Failure to Clean Keeps Customers Away

Customers at convenience stores and restaurants are far less likely to return if they find restrooms that are unhygienic or poorly stocked with supplies, according to a recently completed national online survey.

The survey, sponsored by SCA Tissue North America and conducted online by Harris Interactive among a sample of 2,175 adult U.S. foodservice customers, found that of the 97% of U.S. adults who visit convenience stores and restaurants, 86% think restaurant hygiene is very important to their dining experience. Also, 88% of those who visit restaurants agree that restroom cleanliness reflects the hygiene standards throughout the restaurant, including kitchen and food-prep areas.

The survey also found 29% said they would never return to a restaurant with an extremely unclean or unsanitary restroom.  The percentage of never-returns is much higher among people 35 and older (33%) than those 18 to 34 years of age (20%).

Negative restroom experiences trigger strong negative word of mouth, the poll found. Fifty percent of those who visit restaurants said they would tell their friends and family about a negative experience at an unclean or unsanitary restaurant restroom, and 46% said they would avoid going to a restaurant because of a bad experience with a restaurant’s restroom that they had visited themselves or one they heard about from others.

Also, 42% of those who visit restaurants reported using toilet paper or paper towels to avoid touching things inside an unclean restroom in order to protect themselves from unhygienic conditions. The percentage was higher among 35-to-44-year-old females.

According to the poll, the top 10 restroom issues that would prevent restaurant patrons from returning are, in order of importance:

• Overflowing toilets: Fifty-eight percent said this would prevent them from going to a c-store or restaurant.
• Unpleasant odors: Fifty-seven percent reported they would never return.
• Floors that were slippery or dirty with buildup, gum or other residue: 49%.
• Partitions, doors, doorknobs, walls or fixtures were dirty: 38%.
• Dirty and wet sinks and countertops: 38%.
• Insufficient toilet paper: 33%.
• Overflowing trash cans: 31%.
• Insufficient liquid soap: 28%.
• Toilet paper dispenser didn’t work: 22%.
• Management or employees unavailable to report problems to: 19%.

Don’t Flush Profits
Convenience store owners have heard the message loud and clear. For example, the Worsley Cos., which began rolling out a convenience store prototype late last year, introduced touchless restrooms so customers don’t have to get their hands dirty. Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin also has invested heavily in its restrooms as its commitment to foodservice increased.

“We are very passionate about our restrooms because we feel they go hand in hand with the foodservice side of our business,” said Jim Fiene, senior vice president of Open Pantry. “The foundation of food is having clean facilities that customers would prefer to frequent. If we want to grow in food, we need to set ourselves apart with our restrooms. We want to be known for cleanliness before we introduce new food.”

Open Pantry’s facilities are not the run-of-the-mill. The restroom walls mirror the chain’s overall vibrant colors, and features include marble walls, motion-sensitive sinks, toilets and paper-towel dispensers, as as wall heaters.

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