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Distracted Dining: Washroom woes

In this column, Nancy discusses the woes of being distracted by restaurant washroom facilities

It’s hard to enjoy a great meal if the washrooms stink - literally and figuratively. There is some kind of powerful connection between restaurant food and their washrooms...right?

I’ve lost track of the number of times a disappointing to disgusting john jaunt in a restaurant has soured the taste of an otherwise delicious meal and made me seriously consider if I would ever darken their door again. Likewise, a beautiful bathroom experience will lead me to enjoy a less appetizingly appealing meal more. It happens all the time.

This led me to do some research on what the health and safety requirements for restaurant washrooms are.

My first stop was the very confusing verbiage of the Ontario Building Code. Immediately, I was relieved there are restaurant requirements in the Ontario Building Code for Water Closets (a compartment or room with a toilet). The code goes on to define them as universal toilet rooms. I confirmed with the City of Guelph, city by-laws (municipal) are superseded by any provincial and then federal by-laws. A very helpful by-law expert from the city gave me an overview and pointed me in the right direction to Guelph’s by-law information on the website.

There are a myriad of occupancy/employee/patron stipulations, but suffice it to say, washrooms are mandatory for sit-down restaurants anywhere in Ontario - phew! There are minimum requirements for the number of wash closets and/or lavatories for each sex. Don’t let the words confuse you - water closets have toilets; lavatories have toilets and sinks. Interesting. The Ontario by-law seems to use these interchangeably, however they are different, combined in the code they are ‘universal toilet rooms.’

As far as I could fathom, there is no requirement to have a separate washroom for employees if the establishment has not more than 40 seats. If there is a separate washroom for employees, it can be used by both female and male employees if there is not more than five on the premises at one time for more than 25 per cent of the working day and the door can be locked from the inside. The wording is intricate with lots of room for interpretation.

Numbers are all very interesting, but I am more interested in the sanitary part of the washroom by-laws. I imagine these will be updated soon for Ontario because the very first statement in this category says ‘washrooms - at least one sanitary facility shall be provided for each gender and must have a sign clearly indicating the gender for which they are intended. The times they are a-changin'! I appreciate the gender-neutral lavatories that are present in many local Guelph restaurants. All I really want, is a nice, clean, private place to do my business.

Sanitary requirements for restaurant washrooms include liquid soap in a dispenser and paper (single use) towels for proper hand washing; potable hot and cold running water under pressure; toilet paper and a durable, easy to clean receptacle for used towels and other waste material. They are not supposed to open directly into any food processing, preparation, handling, distribution, selling, manufacturing or serving areas.

I bet you’re thinking right now of all those restaurants that don’t comply with the above. How many times have you washed your hands with icy cold water; reached for an empty soap dispenser and fought with the paper towel holder after repeatedly trying to flush a dysfunctional toilet, all while holding your breath to keep the washroom stench out of your nostrils? Me too.

Helpful Guelph by-law guy also directed me to the Public Health Wellington.Dufferin.Guelph website. This is a great resource and has information on the Health Protection and Promotion Act REGULATION 562 that outlines in an easy to read and understand way the sanitary facilities requirements of restaurants. It basically puts in laymen’s terms the Ontario By-law information. Regulation 562 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act also includes more information on the sanitary facilities (lavatories) regarding cleanliness. They are to be kept clean, sanitary and in good repair at all times; fully equipped with above stated requirements and washbasins, urinals and toilets shall be cleaned and sanitized at least once every work day AND AS OFTEN AS IS NECESSARY TO MAINTAIN THEM IN A SANITARY CONDITION.

Thinking again. Washrooms are such a huge distraction when dining. In my mind, there are so many simple solutions to make them an enjoyable part of the restaurant experience. It also behoves me to say restaurant washrooms can be a reason not to revisit an establishment. Really.

I hate most of the restaurant lavatories with the big arrows that take you down into the bowels of the basement for relief. A large percentage of these are just creepy with a host of questionable things strewn about in the too narrow hallway. Usually dark and dank, there is a distinct musty smell mingled with the various odours produced in a non-ventilated washroom area. I understand the space challenges, however I don’t feel a secluded washroom in the basement is the best place to look like the owner ran out of money.

For me - I love the creativity and thoughtfulness some restaurateurs use in providing tiny, clean, artistically decorated places to pee and poo. Floor to ceiling walls for those of us over four feet tall who don’t want to meet their washroom neighbour; clean lighting; all the necessary requirements listed in the by-law; ventilation; musac - a lovely little space that makes your return to the food table that much more enjoyable. It’s nice to return to your table mates and not have to say, "Don’t use the washroom unless you have to - it’s gross!"

An appealing washroom experience enhances the food. Mind over matter - and a welcoming, clean, fully stocked water closet/lavatory/washroom/toilet room matters!

Nancy Revie is a Guelph author, motivational speaker, fitness instructor and entertainer. Visit Nancy at Her column appears every other week.