Chimney Sweep

Lavatory attendants stage a comeback – Deseret Information

Keith Rutledge, a 25-year-old librarian's assistant in Houston, wanted to enjoy a relaxing evening on the town. He ate some Tex-Mex burritos and had a few drinks and then headed to the men's room at Sherlock's Pub.

Suddenly, his relaxing evening took an unpleasant turn. “Hello, sir,” a smartly dressed bathroom attendant said as Rutledge scurried into the stall. When he came out, the man squirted Dial soap into his hand and turned on the water for him. Rutledge knew he had to shell out a tip. “You could be dirty and a dollar richer,” Rutledge says, “but if you want to wash your hands, you have to go past him.”

Until recently, it seemed that restroom attendants – whose job is to stand around the bathrooms handing out everything from towels to mints – were going the same way as the chimney sweep. But more and more bars, restaurants and nightclubs are now hiring them to work both men's and women's restrooms – often to the chagrin of their embarrassed customers. Rutledge says even his favorite sports bar, Tavern on Gray, has stationed attendants in the restrooms.

Restroom attendants are seen everywhere from Milwaukee and Cincinnati to San Francisco. They can be found in national chains such as the House of Blues and Jillian's, a chain of 35 restaurants and arcades. And the demand for restroom attendants is creating an industry dedicated to staffing restrooms. Royal Flush, a New York-based company that specializes in placing restroom attendants, says it has hired restroom attendants at 10 establishments in the past year and a half and now has 40 such clients. Chazz Ward, a restroom attendant entrepreneur in Florence, Kentucky, has hired “lounge hosts” at 16 establishments and is now trying to franchise the business. Many bars and restaurants are trying to modernize the tradition by hiring attractive young restroom attendants and keeping their stations minimalist and not cluttered with toiletries.

Terrance Ward started out as a bathroom attendant at nightclubs in Ybor City, Florida, and now employs bathroom attendants at eight nightclubs and two restaurants in Milwaukee. On a good night, Ward can make as much as $150 in tips himself, he says. The rest of his time is devoted to running his bathroom attendant company, A Touch of Class, a job he says has become more difficult in recent months due to increased competition.

The rise in towel assistance can be explained in part by the fact that it is a cost-effective way to add flair to a venue. “It increases the perception of the club. It's a matter of prestige,” says David Van Kalsbeek, marketing manager at the MGM Grand hotel and casino in Las Vegas, which employs restroom attendants at both Studio 54 nightclub and Tabu Lounge. The attendants keep bathrooms clean throughout the night by collecting paper towels and wiping down sinks; they make sure toilets are unclogged and make sure toilet paper rolls are replenished. Mopping and scrubbing are usually done at the end of the night by a separate cleaning service.

Adam Jed, manager of the Matrix Fillmore, a nightclub in San Francisco, has hired a guard as part of his “broken window” theory. “If you allow the restrooms to get dingy, people will continue to treat your place that way,” he says. The extra pair of eyes, he says, “prevents illegal activity,” such as drug use. At Have a Nice Day Cafe, a retro '70s- and '80s-style nightclub in Milwaukee, the restroom guard stands guard to prevent even the smallest of things, like theft of toilet paper, says a manager.

Some customers are used to having privacy in the restroom and don't appreciate the extra help. They feel sorry for the people working there and are uncomfortable being watched. “The best analogy is waving away the guys trying to clean your windshield in traffic,” says Brooks Hamaker, a telemarketing manager in New Orleans.

Some restaurant owners are aware that guests don't like restroom attendants, but say they're taking a new approach that eliminates those drawbacks. Van Kalsbeek of the MGM Grand says, “There are those who turn the water on for you and try to dry your hands – we don't do that.” Rainer Zach, operations manager of the new Chicago nightclubs Y and Sound-Bar, says the restroom attendants at both establishments are good-looking, friendly people in their 20s. Their stations aren't cluttered. “The only thing they do,” Zach says, “is make sure the place is clean and hand you a towel.”

Chris Heilgeist, a 25-year-old film student and three-night-a-week guard at the Y, says he makes $200 to $250 a night, including minimum wage and tips. “It's only a bad job because people think so,” he says. His boss, Zach, says guards in the men's restrooms tend to make a little more than staff in the women's restrooms because men tend to tip more.

That doesn't mean it's always easy to retain staff. Crobar, another Chicago nightclub, also tried to staff its bathrooms with hip, young people when it reopened in October after a remodel. “They left,” says the manager. Management hired a longtime bathroom attendant from another venue to staff the place.

One reason owners are willing to offer a service that may not be well received by customers may be because it's cheap. Staffing agencies say every deal is different, but in some cases establishments pay as little as $20 a night to man a bathroom. Some employees are paid a small hourly wage. Others work only for tips. The most common tip is a dollar.

Kentucky entrepreneur Chazz Ward was working as a bouncer at a Jillian's near Cincinnati five years ago when he came up with the idea of ​​providing restroom attendants to the business. Today, his company, Black Tie Services, provides restrooms at 16 restaurants, clubs and entertainment centers in Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati and Indiana. His latest venture: franchising the business. He says he's negotiating with four potential franchisees across the country who want to get involved in the concept he developed. Ward has a theory, developed after spending “thousands of hours” in restrooms, about why people feel so uncomfortable having restroom attendants.

“People don't get enough respect in their everyday lives,” Ward says. Then, suddenly, they go into the bathroom and a lounge host pulls out towels, mints and the best cologne. “It's like someone has never been told they're loved, and when they get into a relationship, they're told they're loved,” he says.

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