The Lid Goes Down

Reader feedback and a final word on the toilet talk debate

By  Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

Over the past two weeks, Fare Digest hosted a spirited debate between Scott Allmendinger and myself on the ongoing correlation between clean restrooms and good foodservice.

I knew I wouldn't win this battle, really. I wanted to push the envelope, get us thinking beyond our usual benchmarks. The thing is, I agree with Scott, but I still stand by what I say. I don't want to have to believe that our bathrooms continue to undermine our food programs. My view is based on a sort of utopiawhere all bathrooms are at least clean and functional. But I understand it's a difficult, never-ending challenge, and for now, I remain in the minority.

The poll results show thatas 68% sided with my colleague that bathrooms will always be crucial to your foodservice program (13.6% sided with me, and 18.2% voted for a middle ground). Scott's opinions are reality. And I suppose reality trumps the hypothetical, especially when talking about toilets.

We received some great feedback on the debate that we share below. Hearing from you guides our content, so keep sending your ideas and opinions to me at awestra@cspnet.com. I'm sure I'll willingly throw myself in the proverbial toilet again.
- Abbie Westra, Executive Editor, Fare magazine

.....

I do not talk to my teams about clean stores; I talk to them about sanitation. That has to be a given, a nonnegotiable standard. Thank my first training manager and then a stint in the grocery business to make it a habit. No E. coli, please.

Andrew M Pochatko
Retail Strategies & Solutions

.....

I agree with Scottrestrooms make a real difference in the success or failure of a foodservice program. Many of us remember when gas stations were the restrooms of choice, or perhaps it was simply that they were convenient. The industry lost the restroom wars to the QSRs. It wasn't because there were more of them or that they were more convenient. It was because they were clean.

Perhaps when that war was raging the industry didn't care so much. Heck, I am not sure we were unhappy to see those people who want to use the restroom go. It meant we didn't have to clean them so often.

More importantly, the emphasis the industry now places on foodservice didn't exist. We were making good margins on other products and we were still in the "build it and they will come" phase of the industry's lifecycle. None of that is still true. The industry now realizes that foodservice can be a game-changer. We go from being a place where people stop on their way to someplace else to a destination for breakfast and lunch (dinner not so much for most retailers).

The QSRs knew something we didn't or had forgotten. One of the ways people judge a place that serves food is by the cleanliness of its restrooms. They cannot see all of the back-of-house operations to judge if they are clean or not, but they can, and do, use the restrooms. Our informal research shows that this is even truer for women than men.

One of the things we tell our clients is that "c-store clean" is not equal to "foodservice clean." Many don't understand the difference so we share the following analogy of the kitchen counter that needs to be cleaned:

Teenager does it by quickly wiping the open areas of the counters. May or may not remember to throw away the paper towel (basic c-store clean).

Husband does it by grabbing a sponge and wiping down the open areas of the counter. Probably will place the sponge on or near the sink, but likely will not rinse it out (advanced c-store clean).

Wife cleans the counters by first rinsing out the sponge, adding some soap to it and washing the open areas. She moves all the items on the counter, cleans underneath them, rinses out the sponge, wipes it all down again removing any of the soap, rinses out the sponge, puts in the sink for the next time. Then she uses something to disinfect the counter (restaurant clean).

Is the analogy overly harsh on most c-stores? I would hope so, but fear it's not.

I remember once being told that you could judge the class of a place by the way they keep their restrooms. That may or may not be true but I do know if we want to become a destination for foodservice we have to have clean restroomsrestaurant-clean restrooms.

Steven J. Montgomery
b2b Solutions LLC

.....

The articles on clean restrooms and their correlation to foodservice are interesting. In my 40 years in the petroleum industry I found that the most successful operators of service stations and then convenience stores had, you guessed it, clean restrooms. The operator with clean restrooms also had that attitude about their entire business. The lube bays or stores were clean, the merchandising better, and their pursuit of excellence in all parts of their business superior. So, you can separate the restrooms from the foodservice, but if the restrooms are not clean it is probably a reflection of how they care for the rest of their business.

Bill Bellman
Past Executive Director, Washington Oil Marketers Association

.....

Scott, you are a consummate artisan in the first degree. I suppose we've all been to the "Hell House" of convenience stores once in our lives. When it comes to the success of the stores, I once wrote that I thought "image" was far more important than "location." After all, a nasty toilet in the Taj Mahal is a nasty toilet. Still, I feel compelled to give Abbie her due. I would never say, "Y'all come see us, ya hear? We'll keep the privy clean for ya!"

Buc-ee's has a great gimmick going for them, but it's only Buc-ee's gimmick and the rest of us will have to come up with our own masterpiece. Still, it should shine as a beacon for us to take heed of the essence (stretching for a pun) of the message.

The older I get, the less time I am able to hold my breath as I scoot in and out of a nasty john only to stumble over a pothole and trip on a pool of beer and a pile of garbage on my way back to my car. I would never go there again, and the first chance I got I'd make darn sure my friends heard all the ghastly details.

To the public, the reality of who we are is how we appear to be. If my clerk is a disgusting creature that conjures up images from Oliver Twist, it is the way I am imagined by my customers. Avoid being too creative however. "Our clerks bathe daily," would be stretching it a bit.

Bill Scott
Scott Systems Inc. & StoreReport

.....

Since reading your article I have thought about what you said each time I have been in a restroom. There have been many. Of all I was in, there was one I could call "pristine clean" and all the rest were in need of more frequent cleanings or were just plain dirty.

I don't think this needs to be talked about less, it needs more attention than it is currently getting. You are just plain wrong!

Ray Gunderson
DistinctImage International LLC

By Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products
View More Articles By Abbie Westra