Commode to Joy: Being a restaurant critic isn't always a delight. But after almost six years of eating out four or five times a week, I can take the downs with the ups. Overpriced meals? Bad food? Surly servers? I've seen them all.
One thing I still haven't gotten used to: raunchy rest rooms.
I use the rest room in just about every restaurant I visit. That's where I do my finest note-taking, recording my freshest impressions. Sometimes, however, I receive a whole new set of unexpected impressions that makes me want to reconsider my present line of work.
A personal note: I'm not a squeamish guy. I spent many years living in the Third World, in Africa and the Middle East, where the concept of indoor plumbing hasn't universally taken hold.
But some of this town's rest rooms have repulsed me to a degree I didn't think possible. I depart them wishing I had worn the kind of outfit nuclear-power-plant workers wear when they get near the plutonium.
I know restaurant owners and managers have a million things to worry about and keep track of. The hostess called in sick. The supplier forgot to ship the ahi tuna. The freezer is on the fritz. So sometimes the rest room is neglected. Sometimes, it's completely forgotten.
Now, I don't insist the rest room gleam like a sterile hospital operating room (although that would be reassuring). But I would like the place to look like somebody has taken a mop and sponge to it during the current calendar year. There's no excuse for layers of dirt, grime and God knows what else.
But the hygiene problems go deeper. I don't know anyone who enjoys cleaning toilets. (My very first job, as a 16-year-old, was doing odd jobs in a factory. One of my daily duties was scrubbing the men's and ladies' rest rooms. A few weeks after I was hired, I got hit by a car. My first thought upon regaining consciousness was, "I'm hurt so bad I don't have to go back to work and clean toilets." I was actually happy.)
Still, somebody has to clean the toilets. And somebody has to make sure they function, too. I consider a nonworking toilet a pressing problem. Apparently, not all restaurant owners agree, judging from the number of "Out of Order" signs I see.
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Somebody also has to make sure the stalls are stocked with toilet paper, the sink supplied with soap and the towel dispenser loaded with towels. You don't need a Ph.D. in Hospitality Studies to figure this out. You just need someone who, every time the big hand on the clock reaches the "12," is trained to tidy up the rest rooms.
And how about getting rid of confusing rest-room signs and logos? I've seen pained diners stare at abstract rest-room artwork, trying to determine if the Picasso-inspired figure on the door is a man or a woman. Don't use foreign languages, either. Why should people in Phoenix have to guess what "herren" means? And stop being cutesy. Someone with an urgent rest-room need isn't likely to stop and chuckle over "buoys" and "gulls."
Suggestions? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,