Office restroom

At long last, some encouraging news for the restaurant industry – Nation’s Restaurant News reports that restaurants added 230,000 jobs during 2011, the strongest gain since 2006. Growth in the industry is projected to outpace the overall economy by a full percentage point in 2012. Still slower than we would like, it is a sliver of hope to restaurant operators who have been barely scraping by month after month. This extended period of economic uncertainty has greatly impacted consumer behavior and created changes that are unlikely to revert back to the way they once were. As diners have less disposable income to allocate to dining out, they are choosier about which establishments they visit and expect more – more value, more service and more attention to detail throughout their dining experience.  

I watch “Restaurant: Impossible,” a late night guilty pleasure of mine. In a recent episode, celebrity chef Robert Irvine assisted a restaurant owner who had over $410,000 in debt. Her food was lousy, the bathroom was a mess and the décor was confusing. One of the diners even commented that the unattractive décor indicated to her that the restaurant didn’t pay attention to detail. This diner’s statement reminded me of a recent study conducted on behalf of SCA Tissue North America. The survey found that more than eighty percent of patrons believe that restroom cleanliness reflects the hygiene standards throughout the restaurant – including the kitchen and food prep areas. The poll also found that negative restroom experiences in restaurants can elicit strong and damaging word-of-mouth which can cause restaurants to see a decline in patronage.

Fortunately, the restaurant owner received some sorely needed advice, along with a front-of-house renovation that may help generate positive reviews from patrons and increase her profitability. Most operators aren’t this opportune and have to self-diagnose what factors are limiting their success. Is it forgettable food, surly service or reckless restrooms?

What impressions are your dining area and restroom making on a new guest? Knowing it costs a lot more to attract new customers than to retain existing ones, how much repeat business are you getting? Assuming Robert Irvine isn’t visiting your establishment anytime soon with a renovation check in hand, what small changes can you make to signal to your guests that you care about their entire experience? In a restaurant, there are many opportunities to make positive changes. Think about everything from the initial hostess greeting, to well-maintained restrooms with touch-free dispensers, to the individually wrapped mints offered when they exit your brightly polished door, as an opportunity to win your customer’s trust.