The confusion of the restrooms

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni has a funny article today entitled, Forget the Specials, Explain the Restroom. He talks about the confusion taking place in many restaurant bathrooms in New York City, including those at such high-end spots as Per Se and The Modern (the new restaurant at the MoMA). I can concur with many of his observations.

…I couldn't figure out how to trigger the electronic-eye sensors above the commodes, motion-detecting flushing mechanisms with enough of a delay that you were sometimes asked simply to trust in a cleansing aftermath to your departure. I've encountered religions with less daunting leaps of faith.

I couldn't figure out how to tell whether commodes were occupied. Neither, apparently, could anyone else, because whenever I was using one, someone in the communal area would rattle the door, not to mention my composure.

And I couldn't figure out why, in restaurant after restaurant, the attempt to relieve oneself turned out to be anything but a relief.

I always panic when, instead of simple labels like "Ladies" and "Gentlemen" or pictures of a man and a woman, they put those gender symbols on the door. I have to stop and think, "Which one does Austin Powers wear around his neck?" and then when I get the answer, I open the opposite door.

In the various parts of Europe I've visited, I've noticed two great things about the restrooms: 1. They put pictures on the door, which are easy to comprehend no matter what language you speak, 2. When you lock the door to your stall (which is really your own private compartment! Nice!), it rotates a little colored panel on the outside of the door to red. So when you enter a restroom, you look at the doors and see either red or green, and voila, you know which are occupied. New York restaurant designers, please take note!