are dirty, imagine what the kitchen looks like, imagine what the coolers or freezers look like, imagine what importance the management puts on cleanliness. The restaurant staff is likely using the same public restrooms. If the restrooms aren’t clean, what does it say about the importance the staff puts on cleanliness?

And it will hurt the restaurant bottom line. Forty six percent of restaurant patrons say they would avoid a restaurant if they had or heard of a bad restroom experience. It becomes critical to know what restaurant patrons think about restroom cleanliness.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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