Thai hot and sour soup, Vietnamese egg rolls with spicy pork and cabbage, pad Thai (peanut with noodles, fresh vegetables, lime and cilantro). To trap the noodles, I awkwardly spun my chop sticks around in the clear, savory broth. As I raised my catch to my mouth, I slurped the soft Asian noodles through my pursed lips, delivering a fine mist of moisture upon my fleece shirt. My husband and I laughed as we then stabbed at the tiny vegetables with these parallel sticks. Oh busboy, this is fun: lunch in Burlington, Vt., at an Asian cafe.
We went to Burlington for a meeting, and we took a break and explored downtown. When traveling, we try to select a restaurant that is unusual, unlike one we can visit at home. The Asian cafe was satisfying and delicious.
In anticipation of the long trip south, we visited the restrooms and met in the parking lot. Arriving, we exchanged knowing glances.
"Yours too," I said with a wince. My companion nodded, shook his head and got into the car.
Oh busboy, restrooms in restaurants. Our luncheon paradise fell through the clouds after our visit to the facilities. The small room was poorly vented. The waste basket was overflowing. There were no towels in the dispenser. The bar of soap was wet, soft and dirty.
"Did your feet stick to the floor?" my husband asked, and I nodded.
A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that 88 percent of people who encounter a dirty restroom at a restaurant belive this reflects poorly on the sanitation of the kitchen and food preparation areas. Of those, a full 29 percent said they would never come back to a restaurant whose restroom was very dirty. Whereas I'm not completely in that category, I have to admit that the cleanliness of the restroom, in some circumstances, might keep me from staying or certainly greatly affect my comfort with the experience.
I want the minimum in a restaurant restroom. I want hot water. I can't kill germs with 60-degree water. When that left knob is missing, I have to wonder how the employees properly washed their hands after using the restroom. Automatic faucets are a great idea, as one doesn't have to touch the handle to turn off the faucet that they just contaminated before washing, but I'm not a fan. First of all, they rarely run long enough to be hot enough, and I can never get them to work. It feels like I'm on "Candid Camera" as I swing my hands and hips every which way to get water flowing.
I want the sink wiped out, the counter free of the last customer's tissues and the mirror free of questionable splashes. At fast food restaurants, the suggested rule is to check the restroom every 30 minutes, an admirable goal. I will settle for two or three times a shift. For some, once or twice a week might be a start.
When I worked at the Coach House in Saratoga Springs, the hostess was responsible for checking the restroom at frequent intervals. The waitstaff was to check the restroom at least once during the evening. They would do minor picking up or straightening, wipe out the sinks and report any issues. The rooms were cleaned thoroughly every night.
I want clean soap to touch my hands, and I want there to be soap in the soap dispenser. The New York sanitation code does not allow bars of soap because of the cross-contamination. Touchless dispensers are the best, but the perfect soap dispenser has not been invented because the imperfect customer before you probably touched the touchless one anyway.
I want to dry my hands. Individual towels are best if they are dispensed one at as time by pulling, not using a contaminated handle. Originally the health department preferred blow-drying the hands to the mess of paper towels. Today, they do not give a preference because so many people don't use the blow-dryer, opting for their pants instead. I prefer any dispenser that works.
I really like a toilet that works, that flushes when I flush it. Hands-free flushing is a great and sanitary idea, although I really don't like the ones that flush prematurely.
I want the toilet very well cleaned, the floors washed, with attention to the corners. I want the walls free of unknown crud. I want the room to smell fresh, especially if the door is outside my table. Oh yes, I want a door that locks. I'm not an acrobat. I want the door to be free of stains and the handle to be free of sticky stuff. Oh busboy, am I asking for too much?
That being said, I want to thank restaurants for providing restrooms in the first place. Thank you. Restrooms in restaurants? We gotta have 'em, but I want mine clean.
Restaurant watch: Check out the restroom of the next restaurant you visit. Before or after eating? Your choice.
Comments can be sent to anita@anitaala carte.com.