I have a confession to make. I come from a germaphobic family. We are individually affected in various ways by germaphobia, and it manifests itself to different degrees (and to different levels of quirkiness - I personally think hotel bedspreads are absolutely horrifying).
So I had a good laugh today, reading the Wall Street Journal's cover article on germy doorknobs and pulls in public restrooms. You know what I am talking about. You wash your hands, and then you have to open the door to exit the restroom. And it opens in and who knows if the last person who touched that doorknob washed their hands? Ewwwwww!
We can all laugh about this topic, and the various inventions and proposed bills (yes, one was proposed in my fair Commonwealth of Massachusetts last year) to either clean or eliminate the necessity to touch germy restroom doorknobs and pulls. Yet underlying this is an important theme.
And that is how important a clean restroom is to a museum visit.
I don't care how wonderful your museum is, how great the program is, how excited the kids are about visiting. If the restroom is not clean, that is what visitors will remember, and our guest research has found that they form unexpectedly strong opinions about their overall visit based on how clean, or how not-so-clean, their experiences are.
So much so that it may keep them from revisiting. It may even be what they tell their friends ("the biology program was nice, but man, they were also growing some nasty stuff in the restroom . . . "). Not exactly what you want people to be saying about you.
A clean restroom also signals to visitors that you care about them. That you want them to be comfortable there. That they are important to you. And it allows them to concentrate on why they come to your museum in the first place - to experience your fantastic objects, programs, exhibits, and events.
So how do you signal cleanliness in your restrooms? Well, obviously, a clean bathroom is a great start, but you can do other, more subtle, and inexpensive, things that convey a message to visitors that you care about them. Some ideas:
- Put a sign on the restroom door saying "If this restroom is not clean, please contact me." Then put the name and phone number of the director. If the director actually receives a call, his or her assistant can send someone to clean the restroom (or, in a small museum, the director will go clean it herself - I have been there and done that!).
- Add a couple of bud vases with fresh flowers in them to the counter. It is amazing how this projects the image of clean.
- Require staff to check the restrooms hourly for cleanliness (and every 15 - 30 minutes on busy days), and have them initial a chart in the restroom that they have done so, much like you see in fast food restaurants.
- And, obviously, ensure that the restrooms are well supplied with paper and soap.
Finally, if you are planning a remodeling or new addition, think carefully about the restrooms . . . and the doors. Can you eliminate the germy knob or handle? Or even eliminate the door itself? Please try . . . my family will thank you for it!