Many travelers and urban dwellers retain mental notes regarding handy public restrooms–Starbucks are fine but sometimes one must to ask for a key, Sainsburys usually have a baby change, etc. etc. But what is the bird’s eye view of London’s WCs? Which of the 34 London boroughs is most favorable for those caught short far from home?
In the spirit of the 2012 Olympics, we decided to run a comparison of all the public loos in the Bathroom Diaries database. We found some surprising and not so surprising results.
TEAM WESTMINSTER wins the Gold with 116 loos registered with the Bathroom Diaries (the ZAGATs of restroom reviews). Nipping at Westminster’s heels is TEAM WANDSWORTH with 113 toilets. TEAM CITY OF LONDON is not even close for third with 99.
The sad and distant last place is a three-way tie between Hackney, Havering, and Hillingdon with three toilets each.
In the category of Disabled Toilets, Westminster and Wandsworth dominates again for first and second place with 62 and 57 toilets respectively, but Camden edges out the City of London for third.
However in the Baby Change Event, there is an upset! Richmond Upon Thames has an impressive 34 toilets with changing facilities and Brent is second with 22.
There is not much choice: stare blankly at the wall tiles, focus on shoes with face set in a grimace, or maybe whistle. When men use a public urinal they are cruelly left in full view, with nothing to do as they answer nature’s call.
British company Captive Media thinks it has developed a product that fills a gap in the market – a urinal mounted, urine-controlled games console for men. It calls it the first “hands-free” video gaming console of its kind. The sturdy device sits above the normal oval ceramic urinal bowl, opening up a whole new world of entertainment.
The user is presented with three generous targets to aim for in the urinal: stickers in the unit that read “Start”, “Left” and “Right”. The console is able to detect where the urine is falling by means of an infra-red device. And so a rudimentary “joystick” is set up.
Games on offer include a skiing challenge, and a multiple choice pub quiz.
Once they have finished their business, customers can use their mobile phones to post their scores to Twitter and a live leader board. The console unit has a 12 inch LCD screen, and sits behind toughened glass. So it can withstand collateral damage and be easily cleaned. The sensor unit is contactless and does not use a camera, another important design consideration.
We are also installing units in ladies’ toilets, to address the issue of long waiting times”
A similar product has already been launched by Sega in Japan. However, the co-developer of the UK device says his product has some compelling design features. The equipment has multiple sensors, allowing for a more sophisticated input device. It uses infrared, rather than microwave sensors, and they are fitted to the external console, rather than added to the urinal bowl itself.
As a result, Captive Media say that 90% of bowls in the UK are “retrofittable”. “You don’t have to touch the plumbing,” Gordon MacSween assures.
Trade paper Adweek calculates that on average men are rooted to the spot for 55 seconds while they relieve themselves – nine months over the course of their lifetimes. In the UK this means a billion minutes a year – an ideal opportunity to hit users with targeted advertising in order to relieve them of cash later on.
Bars can use the consoles to push drinks promotions in the venue. The consoles are also a platform for adverts targeted at men When they buy the product, they are given one quarter of the advertising slots that are available on it and a veto on the external ones that will be sold to third parties.
“It’s notoriously difficult for brands to engage a young male audience whilst they’re out socialising,” argues MacSween, and “Captive Media offers a long ‘dwell time’.” “It is allowing brands to really engage in a fun and memorable way,” his co-developer Mark Melford adds.
One organisation that has already signed up is Drinkaware, a charity that promotes responsible drinking. However, it remains to be seen whether other brands will come on board in significant numbers, or will instead be put off at the idea of being associated with the act of urination, however long the dwell time.
This will have an impact on the business model, as advertising forms part of Captive Media’s revenue stream. “In-restroom advertising up until now has usually garnered more attention than it has revenue,” says Philip Buxton, an independent digital media consultant. “To be successful any new medium needs to lure advertising from existing channels and brands are still unwilling to switch their spend away from more serious channels such as TV and online.”
The machines are already up and running at The Exhibit bar in Balham, south London.
They will help the pub “differentiate” itself from the local competition, owner Drew Weatherhead says. Customers’ experience there will be monitored closely, as Captive Media hopes to roll out its product to more venues.
A pub in Cambridge hosted a “pre-trial launch” for free earlier this year, and generated some interesting findings. Polling suggests some competitive gamers worked out that by stopping and starting their streams, they could improve their scores. Another noted side effect was that the toilets became markedly cleaner, as a new premium was set on accuracy.
More good news for women is that Captive Media also want to roll out units for the ladies’ toilets. There are “good anatomical reasons” that women can’t use the original device, Mr MacSween says. But units with quiz games will be placed in similar locations to hand-dryers, in a bit to alleviate boredom during notoriously long queues.
According to the NY Post, Starbucks are closing their public restrooms. The caffeine king, with 190 locations in Manhattan alone, has been steadily closing some of its restrooms.
“Starbucks cannot be the public bathroom in the city anymore,” said a source familiar with the company’s New York plans.
The main reason for the closed-door policy is that Starbucks’ own employees have to wait in lines — competing with customers filled with Pumpkin Spice Latte and other trendy drinks — when they take a bathroom break. Or they can cut in line, but that angers customers.
The solution is to convert public bathrooms to employee-only loos.
For example, the Starbucks on 45th Street and Sixth Avenue converted its public john to employees-only this year.
Two others, at Spring Street and at 67th Street and Columbus Avenue, reduced their restrooms from two to one.
“They are not eliminating bathrooms, but feeling the pressure of more people,” the source said.
For out-of-towners, it will be a guessing game.
“If you are a tourist, you will not know which Starbucks has a bathroom,” the source said.
The source said reducing the number of public johns is “not a stated policy” of the Seattle-based company, but it is happening. Efforts to obtain comment from Starbucks headquarters were unsuccessful.
Any food establishment with more than 19 seats is legally required by the city to have a public restroom. The typical Starbucks in Midtown has fewer than 20 seats.
At one store, which closed a public bathroom this year, a worker cited another reason for the change: the cost of having to fix it two or three times a week.
“We closed off the public bathroom because it was just too messy,” the worker said.
Earlier this month, Starbucks — with more than 17,000 outlets in 50 countries — reported strong sales globally and a rise of nearly 29 percent in quarterly profits.
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