Dear John

Use the bathroom to set the mood, evoke a response and leave a lasting impression

Diners who step into the bathroom at Dish, a swank restaurant and lounge in Dallas, may be surprised to learn that they’re being watched. Behind the mirrors at the communal sink, small flat screen televisions flash images of a blinking, oversized eye, giving patrons a hint of playful voyeurism. Fun, right? It’s the reaction that Dwayne MacEwen, president and creative director of DMAC Architecture was after when his team designed the restaurant. The savviest of restaurateurs are serious about bathroom design. But some are taking it one step further, hoping to strike an emotional chord for a lasting impression. Call it mood-based design or simply the “surprise” factor.

“If you go over the top with your restrooms, it will resonate more with your customers than an amazing dining room space.”

—Arsalun Tafazoli, restaurant owner, San Diego

It might be elaborate or simple like the touches owner Arsalun Tafazoli works into his restaurants, including Craft & Commerce in San Diego. On the bathroom mirror, a simple sticker that reads “You look good” never fails to make people smile, Tafazoli says.

“We try to take very generic things and have fun with it,” he says, adding that instead of music, he pipes British radio drama and audio of classic literature into the restroom. It’s his way of playing off the library vibe of the restaurant.

Bathroom humor takes the ultimate form at Gallo Blanco Café in Phoenix, Ariz., where the men’s room features urinals reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ infamous Jagger red-lipped mouthpiece.

“When a customer returns from the men’s room, he always says, ‘you got to see the cool bathroom,’ ” says Denise Robson, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Chef-owner Doug Robson.

Daring design elements need not be tongue in cheek—an elegant mood can quickly whisk diners away to a beach or a forest, like at Roka Akor, a Japanese steakhouse in Chicago.

MacEwen used natural and reclaimed materials Roka Akor's main dining room. To evoke a sense of walking into the clearing of a forest, the restrooms have black lacquered walls and suspended stumps of mesquite wood hanging from the ceiling.

At Morimoto in New York, floor-to-ceiling infinity mirrors create the illusion of an endless cherry blossom orchard. Luxe touches like soundproof stalls and toilets with a cyclone flush, deodorizer, and bidet give patrons a sense of privacy.

Memorable elements can be fun, but the budget should always allow for quality. “If you go over the top with your restrooms, it will resonate more with your customers than an amazing dining room space,” Tafazoli says.

Creating a great restroom doesn’t necessarily cost more MacEwen says, but it requires thought.

“In the grand scheme of things, you are making a statement to your guests showing that you care,” he says.

Lisa Shames is the dining editor for CS, a Chicago-based luxury magazine.

THE WAY TO WOW

A diner's experience goes far beyond food and service. Consider the bathroom—at its best, diners will swoon. At its worst, customers might not return. Here are some ways operators are working toward impressing their guests.

Peep Show
Strange but true, New York-based restaurant Peep in Soho has bathroom stalls that provide a bird's-eye view of the dining room, allowing patrons to spy on fellow diners with one-way mirrors.

Surf 'n' Turf
A trip to the bathroom at Loló in San Francisco turns into a kitschy Mexican seaside getaway with a palm tree-covered beach backdrop, reflective bird-shaped mirrors, and looping soundtrack of crashing waves and bird noises.

Room WIth a View
When a restaurant has access to panoramic views, it makes sense to extend it to the bathroom. Club 50 at the Viceroy in Miami offers guests stunning views of Biscayne Bay.