The Lavatory Factor

Many moms are not interested in business matters, but they have an uncanny intuition when it comes to judging the health of businesses they visit. How do they measure a business' prospects for success? Simple. They check out the cleanliness of the restroom. And this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if the restrooms don't pass muster, moms just don't come back. And there goes the business down the drain, or should we say, it gets flushed away.

Sound a little drastic? Well, according to recent research, it isn't.

Let's take a look at the restaurant industry. Sandleman & Associates, a food service research company, reports that "cleanliness of the restaurant" is the attribute customers gave as most important to them when selecting a quick-serve or casual dining restaurant. Yes, that's right: cleanliness was listed as more important than the food.

King-Casey and the Branding Idea joined forces recently in a survey of 100 restaurant consumers to determine what value customers put on clean restrooms. The findings were that 78% of those surveyed said a clean restroom is a strong indicator of a clean kitchen. The leading indicator of clean was "clean toilet," followed by attributes like "clean area around the toilet," "no sticky floors" and "no trash." The survey also found that what customers remember most clearly were clean restrooms that also had a "wow" factor, based upon décor and innovative design features.

Surveys by Reed Research Group mirror these findings. In the 2003 Choice of Chains survey, Reed Research found a correlation between consumer's ratings of restaurant chains and the chains' cleanliness. In nine of 13 menu categories, the chains that rated highest also got their categories' highest marks for cleanliness. In the 2003 Tastes of America survey, Reed Research asked consumers to rate the importance of different attributes they use to decide where to dine away from home on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being "extremely important." The average score for cleanliness was 4.7, with 72% of survey respondents rating it as extremely important.

P&G Professional, a division of Procter & Gamble UK, recently conducted a survey to measure customer satisfaction with cleanliness in hotels and restaurants, as well as the details that would 'make or break' their likelihood to recommend the establishment to a friend. Their findings likewise affirm the importance of restroom cleanliness. The survey found that 82% were definitely put off returning to a restaurant if the restrooms were not up to their expected standard. The survey also found that 66% said they would tell their friends about a bad restaurant experience.

Dean Keeling, marketing manager for P&G Professional, summed it up this way. "Most people are aware of the importance of cleanliness in their homes, and so when they are paying to eat out or stay in a hotel they naturally expect as good as or even better attention to these details. It takes years of hard work to build the reputation of a hotel or restaurant, while one lapse in cleanliness and hygiene can be catastrophic."

The King-Casey and The Branding Idea survey cited earlier found that 94% of survey respondents felt restroom cleanliness is more important today than ever before. The survey's authors said they were not at all surprised by the reasons cited, "The media is full of stories about all kinds of diseases (SARS, West Nile Virus, Hepatitis, etc.) and the associated emphasis on washing hands as the best preventative from getting many diseases and the flu."

So what does all this mean? It means restroom cleanliness is probably the most important factor (more important than the entertainment, the service or the food) by which guests, and especially moms, judge a location-based facility. An unclean restroom not only means guests won't return, but that they will advise friends not to visit, as well.