"No you can't use the bathroom." How does this help your business?

You shouldn’t miss this one.
This past week a woman traveler stopped at a restaurant called the Floor Zone to use the bathroom. (I won’t give them any additional press by highlighting their link.)
She really had to go—I’m sure sometime in life you’ve experienced this problem. She didn’t purchase anything and obviously didn’t see the sign that said, “No Public Rest Rooms.”
It didn’t really matter because later that week she received a letter in the mail explaining the sign and informing her the charge was five dollars.
How did they find her? Apparently they wrote down her license plate number and called DMV and got the information they needed to track her down. The local sheriff also  helped the restaurant owners get in touch with her.
Is this a real offense?
When the ‘perp’ called the restaurant, they told her they didn’t want the five dollars they just wanted her to know their policy. (Teaching her a lesson I suppose.)
The customer was on television explaining  she didn’t see the sign but now that she has it’s doubtful she will use their rest room or eat lunch! She said she felt humiliated.
So what’s the point of all this?
If you’re going to track the customer down, you might as well take the five dollars. It all has the same effect. As I put on my psychologist’s hat, I wonder if the restaurant owner had been humiliated by her mother and was paying the customer back?
I’ve had the occasion to need a rest room and asked the clerk if I can use theirs. If they tell me no, I continue on my way and remember not to shop them. It’s not that I stalk businesses to dirty their bath rooms.
If they didn’t want her to use the rest room, why not tackle her as she came out of the restaurant and ask for the five dollars. Let’s really humiliate her.
What value is it to prove a customer wrong? One of the rules of customer service is customers aren’t always right but if you want them to be your customers, you will make them right. I can almost understand if she really messed up the floor like a customer at Old Navy who had a ‘major accident’  after being told she couldn’t use the rest room.  This woman felt humiliated too. (It’s likely she won’t be back either.) Everyone lost on this one.
Suppose the woman was sight impaired? Does she get a pass?
It’s certainly up to the business to determine who can and can’t use their restrooms. The Price Chopper in Westgate Plaza has public rest rooms that are spotless and they must have lots of visitors.
I think a business has to ask itself—is a bad customer one who uses the rest room bathroom and doesn’t buy? How do you know? There’s a convenience store outside of Tampa, Florida called the Pit Stop. I was driving in the area and asked if I could use the rest room.
“Of course you can the woman said; I have the cleanest rest rooms in the area.” She was right. It had a hair dryer, smelled great and cut flowers! I’ve never forgotten it. I also decided to get gas and a sandwich.
How about stopping the customer and asking her if she was okay? Maybe she would have seen the sign and they could have said, of course you can use it if it’s an emergency.
Even my local Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t have a fit if you use their rest rooms.
Shall I call  restaurant and ask if they think it was a good idea to send the note to the customer? Stay tuned.
By the way, what do you think about it?What would you do?
Lisbeth Calandrino helps businesses build loyal customers through customer service training and social media marketing. Her book, Red Hot Customer Service provides tips for attracting and keeping customers. She can be reached at [email protected]

50 thoughts on “"No you can't use the bathroom." How does this help your business?”

  1. I’ve had this issue before… where I had to go REALLY bad, so bad there was pain involved. I stopped by a new comic book store “chain” because it was what was closest to me. I ran in and asked if I could please use their restroom, it’s an emergency. She actually said “No, sorry. It’s not for the public.” I was clearly in distress, my face was red and sweaty and it was very evident that something was wrong.
    That woman made me walk to the “next” nearest bathroom which was a restaurant a half a block down called “Norms”. They didn’t care one way or the other about whether I was just using their bathroom or a customer.
    I have never ever gone back to that comic book store chain. And I never will.

  2. I have a dear friend who, for years, shopped a popular local gift shop. Her husband had purchased numerous, generous gift certificates for her birthday and other occasions, so she could enjoy shopping at leisure… On one particular Saturday, after shopping with her mother for a while and selecting several items, she asked if she could use the restroom. She was appalled to hear the response…”There is a public restroom down the road. We are sorry, but ours is not available to the public.” OMG! When she told me, I nearly fell over, truly! Because I, too, had frequented this well known shop.
    Well, she politely put the items back, as this was her style and sensibility….But, needless to say, she NEVER stopped in again, and neither have I. I’m sorry, but that is just plain rude.
    Clearly, they have the right to have such a policy and to post it, so as to curb overuse, abuse, etc. However, it’s even clearer that they’ve lost thousands of dollars in implementing that policy…especially when it was in their power to “make an exception” that Saturday morning, to my friend with the big bucks…or to any customer, for that matter.
    What’s worse…it was the shop owner herself…Stupid, just plain stupid.

    1. I just never get what a business owner is thinking. I was doing training in a New Jersey store some years ago.A woman asked if she could use the bathroom and the owner said, ‘there’s a mop in the toilet.’ The woman asked why did he have the mop in the toilet? He replied “so people like you can’t use it!”
      I really didn’t get it and he wasn’t kidding. She was really mad and said, “Where can I do?”
      He said, “Next door at the stationary store.”
      She replied, “Thanks, I”ll buy my carpet there too!”

  3. Hi, Liz,
    I think the title of your article sums it up quite well…“No you can’t use the bathroom.” How does this help your business?” In a simple response — IT DOESN’T!
    I always appreciate your great blogs and great advice! Thanks!

  4. Thanks for the great story. Businesses certainly sell themselves short when it comes to certain “policies.” The fact that the “perp” was the business owner makes it even “just plain stupid” as you said.

  5. Hi Liz,
    “Long time no see,” as the old saying goes.
    I have been loving your blog but have not gotten around to commenting until now.
    It would certainly be the store owners who keep strict to their no public restroom policy that are the most vocal in complaining when business is down. How does one not understand that serving the public means doing whatever it takes for the customer–or even the POTENTIAL customer? How does anyone not recognize a need in another human being and come through to help them?
    The comment about the comic book shop did make me chuckle. Comic book geeks praise the character of their favorite superheroes as they save the Earth from horrible villains but they won’t come through as a hero for another human being in need. WWSD (What Would Superman Do?).
    The best, of course, is to have a facility especially for use by the public, make it beautiful, keep it clean, and keep it open to all. It’s the right thing to do and it will definitely get the positive vibe going–and that only helps business!
    Best wishes,
    Jeffrey Pearl
    Calvetta Bros. Floor Show
    Cleveland, Ohio

    1. Jeffrey Pearl, that’s a wonderful old friend from the past. As usual, your comments and observations are right on. I hope you’re doing some writing, you were always good at it. I hope you are well.
      Thank you for reaching out.

  6. I am on the other side, owning a business. I get asked daily to use restrooms in my small shop. We do music lessons, and some sales. It’s not a coffee shop or cafe or anything. But I usually enforce, restrooms for customers only policy, because generally the customers frequent the place and don’t want to make any mess because they frequent the place. But last week, I allowed some passerby to use it… go in there a little later and they stuffed paper towels in the toilet, that I have to pull out of there (disgusting) or it would’ve plugged it up. It was nasty and why do I have to clean up their shi#.? People who are not customers don’t care because at that moment in time, they’re thinking they won’t be back at this place and don’t care how or what they do. It’s seems like no big deal until you’re on the other side paying plumber bills.

    1. I understand what you’re saying; who needs the plumbing problems. This is a very touchy situation for businesses. I don’t think there’s a right answer except what you can live with. I go to many stores who won’t let me use bathrooms and others that will. I know at Staples you walk through their stock and I wonder, what stops people from taking things? I often say ‘I’m not going back because they didn’t let me use the bathroom but eventually I get over it. It would be nice if you could be gracious and that in turn customers would reciprocate. One bad event like you describe could change it all.Thanks for taking the time.

  7. I have just the OPPOSITE problem! I am the owner of a small business run from out of my home, and I have ALWAYS let customers who come into my house for business purposes use my bathroom (her bathroom is in our bedroom). However, my wife violently disagrees with this policy, and threatens to shut-down me running the business from our home if I continue to ALLOW people to use my bathroom!
    This only happens about once every 2 – 3 months, and I understand her security concerns of letting people past the “public” area into the “private” part of the house, and her worry about people looking through my medicine cabinet or messing with my tooth brush, mouthwash, and stranger’s bad hygene. She wants me to say to customers “I’m sorry, but my wife is in the bathroom, there’s one just 1/2 mile away at the service station”.
    What is a polite way to get around this? Lie, or post a sign near my desk saying “No Public Restrooms” This really bothers me and is a big source of conflict between us, because it not only seems RUDE, but to tell a mother with a small child, or an elderly person to drive 1/2 mile away…I really feel like I’m saying “And don’t come back!”
    Any suggestions?
    Mr. “Nice Guy”

    1. I can understand this is a very touch situation; my bathroom is right off my office so it’s not a problem. When I have a party, I lock the rooms near the bathroom. I would suggest you figure out how to do the same; close all the other doors and find a way to lock them and remove the drugs. As I read this it sounds pretty radical but how else will you feel comfortable? Thanks Mr. Nice Guy.

  8. I had a desperate bathroom need earlier today while traveling. I stopped at a convenience store and I couldn’t believe that I was told ‘sorry, but no’ even after explaining it was a dire need. He (college-age) told me to go up the road to the Burger King. I knew he could see the discomfort I was in; I think he was trying a power-trip or something. Somehow (strong butt-cheeks!) I managed to get to the Burger King (which was actually quite some distance when you have to go real bad), but I had a ‘mishap’ in my pants just as I got out of the car in the parking lot. Fortunately I had change of clothes, so I cleaned up and changed in the Burger King ladies room. I usually don’t have a problem like this having a store clerk saying no, and I don’t abuse the privilege (if anything, I leave things cleaner than they were before), but business owners do need to understand that emergencies do happen, and sometimes you can’t control it and nature’s call needs to be answered.

  9. I remember when we first got the lease on our the restaurant, there was a sign on the front door of the place, that said, “Restrooms are for customers only.” I was turned off by the sign and took it down, thinking to myself how often would this scenario present itself, to even bother to keep it up?
    I do not understand the comments to this article. I run a small restaurant with tables close together and the bathrooms are clear at the other end of the building. At dinner time we sell 25 dollar dinners to our loyal customers.
    After 6 months in business, I have seen entire soccer teams pull up in their vans, come right in to the restaurant, and then go directly back to the restrooms, while my customers are trying to eat. They then proceed to all stand in line and tie up my restrooms for our paying customers for the next 20 minutes. Then they leave without ever buying anything.
    All the while, we pay for the water to run the toilet, the hot water to the hand sinks, the toilet paper, the hand towels, the electricity, etc.
    To then top it off, my wait staff has to stop what they are doing to greet these people as if they were customers, they could make a mess in the bathrooms that we would have to clean up, and not to mention, hopefully it never happens, like in a previous comment, we could have plumbing issues.
    Now, I know nature calls, and sometimes you really have to go, but why should a business have to pay, for someone to use their restroom. Restrooms are not free to build, they are not free to maintain, clean, or stock. etc.
    The article is written by someone who is supposed to be helping businesses grow, but does not explain how by a business accepting these restrooms costs, that their business will some how increase.
    I would like to see some real stats on the ladder of weather to let non paying customers use the restrooms or not. Instead we heard the complaints of a business consultant who forgot what side they were on.

  10. I run a small conveince store in the middle of nowhere for my father. He’s told me to read the situation as to say yes or no because he worries about me because I’m a younger woman there alone and my bathroom is behind the counter. I’m a sucker and tell everyone yes. Some people are completely disguisting though and I am left to deal with the mess. So I understand why some smaller stores turn people down. Also, parents please go into the bathroom with your children, there’s one little boy whom I’m pretty sure finds it fun to use the bathroom on my floor. I just started telling everyone my bathroom is really not for the public but if it’s an emergency then this time it’s ok. So far no complaints.

  11. I agree with this article 100%; establishments should make acceptions because, sometimes, if you gotta go you gotta go!
    My favourite saying about denied washroom breaks: “it’s a washroom, not a vending machine.” in other words, it’s a need as apposed to a want, and it’s not our fault that nature happens to call at such an inconvenient time.
    i faced a problem like this on New Years Eve, when I was waiting for someone in downtown Toronto. I really had to pee. I wasn’t jumping around or anything, but it was at least ten minutes away from becoming an emergency. The person didn’t have a cell phone, so I didn’t know how long it would take.
    The only eating establishment close enough was a Chinese restaurant (normally stores don’t have customer washrooms; welcome to Canadian customer service) and I went in to try at a desperate attempt to use the washroom.
    The place was busy, which was fortunate because I would be able to get lost in the crowd and hopefully find the washroom without anyone stopping me. Or it would have worked out that way, if an employee hadn’t rushed up to me the second I came in. She was blocking my path, I had to confront her.
    She asked how she could help me. I said: “can I please use the washroom?”
    Her facial expression changed to some contempt, heedless expression as she said: “our washrooms are broken.”
    She didn’t say I couldn’t use the washroom because I’m not a customer, but I know that she wanted to say that but was too scared to get my “pissed” off reaction. Here’s how I made my assumption:
    -The lady had said look of contempt and heedlessness on her face, like she was so irritated at me for oh-so-devilishly asking to relieve my call of nature into her PRECIOUSLY RESERVED washroom.
    -I have strong instincts, and I just know that their washroom wasn’t broken.
    -The lady hesitated a bit before breaking the news, probably raking her brain for a way to tell me to “piss” off (i crack myself up) without pronouncing the infamous “washrooms are for customers only” phrase.
    So, there you go. She said sorry before I left but, lady, sorry doesn’t cut it. Again, it’s a washroom; not a vending machine. I needed a pee break, not a chocolate bar which I can do without.
    Fortunately, the wait wasn’t too long and I was able to make it to a generous coffee shop who, even though they had the all-too-familiar “washrooms are for customers only sign” (I panicked when I saw it) let me use it. But I have a message for that restaurant:
    “Restaurant, I had a dire need. And you didn’t fulfill it. You didn’t give me your business, which wouldn’t have been much, so why should I give you mine? You wanted to convert me into a paying customer, but it didn’t work. I felt humiliated, and desperate. I solemnly swear never to come back to sneak into the washroom OR eat, and if my friends ever suggest eating here I’ll tell them that you gave me food poisoning.
    Thank you, and sorry for your loss.

  12. Something somewhat similar happened to me, in downtown Toronto, only I didn’t get to use the bathroom!
    It was New Years Eve. I was waiting in the car with my family, waiting for one of my parents to arrive from the subway. The parent didn’t have a cell phone, therefore we didn’t know how long it would take. And I Really had to pee.
    The only restaurant in sight was a Chinese restaurant across the street (the stores don’t have washrooms; welcome to Canadian customer service).
    My plan was to make a beeline into the small crowded restaurant and search for the washroom, hopefully before anyone could say anything to me. Unfortunately, an employee came up to the door to greet/seat me the second I came in, thinking I was a customer. It was a cramped hallway, therefore I couldn’t dodge her.
    I said: “can I please use the washroom?”
    Her smile faltered as she said “our washrooms are broken.”
    She hadn’t said I couldn’t use them because I wasn’t a customer, but:
    -She had some contempt look of dejection on her face; clearly she was pissed off that a non-customer needed to relieve her Desperate call of nature into the PRECIOUSLY RESERVED WASHROOM. Dammit…
    -I have strong intuition, and I just know that the washroom wasn’t broken.
    -Finally, she had hesitated a bit; probably raking her brain for a way to tell me to “piss” off without pronouncing the infamous “washrooms are for customers only” phrase.
    So, there you go. I was able to wait until we could drive to a coffee shop, but I have a message for that restaurant:
    I had a dire need. You didn’t fulfill it, in other words you didn’t give me your business. So why should I give you mine? Thanks to you, I’m not coming back to sneak bathroom time OR eat, and if any of my friends mention anything of the subject I’ll tell them that you gave me food poisoning.
    Thank you, and sorry for your loss.

  13. I’ve been to high tourist populated areas where even restaurants where you bought food and gas stations won’t let you use their bathroom. I never fully understood why. Maybe because their bathrooms would always be filled. Although in these situations there was always a public restroom in walking distance. If for whatever reason I couldn’t make it to the public restroom in the area, places of worship, synagogues, churches, temples, their patrons and followers were always kind enough to let me use their facility. To them I guess it is more than a business but part of who they are to show kindness.

  14. But what if the “no public restrooms” is corporate policy? I’m just a peon who doesn’t want to get in trouble or lose my job.

  15. I was at a store from where I bought a hot tub 5 years ago. We go in store every month to get water tested. I was in the store with my family along with my 78 year old dad who has impaired vision. He used a bathroom a couple of times. He is also recovering from a colon cancer so he doesn’t have much control. We have a good relationship with the store owner. Two days later I got an email from store owner saying that my dad didn’t leave the bathroom in a clean condition. I was quite disturbed when I read his email. If they don’t want customers to use the bathroom then they should say NO. We asked them if we could use their bathroom. I’m not going to talk to dad about this. I’m feeling so uncomfortable to walk again into that store for anything. I just cannot believe that store owner even contacted me. I feel humiliated. I don’t care if you don’t come. Unfortunately there is no dealer nearby of the hot tub. So now I need to drive 4 hrs to next nearest dealer if I need to. If I owned a store I don’t think I will track down who used my bathroom. They should just make a policy – if the bathroom is open to customers then don’t call customers to complain, just clean it.

    1. I thought I had replied to this three years ago. Sorry if I didn’t, anyway it showed up again yesterday. I’m wondering if you had found another place to go. Is this a franchise? If so I would send the same note to them directly. I would also go online and find another place to get what you need done. This behavior from a business is unacceptable. I can still remember when one of my dad’s clients (he was a builder) came into our house and had to use the bathroom. He was in his 80’s and had a terrible accident. I remember when he left having to tell my mom. I asked what we should do and my mom said we should clean it up. We got the rags and Clorox out and cleaned. It wasn’t fun but my mom explained that Mr. Gallagher was both a good customer and good friend and was losing his health and his eyesight. Case closed..

  16. Okay so my mother owns a restaurant. So I help her. A person once came in and asked where the washroom is I pointed it out to him. He went in and I told my mother that he wanted to use the washroom, my mother got really mad. She stood in front of the door and waited for him to come out then in a mad/irratated voice she said “this washroom is only for costumers! You can not use it it’s not for you this is my washroom you can not use it if you are not a costumer!” The guy said ” I thought this was for costumers! I don’t Understand?” He couldn’t understand anything. So at first I was mad at my mom for saying that but then I searched up resturaunt not allowing people to go to the washroom and I found this. This article helped me understand a lot more. Especially the comments. So thank you lisbeth! And thank you to everyone who wrote down their stories.

  17. I work at a corporate owned retail chain store in a mall. We have customers asking to use our non-public restrooms every day. Here is the problem, we operate on only 2 person coverage, and if we need to escort customers to our back room, that is leaving no staff on the salesfloor, which is a huge problem for obvious reasons. There are several public restrooms in our mall near our store, so it shouldn’t be too much of a hardship to customer to use them. The other piece of this is that we do not employ janitors, so I have to clean up strangers’ waste when they mess up my only employee restroom. And like someone else pointed out, many people have no regard for the condition they leave our restroom in because they will never be back. If they stuff diapers down my toilet, guess who has to pay for a plumber to come in, we do! That hurts our profits as a small store. Im not trying sound heartless, simply giving everyone a different perspective. Cheers!

  18. I have a dilemma along these lines. I live in a Canadian city and own a veterinary clinic in a rather dodgy area of town. We have a private bathroom in the back of our clinic, for staff only. However, at times we have let customers use it. Now we have also leased the very small store next door and want some renovations done to expand into that space. The building codes have been updated and now if we build any bathroom, we must make it a wheelchair bathroom. So we’ve gone from no public bathroom to if we have one it must fit a wheelchair. Now as a rule, people in wheelchairs don’t own many dogs, a few have cats. Life is tough enough while you’re in a wheelchair, but exercising a dog, picking up it’s droppings is far too much for most wheelchair bound people. We have 3000 clients not one is in a wheelchair. Sure we want to provide a restroom if it is truly needed by a client, but in this dodgy neighbourhood with the liquor store next door, likely this space will be abused. What would you do?

  19. It’s kind of like “damned if you do or damned if you don’t.” It’s likely you will have more people in the bathroom than you really need…If code says it needs to be wheelchair accessible,I would say you don’ have a choice. I would also talk with the stores around me, what are they doing? Do they have restrooms or will they be sending everyone to you? Tough call. I must say I’m grateful my vet has a bathroom.

  20. Today, my husband brought me to a James Avery jewelry store @ the Hill Country Galleria & was planning to treat me to a new pair of earrings ($125 + tax.) I am 22 weeks pregnant (and since this is my 4th baby, my belly is showing its condition quite obviously.) As hubby was checking out, I asked if I could use their restroom & the female stated they didn’t have one and pointed down the block over to the bulk customer facilities. I looked up surprised and asked “you guys have to walk all the way there to use the restroom?!?” The male employee next to her corrected her statement saying that they do have a restroom but it’s not public. I glanced over to see my husband was preparing to swipe his card & complete the transaction. I said “Honey, let’s get me to the restroom before you swipe.” He put his card away and I commented to him as we were leaving the store “they won’t share. When we left the store, I explained to him that while those earrings are gorgeous and I’d love to have them, I just wouldn’t enjoy owning a pair with a story like “bathroom refusal of a paying, pregnant customer” attached to it. They lost the sale and the woman wasn’t inclined towards honesty anyhow. I feel really good about walking out on that & I can honestly say, many restrooms I exit are cleaner because I’ve used them (and had to wipe a prior user’s urine droplets off of the seat before using myself.) I do not seek to abuse bathrooms.

  21. To be fair, I have a story to tattle on myself. My 3 year old (now 17 years) and I were shopping at s Bath & Body Works years ago. She hadn’t quite mastered the art of timing her restroom breaks to the point of completely emptying it. We’d used the restroom in Kohls just before entering BBW. When she indicated she needed to go badly, I asked to use their facilities. The teens working rudely told me that it was not a public restroom and only they could use it. They recommended I walk into another store and ask the same. By this point, my daughter was getting pretty panicky & ended up wetting her shorts (and ultimately a good sized puddle on the floor.) I pointed it out to the salesgirls and said “oh it looks like nature took care of it while you were making your suggestions – the puddle is over there. You’d better clean it up before someone slips on it & sues. I waltzed out of that store and cleaned her up in the car – glad that we’d bought some things from Kohls for her to wear!

  22. As someone who has worked retail, I can’t even tell you how frustrating it is to have a customer insist on using bathrooms that are staff only. Want to know why they are staff only? Because they are located in our back room that also consists of very important paperwork and confidential employee information. The door on said back room clearly states “Employees Only. ” I’m not going to risk getting fired just because you can’t hold your piss and don’t respect our policy. The staff room is the only place we have to ourselves after dealing with the public 9 hours a day, we don’t want you going in and out of our personal space. Also, it’s not the employee’s fault that there’s no public restrooms. If you have a problem with it, take it to corporate, not the poor employee who is only following management ‘s orders and trying to keep their job. We’re a business, not a port-a-potty. We’re not obligated to let you use our bathrooms that are not intended for you.

  23. I am a food inspector for state government for two decades. I hate to hear the stories I learn from food-store personnel who tell me gross tales of the things so-called “people” have deliberatly done to their restrooms. Even as a child in elementary school, I never understood why children (G 1-4) would stuff a whole roll of TP in the toilet bowl. Sick minds. Future anarchists? The store owners really stress out over how to handle this issue and as inspector I wrestle with ideas I might could suggest to them, but there don’t seem to be any good answers. BTW, if a food store truly has all inoperative BRs, they are not legally allowed to operate the business. I hate that lie. Permission to use restrooms really is a modern thing, to me, as I remember growing up very FEW places would let anyone use them, then it got more lenient over the years. We will probably see it go back again more restrictive because of these jerks.

  24. I own a small cafe and i often have people come in just to use the washroom. there’s been a number of times where non-paying customers would use my washroom, flood the toilet or make whatever mess, and then leave. Then I’m left to clean it because they sure as hell won’t.
    Maybe at least throw in 50 cents into the tip jar?
    Or even 10 cents…maybe at least help cover the toilet paper, paper towel and soap you’ve used?

  25. I am the owner of a small Cafe. We are at a location where around us are beat down fast food stores. So when people on the street need to go, the first place they try are our cafe because we are more clean. But maintaining a toilet need to pay the bill the rent and labour. People who suddenly walk in and feel the need to give money to small businesses like us for nothing in return, so please don’t assume you can just use anything you want for free.

  26. I’ve worked in retail in the city my whole life. There is no way you can look at a person and say “ok, you’re not gonna shoot up or smear poop on the wall”…If I let one person use the restroom, I have to let everyone use the restroom. From the soccer mom with their little one who “really has to go” to the homeless guy coming in with bare feet. Everyone is equal. Basically, you can’t trust anyone, so if you only let your patrons use the restroom, at least they are paying for me to potentially clean vomit off the sink, call 911 when they OD, or even have to touch the toilet seat when I have to put it down (guys!!).

  27. My wife and I are lawyers working out of our home office but receive Clients when necessary at our Flex Office which has excellent bathrooms and
    janitors so we don’t have your vendors’ issues but we do often give our Clients extras which do cost us money either in reduced fees
    or completely free ancillary services. As a result we have a high repeater-fed-and-word-of-mouth business; we have never advertised our Firm.
    Customers appreciate our sacrifices and reward us. Over the 30 years I’ve “fired” about 3 rude abusive nasty Clients” and gladly “lost” the income.
    When I or my wife have been denied urgent bathroom use, we have halted transactions and walked out never to return. I cannot reward their
    shortsidedness or lack of humanity. I understand their delema, but I’d guess they’ve lost more money than plumbing costs. I’ve even encountered
    this short view widely from small stores and gas stations and Corporate chains like Ross in Hawai’i, Paradise, of all places, which is faced with a cruel homeless situation leading to much bathroom abuse–and I have cleaned my share of nasties before using customer bathrooms–but I will not return to places that refused my guests, Family or me, who are obviously not homeless. I usually leave bathrooms cleaner than I find them and I try to reward the vendor for their farsightedness and courtesy: buy a coffee or a paper which I may not need, or leave tips in the Jar–and return to them.
    I know it’s tough, especially for small shops, and there are no grand easy solutions but hard line policies are usually fatal to the proponent;a wise “case by case” decisions by trained staff policy works better. And if you get that occasional bastard, oaf or just plain ugly person who gets their kicks by leaving their mess, then take it as the cost of doing business, clean it up, keep your cleaning/plumbing receipts and declare them on your 1040. I believe that ultimately your customer satisfaction/loyalty/base will be better and as a bonus you will have also been a nice human being for whatever that’s personally worth to you.
    To the complainer above against Ms. Calandrino I say you are not benefitting from this valuable service she provides here. Open your eyes to your own good benefit.

  28. Basically, common people think retails’ toilet should open to public, and small business owners against it.
    A lot of people doesn’t understand, he/she think he/she just want to use the toilet once in a while, if the staff refused, they would think the store doesn’t worth to spend money to because they refuse to let them use the toilet when they need it. But in small business owners point of view, everyday there are 10-50 non customers want to use the toilet, unlike shopping centres or McDonald they have to hire more people to do the cleaning. Plus the plumbing and supplies. So for them this decision is a hard choice.
    If you think just because they don’t let you use the toilet without buying anything, then actually you are the one at fault, you are the selfish one, if you respect a small business you would buy a soda or a cookie or some tips to cover their expenses. That is what I always do even before I start my own business.

  29. Just had this experience last night at a Pizza Hut. That’s why I looked for a forum like this. As I was ordering a pizza I felt a need to go, it was about 10pm, I thought, I’ll just hold it til I get home, walked outside to wait for the pizza and as soon as I stepped out, I suddenly had a urgency to go right then, so I turned around and obviously showing it was urgent, I asked the counter guy could I use their restroom. “Sorry, we do not have any public restrooms”. I was the only customer in there, I walked out and what happen next is embarrassing. Not sure if it should have made a difference, but I was well dressed (suit and tie). Had to go home and come back for the pizza. Last pizza from that Pizza Hut. Other Pizza Huts, don’t know yet.

      1. Sorry this is an old note; but we’ve all been in the that state. I thought my stomach would burst–good for you to tell them you were going to pee on the floor. This is a delicate subject, like you said.

  30. Olivia de Monaco

    Hi to all, I am a small restaurant owner and I do undrstand urgencies, I have a issues with letting non-customers coming into my place and not even ask for it .
    My neighbour is a very succesful ice cream shop, he gets line ups that goes around the corner, however when this happens many people from this line up come to us for the washrooms (even though the ice cream shop has 1 WR dedicated to customers. In the end not even a “thank you”. Should I lock the doors and give the keys to the customers? should I put up the signage for only customers? because after reading all the commens in this page, people “think ” it is a right to use any restroom whenever they need it, emergencies are something else….. that being said, I wont let you use our RR because you think you can…. let alone being unpolite, besides 95% of people that ask for our RR never come back!

    1. Wow, I know it’s really a problem. My bank is the one that get’s me; I have extensive investments etc and I can’t use the bathroom. I told them I would take out my money and then they let me. I was in the retail business for 20 years–I cleaned up many a nasty bathroom–I understand completely.

  31. Olivia de Monaco

    Hi to all, I am a small restaurant owner and I do undrstand urgencies, I have a issues with letting non-customers coming into my place and not even ask for it .
    My neighbour is a very successful ice cream shop, he gets line ups that goes around the corner, however when this happens many people from this line up come to us for the washrooms (even though the ice cream shop has 1 WR dedicated to customers. In the end not even a “thank you”. Should I lock the doors and give the keys to the customers? should I put up the signage for only customers? because after reading all the commens in this page, people “think ” it is a right to use any restroom whenever they need it, emergencies are something else….. that being said, I wont let you use our RR because you think you can…. let alone being unpolite, besides 95% of people that ask for our RR never come back!

  32. This is an intriguing article for me; a writer who equally feels strong opposition to this “washrooms are for customers only” policy and what it represents; that we are all left to fend for ourselves when it comes to even the most basic of needs
    For one thing, I’m no nusiness owner myself, but who is to say that one’s establishment will go bankrupt if the odd person runs in and out to use the washroom? Although I can still understand from the perspective of a business owner as much as the next person why this would pose a threat to the balance of spending and earning when it comes to running an establishment, one should also emphasize a little and take into account that maybe the benefits of helping a potential customer, or even just someone in dire need, can really outway the literal costs. This is a symbolic statement that the world would be a friendlier place if we only put the idea of money aside when it comes to helping others, aside from the possibility of these grateful others returning as loyal customers.
    What disturbes me even further is the idea of washrooms being reserved for employees only, so that even loyal customers run the risk of shopping/eating in discomfort or risking an accident. My most recent experience with this issue took place at a Salvation Army; after searching the whole store for a washroom without a STAFF ONLY sign, I finally worked up the courage to ask the staff for the washroo. – and they were kind enough to let me use it. Although I am in a healthy state to hold it in for a long time and I wasn’t in any dire need, it was still a both figurative and literal relief knowing that I wouldn’t be forced to shop in discomfort or devote precious shopping time to searching the entire plaza for an accessable washroom.
    Back to the “customers only” scenario, it is easier to deal with than the former but still proves to be an obstacle in many different situations. For example, if one must buy a bottle of water to access a washroom then that isnt the end of the world, but what does one do if all the establishments in the area happen to be sit-down restaurants or specialty services, and the person in need doesn’t have time to sit down for a manicure or formal meal?
    The “customers only” scenario also creates an immensly bad rap for restaurants, especially those that keep their washrooms locked so that the customed must ask for a key or to be “buzzed in”. As a customer at these places I tend to feel awkward, self-concious, or just annoyed at that I must request washroom usage rather than being able to go at my own leisure. These policies give the establishment a cold and passive-agressive atmosphere for desperate washroom seekers and even customers.
    This is a problem that neither of us give enough credit, and by my opinion it is up there with affordable housing and reliable health care crisises in North America. Washroom use, shelter, and health care are all basic needs and should be treated as such. Why must we all be left to fend for ourselves, even when it comes to the most basic of human rights?

  33. A “restrooms for customers ONLY” sign indicates an amateur business owner who will never go beyond the small-business stage. It’s a stupid mentality to assume that ALL customers will leave the bathroom perfectly clean, and ALL non-customers will dirty it up. And suppose you do have to clean a messed up bathroom a few times a month? Do you realize how many customers your sign loses you?

  34. I can understand that a restaurant should have/offer public facilities.
    I believe in my state of NH it’s the law.
    I own a very small business in a historic part of town in NH.
    My store is grandfathered – it’s not “code compliant” if someone were to come along and start a new business they would have to bring it up to code.
    The bathroom issue has been a headache for me.
    My bathroom is a storage room – has carpet – no grab bars or ventilation (fans).
    I used to let the public use it, but had to put my foot down recently.
    We have an opioid epidemic in my town and my shop is near a few rehab centers, a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter. I once had a man ask to “heat his medication” in my personal microwave. I’ve had people pee on my floor, poop on the toilet seat, smear poop on the wall.
    I run this store alone and do not have employees. I do not make much money and can’t afford to hire cleaning staff.
    I once had an elderly woman come into my shop wearing stilettos. I warned her about the tricky floors (steps). She fell – said she was ok – and then contacted me to get my insurance info. I had a group of insurance adjusters in here taking notes and the next thing I knew, they dropped me like a hot potato. I had to scramble to find a new company to insure my business. Note: I own the business, but not the real estate.
    My bathroom is not code compliant. That is enough for me to say no to folks wandering in after filling their bellies at local restaurants and then having the sudden urge to go. I can’t please everyone. These people don’t usually buy anything. Just stink up my store and mess up the bathroom.
    I once had a customer pull out a bowl (from her purse) so her son could pee in it (she dumped it outside). I could not believe what I was seeing. Another woman took her son outside to “pee on her tire” right in front of the police station! Classy.
    I had a woman who spoke broken English (Asian) ask to use my rest room. I told her that it was not code compliant and that she couldn’t for that reason. I suggested other public restrooms within walking distance. The next day I had a bad review on google. I know it was her. Her name gave it away. We don’t have many Asian people in my community.
    As a shopper, I understand the need for public facilities. You can’t always predict when you have to go. I shop at stores that don’t offer restrooms.I have had to leave in the middle of shopping. I don’t throw a hissy fit. I get it. Another thrift shop in my town had to put a padlock on their bathroom. Someone plugged the toilet – let it overflow – and it caused thousands of dollars in damage to the sub-flooring. Their landlord told them to stop sharing with the public.
    It’s hard to please the public and unfortunately, this is an area of contention for many shop owners.

  35. I am a small business owner and of course i have a different perspective. i have made an exception for a young teenage girl, however, I own a small boutique that is mostly by appointment only. When I first opened we had a very creepy guy come in and pretend to be interested in dresses. My associate quickly locked the door when he left (she was alone). He went across the street and was looking back at the boutique. He then came back and knocked at the door saying he thought that he dropped his keys there, well he had not. I had another rather tall young man around the age of 16 or 17 ask to use the restroom, he had his hands in his pocket (not sure why, it was a warm sunny day). I was alone and I told him sorry, we don’t have a public restroom. Unless you are on the other side of the coin, you can’t say what you would do, of course if you have been turned down, you feel some type of way. For safety reasons, it’s a NO for me. A lot of scams and criminal behavior going on. Of course if it is an elderly person, or a kid, I believe I can judge that situation fairly and oblige.

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