Restrooms: Hot Water, Size and Mirrors

Restrooms are an area of interest, as they are often the subject of subtle manipulations.

An example occurred a couple of years ago, when some discoteques started disabling the cold water faucets in the restrooms. Why would you do this, you may ask? I heard two possible, related explanations. One is that it is a simple attempt to increase bar purchases. Some guests would make their nights cheaper by drinking tap water, thereby spending less money than they would if they bought the water in the bar. Bar owners countered this by disabling the cold water taps, so guests were forced to buy their water in the bar.

Another is more interesting, and is related to ecstasy (the drug, not the state of mind). When ecstasy became popular, some discos suddenly saw their bar earnings drop significantly. Now, it wasn’t just the occasional poor student that would drink tap water; in the techno-oriented discos, it was practically the whole dance floor, since it is supposedly neither healthy nor necessary to mix ecstasy and alcohol. To limit this, and possibly in order to attract a different and less drug-dependent crowd, some discos killed the cold water tap and refused to sell water in the bar. Reportedly, however, this practice was stopped by the government after a few partygoers tragically died of dehydration. I believe there is now a law obliging bars to make cold tap water available free of charge.

A second interesting point was made by Paco Underhill in his book Call of the Mall: Why on earth are men’s and women’s restrooms always equally big? Everybody knows that women spend more time in the restrooms, and that the line is always longer in front of the women’s restroom than in front of the men’s. Why do most architects seem to ignore this when they could easily improve the situation by making the women’s restrooms bigger and with more toilets? After all, why make your guests spend time in a restroom queue when they could be in the bar, drinking and having fun?

A third example was mentioned recently by a friend of mine. She had the problem that when she would throw a party in her flat, a long line would soon form outside her single restroom. Especially her female friends would spend a lot of time in there, adjusting make-up and whatnot. Asking the flat next door to let the inebriated partygoers use their facilities seemed somewhat antagonistic towards the spirit of good neighbourship.

The solution? She covered up the restroom mirrors with black plastic. As this meant that the girls could not use the restroom for make-up maintenance, they spent a lot less time in there. This is a beautiful variation of the elevator trick, where placing a mirror next to the elevator lift makes the wait more bearable: people forget the passing of time when they are presented with an opportunity to become absorbed in studying their own countenance. I’ll talk more on the psychology of waiting in a later post.

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