All Articles Food Restaurant and Foodservice Do restaurants owe the public a restroom?

Do restaurants owe the public a restroom?

2 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Some New York City Starbucks stores ticked off patrons when they began reserving their restroom for employees only. Baristas closed the restroom to the public because they were tired of cleaning up after messy customers and nonpaying patrons, The New York Times reported. Meanwhile, an ABC affiliate reported that only certain big stores with two restrooms reserved one for workers.

The flap involves only a few stores but raises the question of whether restaurants owe the public a place to go.

New York City requires restaurants with 20 or more seats to provide a public restroom. Other states and municipalities have similar laws. Smaller eateries often are not required to have a public restroom but are supposed to let guests use their employee bathroom if there are no public accommodations nearby.

Chicago has such rules in place, but a recent news report revealed that many eateries don’t comply.

CBS in Chicago set out to determine which restaurants comply with state and local laws that require eateries to have an accessible public restroom and found plenty that ignore the rules. Local attorney Dave Hundley, who said the laws have been ignored for years, assembled a team to do a similar investigation and found six of 74 restaurants in compliance. “Either it is there to be enforced for the benefit of the public, or somebody should say we don’t need this law anymore,” Hundley said.

So, some restaurants don’t want to be used for their restroom, while others comply by offering basics you’d expect in a bathroom. Then there are those that use their public facilities as a selling point.

Restaurants in several cities were recognized recently for their above-average restroom. The Tampa Tribune Most Notable Restaurant Restrooms list highlights walls papered with candy wrappers at Candy Kitchen and “funky folk art” at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe. Eater readers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other markets voted for their towns’ best restaurant restrooms. Guests at upscale e11even in Toronto can enjoy a luxurious bathroom worth $200,000, according to travel website

Is your restaurant’s restroom a utilitarian space or a work of art? Tell us in the comments.