When it comes to restaurant design, bathrooms have long been overlooked. But with an ever-increasing focus on the overall experience, customers and operators are viewing restaurant restrooms as the next wave of creative expression.
“I am that person who, whenever I go into a restaurant, I have to check out the bathroom,” says Traci Weems, an associate with GTM Architects. “They can be a consideration in today’s restaurant environment, and this comes into play when the owner realizes it’s another opportunity to express design intent for the restaurant.”
Restaurant guests today are looking for a holistic brand experience, and that extends into the restroom, Weems says. So, operators should use design elements that extend the brand’s messaging into spaces other than the dining room. “Some operators come to us already with that thought and most of the time are open to putting some financial effort into the restroom,” she says.
While it’s true that restaurant restrooms have historically been a design afterthought — either due to lack of financial resources or interest — the landscape and desire to invest has shifted in recent years.
“We are seeing a higher emphasis being put on the total experience, and today we’re seeing brands, whether quick service or a concept restaurant, put more care and selection into the design of those spaces,” says Rob Depp, senior vice president, principal, at FRCH Design Worldwide. “We have found that restrooms can reflect, positively or negatively, on the experience of the restaurant visit. It really is reflective of the care and consideration of the brand aspects of their offering. If a restaurant is family oriented but the bathroom has the appearance of being dirty or unkempt, it can damage the overall impression of the restaurant.”
So, what should operators consider when looking to design — or simply refresh — a restroom experience?
“It all starts with the ability to create a clean and safe environment, especially when talking about family restrooms,” Depp says. “We’re talking about accessibility in terms of capacity and locations within the space, and then we support that with a selection of materials that are easy to clean and maintain over a long period of time. Bathrooms are a functional need within the environment. It’s just the reality of the human experience. We want it to be clean and inviting and reflective of the brand.”
Megu in New York City. “It might sound funny, but even going to the restroom should be an experience as the design and flow should be congruent to the rest of the restaurant,” Bakhshi says. “In many cases, a restroom can make you or break you when it comes to client reviews. Most customers visit the bathrooms while they dine, and this can sometimes turn into a conversational piece. This in turn becomes free advertising for the restaurant.”Depp’s sentiment is echoed by Jon Bakhshi, owner of
Today’s restroom trends include stalls featuring floor-to-ceiling doors and separate lights in each one. Consumers like the privacy, and that experience can make even the most basic restaurant restroom feel more high-end, says Sarah Kuchar, an interior designer and founder of Chicago-based Sarah Kuchar Studio. Other elements, such as plush towels and nice soaps, also make for an elevated experience. Meanwhile, restroom vanities, floors, and back walls give designers and architects room to play and get creative.
“We do things with wallpaper, soaps and lighting, and we try to do cool things with tile on the floor and more interesting lighting,” Kuchar says. “They are small rooms, and when it comes to finishes, it can be impactful.”
Additional elements, such as flooring, wallpaper, tile, vanities and even the door signage, should be a consideration for creativity in the space.
“I think the vanity has the most impact in a restroom as well as the wall behind it because you have a mix of wall and floor components,” Weems says. “With the counters, sinks and faucets, you can add some fun, and then add onto it with the mirror that you choose and decorative lighting.”
Operators should also not forget about the door leading into the space as brands across all segments have bucked the traditional M and W in favor of more colorful signage. These doors are the first interaction guests have between the restaurant and the restroom, Weems says, so these typically sterile spaces are ripe opportunities for playful creations. This holds true in terms of font, imagery and design and can carry forward throughout the bathroom environment.
“Restrooms can be a bolder expression of the design message,” Weems says. “It can be more fun or funky, and owners can be a bit more creative there. But it’s important that operators and designers start from the beginning and understand what the brand and message is and what operators want to convey to the guest.” That means restroom design needs to be part of the conversation early on so everyone has a clear understanding of what the space should convey.
“Keeping the message consistent throughout the decor of the entire layout is critical. This is why the relationship between the architect and designer needs to be synergistic,” Bakhshi says. “When they feed off each other, creativity flows and will resonate in the finished product.”