Before I worked retail, it bothered me if cafes would let only paying customers use the washrooms. And it’s a hassle to be in Second Cup or Timothy’s and have to ask for a key to the washroom. People, even if they’re not paying for anything, have a sense of entitlement. “This place is open; of course I can use the washroom!” But why do you have more right to use a McDonald’s washroom than your neighbour’s? Granted, your neighbour isn’t open for business, but would you walk into your neighbour’s house unannounced and casually stroll into the washroom?
A couple of years ago, there was a debate in Toronto–it may have been brought up in city council– to force restaurants to open their washrooms to passersby. Anybody walking downtown knows there are abysmally few washrooms open to the public. This wasn’t always the case, though; a century ago the city built washroom-specific buildings elegantly designed to let people relieve themselves. Some still stand, notably at the southwest corner of Broadview and Danforth, just east of the Bloor Viaduct.
Since I’ve worked retail, I’ve gained another perspective. Allowing public access to the washrooms is a bigger pain than a constipated derriere.
I work at a government-owned liquor monopoly–those of you in Ontario know the chain. It’s not a cafe, but this monopoly prides itself on customer service. It’s on a Sunday that a man comes into the store to buy one can of beer, the cheapest thing in a liquor store. He’s in his 30s, tall and wearing track pants and a parka. “Can I use your washroom?”
The store is quiet, and I’m a nice guy. I take him to the stockroom, where the employee washroom is. “You’ve saved my life. I’ve been walking for hours and I really have to go.” I point to the washroom and stand on the other side of the stockroom and wait. Two minutes later I hear water from the sink. I never did hear the toilet flush. But I didn’t think anything of it. Maybe he didn’t do anything. As he comes out, he courteously thanks me.
At that point, I go on my scheduled fifteen-minute break. I walk outside and as my break ends, I return to make a pit stop in the washroom. I look in the toilet, and to my dismay, there is the largest piece of human turd I have ever seen. Not only that, but there’s no toilet paper in the toilet. At all. The turd is pear shaped and the size of a baseball. I flush the toilet and it won’t go down. It’s too big. I have no idea what to do.
“Guys,” I say to my fellow employees, “Don’t use the toilet.”
“We know. We saw it.” The three of us are standing at the front of the store debating what to do. Do we use toilet cleaner to make it slide down? That wouldn’t work. How about pushing it with the toilet brush? No, it would be too soft. One thing was clear: Nobody else wanted to deal with it, so it was up to me.
I go outside and find a stick. Grabbing it, I go to the washroom; I’m on all four and poking the turd. I poke it until it’s part way down the hole; I flush and it goes down. I throw the stick into two feet of snow out the back. I wash my hands.
I return to the front to a hero’s welcome. They shake my hand and I say, “Are you sure you want to touch that?” They walk away in horror.
What is the point to this humorous yet anal-derived story? The point is that cafes and restaurants operate washrooms because they’re required to by law. But using them isn’t a right. It’s a privilege. Inconsiderate, dirty people make restaurant and other business owners and employees reluctant to open up their facilities. Cleaning up after people is a dirty job, an unsavoury consequence of customer service.
And in case you’re curious, now when people ask to use the washroom, I tell a little white lie. “Our pipes are clogged.” I’m not poking turd with a stick again.