A while ago, I was in Panama City Beach, Florida, when I saw this restaurant (pictured above). It was so amazing that I had to take a photo. Look at the restaurant signage: “Bathroom for customers only,” “Cash Only,” “No checks — cash only.”
The Importance of Restaurant Signage
These signs are the first things people see when they walk up to this restaurant. This restaurateur is not making a good first impression – it’s almost like he’s trying to drive people away; he might as well have a sign saying “Keep Out!”
When you’re running a restaurant, it’s like being the ruler of your own little country. You have your own laws for your country’s “Constitution,” depending on what your “citizens” (guests and employees) are willing to put up with.
So this restaurant is the restaurateur’s own country; in his little 40 foot area, he can do what he wants. But the customs authorities and border guards of this “country” are not doing a very good job of welcoming visitors – it actually looks like they’re at war.
I know how these things happen. The restaurant manager gets tired of people stopping by to use the bathroom – and this is a big tourist area, so there are probably a lot of beachgoers who wanted to use the restroom but weren’t buying anything. So the manager gets tired of cleaning up after non-customers and says, “Let’s put up a sign!”
Then he gets frustrated from too many bounced checks – and gets tired of paying credit card fees. So now it’s a cash only establishment – and again he says, “Let’s put up a sign!”
The problem is, before you know it, you’ve got a front door covered with restaurant signage that is going to drive people away. In the process of trying to get customers to follow your rules and obey the “laws of your country,” you’re going to wind up with no customers at all.
How to Avoid Bad Restaurant Signage
Instead of worrying about people using the restroom without paying, turn it into an opportunity! If you’ve got a great food product and a great atmosphere, you should welcome people who are looking for a public restroom – it’s more foot traffic in your door. It’s more people who potentially might spread the word about your place to their friends outside – “Yeah, that place let me use the restroom, and the food smells great! Who’s hungry?”
Instead of trying to convert every rule into signage, instead of trying to head off every possible problem in advance, use this as an opportunity to engage with your guests.
If someone comes in and asks to use the restroom, use it as a chance to convert them into a guest: “Sure – guests are welcome to use the restroom; what can I get for you? How about a drink?”
Another moral of the story: if you’re a franchisor, this is a reminder to make sure that your franchisees are in compliance with your brand identity, signage rules, and general customer policies.
From a marketing standpoint, you want the entrance to your restaurant to be clear, uncluttered and inviting. There are too many restrictive signs right alongside the promotional signs – instead, create an uncluttered view. Customers will get confused if they see that your restaurant signage is sending mixed messages: “Welcome/We’re open/Come in and eat with us” right next to “Cash Only/Don’t Ask to Use the Restroom/Stay Out.”
You want to make sure that franchisees are representing your company and interacting with guests in a way that upholds your standards and supports your brand. If this was your restaurant chain, you would need to talk with your manager – because in this case, the manager is doing more harm than good by putting up all these signs.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: if you have managers or franchisees that can’t be bothered with dealing with customers, then they really shouldn’t be bothered with being in the restaurant industry. Every restaurant has rules, but there are always situations that arise where customers don’t know the rules, or unknowingly break the rules. So enforce your rules, but do it in a way that’s inviting.
Even if you do have a policy that non-customers can’t use the restroom, turn it into a positive: “Customers are welcome to use the restroom – what can I get for you?” Instead of using a sign to prominently remind everyone that your restaurant is “Cash Only,” gently direct people to your convenient on-site ATM.
We should not be at war with guests. We should embrace them – they are our guests. We don’t need to beat them over the head with all of our rules. Instead of trying to train your guests and filter out potential hassles before people ever come in the door with bad restaurant signage, adopt an attitude of flexibility, welcoming and service. It’s better to have a busy restaurant with a few hassles each day, rather than an empty restaurant where everyone knows the rules.