Brand image is vital in foodservice operations and, although the dining room is the main attraction, the restroom still plays a significant role. Best-in-class design means restrooms should be coherent with the restaurant’s aesthetics and overall vibes.

While more casual concepts can incorporate colorful and playful restroom components, higher end eateries may go with more sophisticated and refined designs with completely enclosed stalls rather than partitions. Both are best served by utilizing fixtures that are simple to clean and maintain.

Like the back of house and dining room, functionality is the main goal of restaurant restrooms. The design hinges not only on aesthetics, but also hygiene, accessibility, and safety overall.

Staple restroom fixtures include sinks, faucets, soap dispensers, mirrors, paper towels and/or hand dryers, urinals in the men’s or gender-neutral restrooms, and garbage cans. The individual stalls include toilets, toilet paper dispensers, feminine hygiene dispensers, hooks and/or shelves and grab bars.

Safety and Hygiene

COVID-19 resulted in even more people being hyper aware of restroom cleanliness.

Although state and local health codes dictate some restroom requirements, there are a few rules of thumb that are not dependent on location.

When looking at safety and hygiene, it is important to ensure floor drain locations are conducive to efficient water disposal when cleaning and in the event of sink or toilet overflows.

In addition, avoiding the use of porous materials and seams that can harbor dangerous bacteria as well as glossy floor surfaces that can cause slips and falls when wet are key.

For sinks, seamless, cast-formed, and nonporous solid surface and quartz are best in preventing mold and bacteria growth. Vinyl or terra cotta tiled floors are not just attractive design elements but minimize falls, even when wet. Most importantly in a restroom setting, these sink and floor materials are easily cleaned
and disinfected.

Looking at door swings, too, is not just about convenience but also is a safety factor that prevents guests from being inadvertently hit when entering or exiting stalls.

Hands-free sinks, soap dispensers and hand dryers, along with automatic toilet flushers, have been game changers for restroom hygiene. The use of automated sensors enhances cleanliness and hygiene by eliminating touch points.

Recently, hands-free technology has improved greatly. Rather than sensors delivering spotty service for soap and water, advanced models are now more reliable and consistent. This provides cleaner and continuous use with fewer dribbles of soap and water across countertops. It’s important to note that incorporating sensors may require modifications to existing plumbing and electrical systems.

Incorporating hand dryers and/or paper towel dispensers and receptacles within the sink minimizes drips across the floor. One disadvantage, however, is this can create backups in the sink area, as patrons are occupying this space for a longer period.

Depending on the placement of fixtures, whether these are recessed into the wall or are traditional outboards, impacts cleaning time. While cleaning is easier, maintenance and accessibility are considerations if components are situated within a wall. Consequently, this can be a costly fix if problems arise.

Providing hooks, shelves or compartments to store items like coats, purses or beverages also adds convenience as well as promotes better hygiene when patrons are using the facilities.

Design Trends

Today’s designers can add distinctive finishing touches to their washroom designs with a variety of coordinating products, finishes, colors, styles and configurations to meet the needs of each restaurant facility. Coordinating accessories in a variety of sizes and finishes also can unify the space.

One more recent trend is having a touchless soap dispenser, faucet and hand dryer in an integrated design at the sink. This not only saves space and eliminates clutter by consolidating all components but also reduces touch points and wet surfaces in restrooms.

For handwashing areas, counters and sinks made of a solid surface or natural quartz are becoming more common. These are available in a variety of formats, sizes and colors to complement any aesthetic.

Toilet areas are being cordoned off with privacy partitions of different materials, colors and formats to set a restroom apart while also conforming to brand requirements.

Recent restroom trends include more wood grain patterns as accents. There also has been an increase in black, gold, nickel, brass, bronze and stainless components as well as backlit mirrors in upscale lavatories. Black sinks, in particular, have gained ground and are a bold, sophisticated addition that more easily hides dirt and imperfections.

Flooring trends include vinyl epoxy material, stained concrete for new builds and tile wainscotting.

It has become more common to incorporate smooth curves as well as soft edges to soften a design and make it less traditional with signature touches. This can be utilized with faucets and soap dispensers, in particular.

Like restaurants as a whole, biophilic designs that connect to nature by bringing outdoor elements indoors have become more popular in today’s restrooms. This includes items like plants, art, outside light and calming colors and finishes that positively affect both health and wellness.

There has been an influx of soap dispensers and faucet sets with hidden sensors to deter tampering, longer spouts to increase handwashing space and cast brass spout construction. In addition to durable construction, innovative design features that upgrade maintenance and the user experience, including easy-to-read refill indicators for paper and soap to help predict maintenance and ensure products are well-stocked.

Privacy, Accessibility & Inclusivity

Privacy is a factor with restroom design, and operators can choose partitions that leave space on the top and bottom; partitions that are flush with the floor or ceiling or even walls between stalls, which are more common for high-end restaurants.

Newer partitions have durable materials that are more attractive, such as phenolic, enameled tempered glass, recycled plastic and stainless steel. Modern partition styles have more enclosed space, flush finishes, durable construction and advanced features to improve the restroom experience. These may incorporate occupancy indicators, with one type including an LED light band built into the cubicle system. When the cubicle door locks, the light band turns from green to red indicating the stall is occupied.

The number of stalls and sinks also are primary considerations to minimize wait times. There are typically local codes to adhere to that ensure accessibility is not an issue. Depending on the state, there may be regulations dictating the number of men’s, women’s, family and gender-neutral restrooms required.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are experiencing a rise in popularity. This requires adequate floor space and may include design options such as individual rooms with locking doors or a larger communal space with separate stalls. One popular layout based on European gender-neutral restroom models includes a communal washing station to facilitate one-way traffic and minimize cross traffic. Corridor concept entries and exits, as well as automated doors, are also
design considerations.

Restrooms must adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifications. These differ, depending on the format of the restroom.

Primary Considerations

Before even thinking about the restroom design, location is a primary consideration. This is because the noises from flushing and hand dryers, in addition to any unpleasant odors, need to be considered.

There also are several options with commercial restroom components. One of the most contested is whether to have paper towels, hand dryers or both. Though there is a cost savings with hand dryers and less maintenance and cleaning throughout the day, these units need to remain continuously operable.

In terms of placement, it’s beneficial to place paper towel dispensers by restroom doors so patrons have the option to use these as a buffer for door handles when exiting. Waste receptacles should be situated by the dispenser.

Hands-free faucets are required in some areas, but that is not the case for hands-free soap dispensers, which are not as popular. Also, operators should consider there may be soap specifications with hands-free dispensers. Operators also can incorporate individual soap dispensers, but need to consider if theft will be an issue. Wall soap dispensers need to be mounted securely so as not to be easily pulled off, while accessibility for refilling is a consideration with counter-mounted dispensers.

While toilet paper providers typically provide dispensers, it’s important that these conform to the stall specifications and are securely mounted so as not to be easily pulled off.

Overall, deciding on whether sink and toilet fixtures will be traditionally mounted or recessed makes a difference. This is because it is very pricey to flip mounting types after installation.

Sink drain locations are important for lining up the faucet. The splash points of ramp sinks should be considered since this sink type is challenging to properly execute.

The mounting of sinks, whether on the wall, countertop or undermount, will impact the cost as well as the ease of cleaning.

Lighting can be an afterthought but is a key component to functional restroom designs. It’s preferable to have indirect or down lighting from mirrors, with general lighting in the remainder of the lavatory. It’s important to ensure light fixtures are not creating shadows in stalls.

Added conveniences in the stall may include hooks, shelves or cubbies to store jackets, purses or drinks for those using the facilities.

Keeping Things Clean

A Harris Poll found that 89% of Americans would not visit a restaurant based on negative online reviews about its restrooms. Two-thirds of customers said the mention of restroom odors in a review would be reason to avoid that business, while a clogged toilet would influence 63%. A lack of toilet paper, soap and paper towels mentioned in an online review would deter 46% of Americans from visiting a restaurant.

This is why it’s paramount for restaurant operators to incorporate restroom products that support easy cleaning and efficient maintenance. These include technology like refill indicators, magnetic locking systems, anti-slam features and an easy feed feature for paper towel dispensers to prevent jams and waste.

Maintenance indicators provide added backup to ensure restocking is performed when needed.

Hands-free fixtures also help enhance cleaning and maintenance, since there are no handles, levers, or buttons to constantly disinfect. Top fill multi-feed soap systems that predict refills are not only simple to fill but can streamline maintenance.

Stall partitions that are secured at the ceiling rather than the floor make cleaning easier and ensure dirt, grime and bacteria doesn’t get trapped around the mounting.

As for materials, ceramic tile is hard to beat, as it is easily cleaned and maintained. However, grout with this type can be problematic and requires constant cleaning.