When you gotta go, you gotta go—but when you’re out and about and a public restroom is nowhere to be seen, what should you do? Many of us head to the nearest restaurant, but what’s the etiquette rule on taking advantage of their services if you’re not a paying customer?
“Restaurants are in the hospitality business, but truly the people business,” says Anthony Valletta, regional director of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group. “We strive every day to make people’s day better in any way possible, small or large. With that said, bathrooms are an extension of the experience to our guests dining with us. There is a lot more than meets the eye that is factored into the design, maintenance and execution of a restroom in a restaurant as there an excess of people going in and out of here every minute and it is an extension of our restaurant’s service.”
So that sounds like a no, but Valletta adds a caveat. Sometimes people don’t have another restroom option, and there are better ways to handle the situation. “It is better to simply ask and be up front about your intentions versus trying to be illusive,” he says. “We are always more inclined to help those out that are open, honest, and candid.” He suggests politely asking the host or hostess to use the facilities. “This goes a long way, plus we still have the opportunity to gain you as a future guest if you like the hospitality you received and the look of the restaurant,” he says.
It seems that good manners make all the difference when using a restaurant restroom. Owner of Townies Pizzeria in Florida, Matt Klabacka, agrees that it’s polite to ask first, and also to respect an establishment’s dress code. “We always require shirts and shoes,” he says. (Here are more etiquette rules to follow when you’re dining at a restaurant.)
International etiquette expert and founder of Access to Culture, Sharon Schweitzer, takes a slightly different view. She believes it all comes down to good planning. “Granted, sometimes you just have to go and it’s unexpected; however, you can go before you leave home or before you leave the last place you visited,” she says. “Personally, I would walk into a restaurant or any business and first offer to purchase something small. For example, buy a bottle of water or a soda. Then, politely ask if you may use the restroom. This takes the awkwardness out of it because now you are officially a patron of the establishment.”
“Many establishments simply don’t want anyone but their staff and patrons to use their restrooms due to safety reasons,” Schweitzer adds. “The sad reality is that in the world we live in, with all the doom and gloom in the news, it’s not unreasonable for any restaurant or other business to restrict the restroom for paying customers only. Safety is paramount in today’s world. Before you have to ask, look around. In some cases, a restaurant will post signs clearly stating that the restroom are only for customers. If this is the case, you don’t have to waste your time asking and don’t try to sneak in or pretend you are there for another reasons.”
We’re coming down on the side of yes, if you ask politely and are dressed appropriately. Next up, should Americans follow these British etiquette rules?