I have a bone to pick with some of my favorite QSR brands. It’s not the menu. It’s not the service. It’s not the seating, the parking lot nor the drive-thru. Quick service restaurants have obviously poured money, systems and processes in key areas and it shows. But when nature calls, or when I want to wash my hands before a meal, I expect to find a washroom that is clean, odor-free with a functioning soap dispenser and dryer. Not too much to ask, right? Do you deliver?
A widespread problem in QSR
Are you thinking you don’t have this problem? You have a training program in place, right? You have processes. You even assign one employee to every shift to clean the washroom. You have gotten to the bottom of that problem, right? Not so. Our observations, research, and focus groups tell us dirty washrooms are commonplace across the industry today. Large chains, small chains, all are affected and the problem seems particularly acute in downtown/urban locations.
Dirt is not discriminating but your customers are. And there lies the problem. When I say ‘I” have a bone to pick, I really mean “We”. I am your neighbor, your co-workers, your friends. It’s you, me and all of us. It’s your customers. We use these washrooms and what do we think of you?
Compliant IA recently conducted a survey asking people what they would do if a restaurant’s washroom lacked soap, was generally unsanitary or had a strong smell. 89% of respondents told us they would take their business elsewhere. That is a lot of customers to lose but, lost sales aside, it also suggests a huge “credibility” problem for the brand. How do you reconcile the family-friendly message of the advertising campaign with the bacterial experiment taking place in your washrooms? Dirty washrooms let your customers down; they let your brand down. They imply you don’t walk the talk. They suggest you don’t care. Dirty washrooms are hurting your credibility and your brand.
The optics of unsanitary food preparation
Why are washrooms such an issue with customers? What the industry calls “Health and Safety”, customers call “Hygiene”. Hygiene is tightly coupled with food preparation and your facilities bear witness to the safety of the food preparation and the food itself. A recurring theme in our survey was that if the washroom was dirty then so was the kitchen. Customers can’t see your kitchen. They can see your washroom and they can imagine your staff using it…right before they prepare their meal.
What can you do about it?
First, set the expectation with training. Yearly turnover can be 100% of more in the quick service restaurant business which means you need to train relentlessly and repeatedly.
Second, you need to have daily processes involving the store owner/franchisee, managers and assistant managers that ensure washrooms are cleaned repeatedly and thoroughly. Standards should be posted and detailed.
Third, you need to give your district and regional managers the means to communicate and rate a store’s performance in all key areas, including washrooms. Get your stores on a scorecard to be completed by the district manager monthly or quarterly. Designate washroom criteria as “critical” whereby non-compliance will penalize and materially lower the score unless standards are met. Measurement, in and of itself, actually breeds compliance. Measure relentlessly, score aggressively and your washrooms’ “performance” will improve.
For more information, please see our washroom inspection checklist.