Restaurant patrons are far less likely to return if they find restrooms that are unhygienic or poorly stocked with supplies, according to a recently completed national online survey.

The survey — sponsored by SCA Tissue North America and conducted online by Harris Interactive among a sample of 2,175 US adults — found that of the 97 percent of U.S. adults who visit restaurants, 86 percent think restaurant hygiene is very important to their dining experience. Also, 88 percent of those who visit restaurants agree that restroom cleanliness reflects the hygiene standards throughout the restaurant including kitchen and food prep areas.

The survey also found that 29 percent said they would never return to a restaurant with an extremely unclean or unsanitary restroom.  The percentage of never-returns is much higher among people 35 and older (33 percent) than those 18 to 34 years of age (20 percent).

Negative restroom experiences trigger strong negative word of mouth, the poll found. Fifty percent of those who visit restaurants said they would tell their friends and family about a negative experience with an unclean or unsanitary restaurant restroom, and 46 percent said they would avoid going to a restaurant because of a bad experience with a restaurant’s restroom that they had themselves or one they heard about from others.
Also, 42 percent of those who visit restaurants percent reported using toilet paper or paper towels to avoid touching things inside an unclean restroom in order to protect themselves from unhygienic conditions. The percentage was higher, 56 percent, among females 35 to 44 years of age.
According to the poll, the top 10-restroom issues that would prevent restaurant patrons from returning are, in order of importance:
• Overflowing toilets: 58 percent said this would prevent them from going to a restaurant.
• Unpleasant odors: 57 percent
• Floors that were slippery or dirty with buildup, gum or other residue: 49 percent
• Partitions, doors, doorknobs, walls or fixtures were dirty: 38 percent
• Dirty and wet sinks and countertops: 38 percent
• Insufficient toilet paper: 33 percent
• Overflowing trash cans: 31 percent
• Insufficient liquid soap: 28 percent
• Toilet paper dispenser didn’t work: 22 percent
• Management/employees unavailable to report problems to: 19 percent

“Not just restaurant patrons but those who use any commercial washrooms have come to expect clean, well-serviced and stocked facilities with equipment that works and employees who respond quickly when problems are reported,” said Ian West, SCA Tissue Category Manager — Washroom.

Key demographics of the poll participants:
• Male, 48 percent; female, 52 percent
• Adults with children living in household, 30 percent
• Baby Boomers, age 45 and above, 52 percent
• Married, 52 percent

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive via its QuickQuerySM online omnibus service on behalf of SCA between August 1-5, 2008 among 2,175 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, of whom 2,108 visit restaurants.