Independent hospitality firms would do well to get involved in this year's national Loo of the Year Awards, which highlight the best places ‘to go' in Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands.
Many top players in the hospitality trade know that this contest, now set to begin for its 22nd year, is a proven promotional weapon. The winners always attract vast national media coverage and there are accredited stories of visitors, even international tourists, visiting certain sites purely because they are winners.
But in recent years, independent hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafés have not figured as strongly as they should. Only half a dozen independent hotels took five-star certificates last year, and the same number of independent cafés in the beverage sector.
By contrast, JD Wetherspoon swept the board of the pub sector last year with over a hundred pubs now displaying winners' certificates while McDonalds also has a hundred approved sites.
In the out-of-home catering category, Welcome Break has three dozen venues with certificates, while the restaurant sector was dominated by Butlins' sites.
Although these big players see the value of the award, most of the beverage trade has yet to catch on.
Nobody in the coffee-house or tea-room trades has matched the performance of Badgers café in Llandudno, which took certificates in five successive years between 1999 and 2004, with four five-star awards in a row.
Last year, the Metro in Bury, the Malt Barn coffee house in Dufftown, and Harrison's of Newcastle Emlyn were the café trade's winners but there were not as many beverage-trade entries as had been expected.
And there has not been an independent winner of the overall Loo of the Year award from the hospitality industry since the Manor hotel in St Albans won in 1997.
The value of a top-class loo is immense. For many customers, visiting the toilet first in a café or restaurant tells them whether they're willing to eat there.
There are many firm business aspects to the awards. Help the Aged, in its recent ‘Nowhere To Go' report, gives huge clues to the importance of toilet facilities to the older customer.
Help the Aged says that toilet facilities figure strongly in the grey market's choice of venue. Doubts over whether the adequacy of facilities often influences the decision of whether older customers eat out or stay at home.
"The need to meet the needs of such visitors has never been more important," confirms Mike Bone, managing director of the Loo of the Year awards. "Good loos are proven to be good for business."
Any ‘away from home' toilet can be entered in one of sixty different entry categories covering all types of commercial or public locations. Cafés, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and pubs are all included in the Hospitality entry section.
Any venue could achieve an award - each entry receives a dedicated inspection visit, and entries gaining three-, four- or five-star gradings are presented with a certificate, which can be hung on the wall of the premises. And they certainly get noticed!
The 2009 Loo of the Year Awards will be launched at The Cleaning Show being held at the NEC from 10 to 12 March. National awards and trophies will be awarded in Birmingham on 4 December.
Full details and entry forms are available by visting the Awards website,www.loo.co.uk, or by calling 01403 258779.
By Ian Boughton