The Bathroom Attendant Is About to Make a Big Comeback in Restaurants

"It's not a gimmick, it's purely for safety," says Punjab Grill owner Karan Singh.

Photo via iStock.

When restaurants and bars begin opening today, diners will only be allowed to sit outdoors. But they will have to go inside for one thing that’s unavoidably communal: restrooms.

The idea of flushing toilets and turning faucet handles is a source of angst for many debating whether to venture out. So some restaurants are assigning staff the sole task of cleaning and disinfecting bathrooms after every use. In other words, the bathroom attendant is about to make a comeback—minus the awkward lingering next to the sink with a mint or spritz of cologne.

We’re going back to old school,” says Punjab Grill owner Karan Singh. “Typically you only see that in nightclubs and bars… It’s not a gimmick, it’s purely for safety.”

The fine-dining Indian restaurant will actually have two masked and gloved bathroom attendants. They will open the doors for guests and wipe down surfaces after every use. (A doorman will be stationed at the entrance to the restaurant as well.) Inside the solo bathrooms, the restaurant has installed automatic hand dryers to replace paper towels.

“It’s a huge expense obviously for the restaurant,” Singh says. “We’re going to make the investment in that to make our customers feel safe.”

It’s not just a fine-dining amenity. Tony & Joe’s at the Georgetown waterfront will likewise have two employees dedicated to consistently cleaning and essentially acting like bouncers so there’s no crowding. Owner Greg Casten says he’d previously had attendants inside the restrooms on busy weekends. “Now they’ll be stationed outside.”

Beyond disinfecting surfaces, Tony & Joe’s is installing UV filters for the air-conditioning units. And for those who only need to wash their hands, the restaurant will have portable sinks on the outdoor patio.

Over at Ivy City Tavern, Casten converted four of the women’s stalls into private rooms, though sinks are outside. “You’ll go into that room and then someone will go in and clean it before somebody else goes in,” he says.

In addition to their own frequent wipe-downs, restaurants plan to outfit restrooms with an overflow of sanitizers and wipes for customers to use. Pan-Latin restaurant Seven Reasons on 14th Street will have gloves available next to every restroom door for those who don’t want to touch handles.

Clarity in Vienna will likewise have attendants for men’s and women’s rooms—”a non-tipped situation,” owner Jon Krinn says. Diners will also be able to use another set of restrooms in the adjoining office building, which should reduce the chance for lines.

“It enables you to move forward in this new environment,” Krinn says, “So it’s just something that has to be done.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.