Flash in the can

Restaurant washrooms can offer no-touch taps that look more like fine art than a washbasin.

Restaurant washrooms can offer no-touch taps that look more like fine art than a washbasin.

Washroom technology has evolved to a point where hygiene and high-style sit hand-in-hand. Rebecka Delforce runs through the options available that can make your washroom really shine.

Question: how can you best ensure your customers are so comfortable in your restaurant or café that they keep returning? Standard answer: offer friendly and efficient service, tasty and well-prepared food, interesting menus that bear attractive prices and muster up some ambient, snug, feel-good surroundings. Done, done, done? Then you’ve overlooked just one thing—the washrooms.

And make no mistake, the world—and not least Australia—is awash with new innovations and technology when it comes to these cloistered corners. We’re quickly entering the space-age era of the 1960s American animation series, The Jetsons, where we simply wave our hands through infra-red beams for washroom taps to gush water, where dispensers squirt eco-friendly soap into our hands before we have time to look for their non-existent pumps, and where washrooms are automatically aromatised with lavender scents when we exit.

Has the inventing world gone mad and foisted their unwanted creations upon us? Hardly. Quite the opposite, actually. All evidence points to the fact that restaurant patrons the world over, desire—or rather, demand—that their washroom experience be a pleasant one. “People want washrooms that smell fantastic, are sparkling clean, have plants in them and play relaxing music,” says Anne Briggs, manager of Initial, an Australian washroom product rental service. And Briggs ought to know—her company has done the surveys to prove it. “By surveying people, we know that customers not only want their restaurant washrooms to smell fantastic and look fabulous, but most of all to have no-touch facilities,” she says, “In fact, the call for no-touch is an outstanding factor in all the information we collect.”

So why do we patrons want this hands-free experience? Are we lazy? Too busy to turn the necessary taps, push some buttons or pull the hand towelling from the dispenser ourselves? “No, it’s more about hygiene,” explains Briggs. “Granted, there is a difference between what men and women want in the washroom, but for women, hygiene is of paramount importance. The women we survey really do not want to touch anything in the washroom. Some of them go to great lengths to avoid washroom contact, opening doors with their elbows or using a hanky to turn taps on, for instance.”

According to Briggs, the concept of a completely hands-free washroom is not too far-fetched, and the reality not far off. Initial already offers a few no-touch products for hire, namely the EnMotion No-touch Paper Towel Dispenser and the Initial No-touch Soap Dispenser, both of which have been a huge hit, says Briggs: “We’ve seen the number of catering services, including cafes and restaurants, using our services triple since 1996.” One cafe making the move towards hands-free happiness is Xenos Café in Crows Nest, Sydney. In March 2006, manager Kate Xenos, installed a no-touch sanitary bin and a no-touch paper towel dispenser to replace an electric hand dryer. “We had a multitude of positive responses,” laughs Xenos. “We’d hear customers return to their table after visiting the washroom and say to their friends, ‘Go upstairs and check out the bathroom!’ Their friends would ask, ‘Why?’ and they’d just smile and answer, ‘Just go up and see’. It was really funny.”

Another thing Xenos noticed was an economical saving. “Well, to start with it wasn’t economical—customers went a bit bezerk, waving their hands around to play with the new no-touch paper towel dispenser. But now that they’ve calmed down a bit, it is economical. You can set it to dispense a certain amount of towelling each time, so you reduce wastage, and it’s cheaper in that it runs on batteries, not electricity the way the hand dryer did. I’m really happy with the no-touch additions we’ve made.”

Yet, if you want to get serious about no-touch, says Briggs, then once you’ve incorporated basic no-touch accessories you should contact Green Plumbers International. Peter Hoefler, chief operations officer of Green Plumbers International, agrees.

“We can supply you with no-touch taps today, and by the end of this year we’ll be able to supply you with no-touch doors, which open on approach and lock when you enter, only to reopen for you when you’re ready to leave.”

But wait, there’s more. “We’re also working on creating the first-ever no-touch flush in Australia by the end of the year.” And in case you’re wondering, yes, all of these groundbreaking technologies use sensors. That means you can set the sensor off automatically by simply standing within proximity or by waving your hands.

Waving your hands around like a raving lunatic? Well, hopefully not, but maybe for the first few times, laughs Briggs.

“Research indicates that the best no-touch products have simple mechanisms,” she says. That way, once you’ve used a no-touch product a couple of times, the experience isn’t overwhelming or embarrassing any more. “I guess the other thing to remember,” says Briggs, “is that no-touch is something we all need to get used to—it’s certainly where washroom technology is headed!”

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