The Pros and Cons of Opening Your Business Bathroom to Everyone

May 4, 2018 | Jessica Ogilvie

You know the drill: You’re walking around town, enjoying a nice little Saturday, and the next thing you know your bladder is going to explode if you don’t find a bathroom now. If you’re desperate, you’ll probably look for the closest coffee shop where you can buy a beverage that you neither want nor need for the express purpose of using the restroom. But is that really the best answer?

A proposed new program in Santa Fe, NM, thinks not. According to a recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, local business owner Chuck Higgins has proposed the implementation of a “Happy Toilets” program, in which participating businesses would place a sticker on their doors indicating that their restrooms have a “come one, come all” mentality; in exchange, those businesses would receive a small stipend from the city.

The situation is complicated in downtown Santa Fe by the fact that there is an acknowledged problem of too few public restrooms — so much so that the city has created a map of the area called “Places to Go.” For that reason, most business owners that the New Mexican spoke with were on board with the Happy Toilets idea — it’s optional to participate, after all — but there were still a few who found fault with it, arguing that the city should be responsible for installing public johns, not local businesses.

It is a question that bedevils service-oriented businesses everywhere: Should restrooms really be off-limits to everyone but customers?

So, for those debating whether or not to unchain the bathroom key from that cinderblock and open the loo to all, we offer this handy guide to bathroom-border control.

Pro: More Customers in the Door

Just because folks are initially walking in to your shop to relieve themselves doesn’t mean that they can’t become customers. They’ll be in much less of a rush on their way out, and they may even want to thank you for your hospitality by making a purchase. This is the same mentality that goes into placing items by the cash register to inspire impulse buying; if you see it, you are more likely to want it.

Higgins himself, the former owner of a small chocolate boutique, agrees, telling the newspaper, “My experience is that’s the toughest thing — bodies in the door.”

Con: Cleanup Will Increase

Depending on where you’re located and who comes into your shop, you might find that a more liberal bathroom policy results in more cleanup. For that reason, it’d be worth it to test out a revolving bathroom door program to see how it actually plays out. Are you getting more customers? And what kind of mess are we talking about here? A a few more minutes of wiping things down, or bringing in some big disinfectant guns? The public deserves to know.

Pro: It’s a Nice Thing to Do

Let’s be honest: When it comes to aforementioned nice little Saturdays, nothing ruins an afternoon faster than finding that you really really really have to go and there is no place to do so. You are left with very few options; either keep running until you find someplace, go outside (gross, illegal, and difficult if you are a woman), or go home.

Plus, see subsection one: If you’re letting people in your store who might not otherwise have ambled in, you’re increasing your chances for new business by quite a lot.

Con: It Does Disincentivize the City to Take Care of People Who Need to Take Care of Business

While this seems very nice thing to do for customers and other humans in general, it’s a fair point that civilization’s excretory needs aren’t the responsibility of small-business owners. If public restrooms are so few and far between that you had to create a map to find them (as Santa Fe did), it’s probably time for the city to think up some sort of a better, more permanent solution. Otherwise, those kindly business owners could find themselves being overrun, and to heck with good intentions.

If you’re a business in limbo regarding your bathroom open-door policy, keep an eye on Santa Fe and its Happy Toilets. It’s a lesson for entrepreneurs and city government alike that relying on small businesses to do civic jobs isn’t a long-term solution, but there may be business benefits to giving the average citizen a little relief.