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In for a penny, in for a pound

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The British, with their legacy of Victorian attitudes, rarely talk about toilets, pretending, for the most part, that they don’t use them. The British “use the bathroom”, “powder their noses” or “wash their hands”. They never actually defecate.

That’s a shame, really, as the euphemisms not only cover up a basic fact of life that other cultures in other parts of the world are less coy about, but they make it hard for interior designers and architects in the UK to persuade clients that plumbing is worth a serious amount of investment.

At least, that’s the way it used to be. Times, and toilet philosophies, may be changing.

In medieval days, going to the toilet used to be a communal activity, with several outlets in the castle garderobe being used at the same time. This etiquette is now returning.

There is no better leveller than the acknowledgment that we all have to go to the toilet, and the “little boys’/girls’ room” (sorry, euphemisms again) has been the scene of many a spontaneous and honest conversation. The routine of several women leaving the dance floor at the same time and going off to the “loo” together has long been a part of the modern social scene. Men do it as well, but perhaps less obviously.

The television series Ally McBeal introduced the concept of the mixed-gender toilet to many people a few years ago, and this has now become a common development in many progressive workplaces in the West. Convenience chat is chic.

With the breakdown of the old codes, toilet design in hotels – but more particularly in restaurants and pubs – is coming to grips with the demands of the modern latrine. Privies are improving; they are becoming more attractive and accommodating and trendy.

Sensitive diners have often complained in the past that the toilets don’t match the rest of their eating-out experience (if you see what I mean). How many times have you heard: “Great food, great service – shame about the toilets”?

People really don’t want to enjoy a fabulous night out, only to end the evening by stumbling into a dingy room with poor lighting, a puddle on the floor and a trail of damp paper rolling under a door with no lock. Something like that would definitely put you off returning to a restaurant, which is why coloured mirrors, chrome fittings and even televisions are becoming more common in toilets the length and breadth of the country.

In hotels, too, attention is being paid to the toilet requirements of guests. In London’s Landmark, for example, bidets in bathrooms have been augmented by the shatafa, a cleansing device more popular with Middle Eastern and Muslim guests than the European bidet. The hotel’s Francis Green suggests that the installation of shatafas has helped increase the hotel’s Middle Eastern client base.

It’s a simple lesson. Trendy toilets, clean toilets, toilets that are a talking point (as well as a meeting point) and toilets that meet customer demands may cost money, but it’s the kind of investment that has a definite payback.

The British may not admit to using the toilet but neither will they deny that a well-designed lavatory is worth revisiting.

Caterer & Hotelkeeper

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