There’s the old adage that we never really own beer, that we’re just renting it. The human condition being what it is, after a few rounds of beer, a trip to the restroom is necessary. What’s interesting is that despite being such a necessary part of the brewery experience, the actual restrooms at breweries are an afterthought, a homogenized experience of white tile and plastic laminate countertops that is a stark contrast to the increasingly thoughtful decor of a taproom.
“You want your restroom to connect and show how you are as a business and how you pay attention to detail,” says Eric Moore, a senior interior designer with the Kohler Co. “If the experience falls short in one area, you can lose what you’re trying to create with a space.”
A few years back, when I was visiting the Harpoon Brewery’s new beer hall space in the Seaport district just east of downtown, a friend returned to the table early in our visit and said, “You need to see the restroom.”
The restrooms were on the west side of the building, facing the city’s skyline. Not wanting to let a good view go to waste, the brewery installed long, thin horizontal windows (in the men’s restroom, at least) at eye level along the wall housing the urinals.
It’s a similar window situation at Faction Brewing in Alameda, California, where the sweeping view of San Francisco is a highlight of the brewery’s patio—and its restrooms. Sure, adding a window will boost the construction cost a bit, but the word of mouth advertising that space gets from visitors pays off in the long run.
People bring up the restroom to fellow customers for only one of two reasons: its unusual or thoughtful decor or its filth. So keep the toilets clean, especially on busy days, and then unleash your creativity. But there’s no need to get experimental with fixtures and fittings. Toilets, sinks, soap dispensers, and drying methods are still the standards, and you don’t need to do more than that. But go beyond the standard white porcelain and chrome; there’s a whole host of colors, materials, and shapes that can add creative touches.
Visiting a showroom or browsing online, says Moore, “you can see toilets that are traditional, transition, contemporary, and more. You can take the look and feel of your taproom into your restroom. There’s a lot more out there than there once was, and there are new places to find ideas. From social media sites, such as Pinterest, to how-to videos, magazines, or even television shows about remodeling, there are ways to see all that’s out there.”
This means that if your taproom has a modern feel with clean lines and warm tones, you can find a sink and countertop to match. Tile colors can match your brewery’s colors, and even fittings such as door handles and latches can mimic the materials at your bar.
Above and Beyond Decor
There are some things you can do aside from the usual items that can add a bit of a thoughtful touch to the overall experience.
- Putting your own twist on the men’s and women’s restroom sign is a great way to stand out (and it’s easier to Instagram than interior shots), but make sure that without the standard M or W or gender-specific silhouette, folks can tell the difference. For instance, there was a brewery in Maryland that had a fish on one door and a squid on another. Only when I asked did I learn that the restrooms were unisex. Remember that after a few pints, customers may feel a sense of urgency. Make sure you’re not sending them into the wrong space.
- If you have single-stall restrooms, installing a “Vacant or Occupied” lock helps prevent those on the inside from jumping every time someone bangs on the door or rattles the handle.
- Artwork or something visual to pass the time goes a long way. We’re well past the era of sports pages tacked to the wall above the urinal. Use the captive space to advertise upcoming events, community happenings, new beer information, or anything else you want to get in front of people. Just keep it off the back of the main door, especially in high-traffic spots. Otherwise a slow reader might get an unexpected bump.
- There are foot pulls that can be mounted near the bottom of the restroom door, meaning that your customer can open the door with his/her foot, eliminating the need to touch a potentially germ-coated door handle.
- Use unscented soap. Each year, at the Great American Beer Festival and during the World Beer Cup, the organizers switch out the scented soap in the restrooms for unscented. Aroma is so important that every brewery should do the same.
- Never opt for the wimpy, barely moving warm-air hand dryers. They don’t work, leaving your guests with damp hands and wet pant legs or skirts from where they dried off. Paper towels or an air dryer that has the power of a jet engine, please.
- Some folks, although it’s not always clear why, take their beers with them to the restroom. Shelving above urinals or on stall walls frees up hands for the task at hand.
- If you’re a family-friendly brewery, make sure you have changing table in both the men’s and women’s restroom, or better yet, a family changing room.
- Make sure that your women’s restroom has the appropriate (and continuously stocked) machines for feminine products.
During construction, you’ll see metrics that say that for every X-number of occupancies, you need restrooms of a certain size. While it’s true that these spaces can be expensive and take up already valuable square footage, remember your primary product and consider going bigger than the minimum suggestion. While some customers will gladly stand in line for a beer release or even at the bar for service, patience is truly tested when there’s a line for the loo. Plus, remember that the less time people spend standing in line, the more they are likely to be spending money on beer.
By putting a little thought into the most necessary of rooms, you’ll endear yourself to your customers by giving them a comfortable space that also showcases your attention to detail and your care about their comfort and well-being.