I Just Want to Use the Right Bathroom! Are You Alienating Your Audience?


I Just Want to Use the Right Bathroom! Are You Alienating Your Audience?

When I’m out and about at restaurants, cafes and the like, I take very special care to ensure I use the correct bathroom facilities. 

But gee, some establishments really make it difficult for their customers; and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to pass an animal or language test to know I’m in the right place. And yet, so many establishments these days seem to want to be cute, different and memorable by changing the male and female sign into something they believe is very clever.

Case in point: 

I have been going to a café with my Business Accountability Group every Saturday for the past two years, and there is a common toilet facility shared by a number of businesses but owned and managed by this café.

So, like any first time at a new place, I enquired as to where the toilets were, and they told me, “Out the café and to the left.” Great or so I thought because as I entered the block, there was no male or female worded sign on either door nor was there a male or female picture. Instead, there was a picture of a doe and a buck which, for those of you who are unaware, a doe is a female deer, and a buck is a male deer.

However, I am not Doctor Dolittle nor a fan of the Sound of Music, and so I didn’t know which was which. I kept looking at each door doing my best to work out this puzzle. Now, of course, I could’ve walked into both toilets to confirm once and for all, but I wasn’t keen to do that.

So, I took my chances and walked into the first door which, as it turned out, was correct. Phew! But I wasn’t happy about having to be more knowledgeable than I am as I enter a toilet. But I see this a lot, e.g. in Mexican restaurants, often there’s simply the words, ‘Senor’ and ‘Senorita’; and many other places have very interesting pictures which make you guess your way into the correct toilet.

Now, I don’t believe businesses should be imposing such mental stress onto its patrons and obviously, I am not the only one who had concerns about our local café’s toilets. Because as I used the facilities for the first time this year, I see the doors now have the words ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ under the deer pictures.

I’m all for businesses pushing boundaries to be different and think differently to their competitors as a means to brand their business and retain customers. But surely there are some places, e.g. the bathroom facilities, where the simplest or most common approach is definitely the best?

And in case you think this only applies to businesses in the hospitality industry, here are 7 areas to check within any business to ensure language and pictures are not alienating your audience (which could be customers or staff):

1. Toilets – As already outlined.

2. Website – Is it unclear what each graphic/logo means and therefore pages are not being clicked?

3. Fee Proposals – Is there too much industry jargon instead of simply saying very succinctly, this is how we can help solve your problem?

4. Reports – Are you presenting information to customers in a graphical or visual format or simply lots of text, with big words not everyone understands?

5. Key Performance Indicators – Are the targets set achievable, based on capacity and capability of you and your team; or is the way the numbers are being presented not accurately showing a true representation of where the business is really at?

6. Procedures – Are they all text, meaning the process is being lost in all the words and therefore probably not being followed?

7. Forms – Are your forms easy to complete, either online or as a pdf, with no unnecessary fields or questions?


We all don’t know everything, we don’t know what we don’t know, and not everyone likes to ask the ‘obvious’ question in case it makes them sound ‘dumb’. So, the easier you can make it for your customers to connect and work with you, the better your business will be in the long run.

So, have a look at your business and see whether you have any signs, processes or wording where instead of achieving the ultimate point of difference and branding, you are simply frustrating your customers unnecessarily.

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