Freedom Friday 4/29/16

When I go out to a bar or a restaurant, I usually try to wait as long as possible to use the facilities. First of all, “breaking the seal,” is the truth. When out for drinks or having drinks with dinner, the number of trips, at least in my experience, to the restroom increase significantly after the first. But also, the later in the evening the worse the state of the premises has grown so it’s really a catch-22. After delaying the trip as long as possible one must eventually succumb to nature’s loudly escalating call.

Locating the restroom at all may initially provide challenge. If you’re lucky, a cohort already used it and can inform you of the location. If not, an employee of the establishment must be interrogated. 

The restroom almost always hides somewhere in the back (out of sight out of mind I guess?). Some establishments take this proposition to the extreme. "Extreme" usually involves stairs, up or down. Also, some require a key for entrance. I guess it makes sense for them, giving them more control and limiting the use, but it’s also a large hassle for the customer. The most difficult experience I’ve encountered in a bathroom odyssey was a bathroom located across the building, up the stairs, through a second restaurant, and down a back hall. 

“Where’s Jim?” 

“Oh, he went to the bathroom. He should be back in an hour or so.”

Happily I didn’t need a key once I finally arrived at that one, but I don’t really think the bathroom needed a lock and key given the distance required. I’m surprised I didn’t find bodies of the unsuccessful along the way marking the path like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. If we planned on staying much longer I might have needed to start my next departure as soon as I returned to the table.

However, once finally located, entering the bathroom might provide, upon entrance an added surprise. Sometimes, a nice gentleman (I’m assuming it’s a lady in the other room though I’ve never been) stands next to the sinks, dressed in the official uniform of an employee, with a basket or tip jar on the counter containing cash, and an array of mints and gum and cologne and I don’t know what else near the faucets. Upon discovering a bathroom attendant the loud and audible groan reflects my sudden and immediate distaste (why is it audible? I thought it was only in my head. You can hear that?).

No better way to treat the customers than making sure that using the restroom includes the opportunity to impose guilt. Obviously (hopefully) the attendant would not choose to spend free time in the bathroom. But now they are there, folding hand towels, waiting to pump soap. I hate it. It gnaws at my soul. The entire point of the establishment is to promote the eventual use of the restroom. Now once you, a paying customer, the lifeblood of the business, finally acquiesce, you confront someone doing everything but blatantly asking for your money in exchange for use. 

Additionally, it hurts knowing that plenty don’t tip the bathroom attendants. They escape a feeling of obligation through coarseness (at least I end up seeing it that way). The business basically monetarily rewards those crass and indifferent to others while sticking me with the charge. Sometimes the dirty scofflaws don’t wash their hands to avoid an awkward encounter. That’s even worse! Now they’re dirty jerks, brought to you by this place! It’s like the people who go to the farmers' market to try all the samples with no interest in actually buying anything. To them it’s just a free meal. Yeah, I know that’s my problem, not theirs (except for the dirty hands, that's everyone's problem). That I’m probably too sensitive, I overthink it, and I feel too much of an obligation, but my problem frustrates me! I hate when I’m made to feel feelings!

That being said, if I owned a bar or a restaurant, I might employ a bathroom attendant. 'Say wha?' I’ve cleaned bathrooms at bars before. I’ve also been in unattended bathrooms many many times. At the end of the evening bathrooms are a total mess. Unbelievably gross. Having someone there immediately makes users more considerate. If you're speeding down the highway and you see a police car you immediately slow down. Just the knowledge that someone might be actively watching completely changes the behavior of most. On top of that, I can’t imagine a bathroom attendant makes a significant base salary. The shaming tips must constitute a good portion of take home pay (which is why tipping the attendants should happen when it can and why others not tipping is infuriating). That means it probably doesn't cost the establishment a terrible amount in exchange for a much cleaner restroom.

So, what would I suggest, given both the usefulness of bathroom attendants and my utter distaste for them? I would suggest no tip jars. I would suggest they keep the premises clean and they get paid a reasonable amount. I would suggest that the customer sees them upon entrance but doesn’t have their services paraded before them upon exiting. I would suggest that using the restroom should be pleasurable just like all aspects an establishment seeks to provide patrons should be pleasurable.

How to eliminate the feeling of obligation to tip? I don’t know. Write it in the menu and put it on a sign in the bathroom. Culture will eventually change because that’s how it came to be in the first place. I didn’t even know these positions existed until coming from, I guess, the provincial to the more metropolitan and now I still prefer places that don't employ them. They are not a necessary part of business they are an element of a business strategy. I suggest changing that strategy.