It frustrates me when a design problem with an obvious solution (at low cost!) isn’t fixed. This brings me to toilets.┬áIn particular, restaurant toilets. No, not the grotty public toilets at McDonald’s that you use only as a last-resort; I’m talking about toilets at upscale restaurants all over New York City. Even more particularly, restaurants that have individual bathrooms (as opposed to a big bathroom with two or more stalls in it).

This weekend I was at Le Monde for brunch, a nice french restaurant near my apartment. I went into the bathroom and was washing my son’s hands when someone started rattling the bathroom handle and banging on the door. It’s such a universally uncomfortable feeling – you are trapped in a tiny room with a toilet and someone else is urgently trying to get in. The best I can ever muster is to awkwardly shout out “I’m in here” or something equally inane. The thing that frustrates me is that there is an obvious solution to this problem, one that airplanes and busses have used for years:

A lock that indicates if a stall is vacant or occupied

Now, was that so hard? Image courtesy of Slack12 on Flickr.

The “occupied” sign is a modern masterpiece. It is linked with the door’s lock, so it takes advantage of what people are doing already (locking the bathroom door as soon as they go in). My only guess is that restaurants think it’s tacky to have an “occupied” indicator on a toilet, but that tiny sign would make for a much more pleasant overall restaurant bathroom experience. All you restauranteurs out there take note: put these on your bathroom doors!


There is some bar in nyc that has glass doors on the stalls that turn opaque when they are locked. Everyone should use that. :)

@Jessica – I was in one of those bars years back. I was hesitant at first about the whole setup :-)

I was also in a bar that had one-way mirrors on the door. That messed with my mind.

Designing Everyday Things lately? What gets me is the Coors Light can (or Keystone Light if that’s your style). Too skinny to fit in a good koozie. Too tall to fit in the mini-fridge door can slot. Who needs a vented wide mouth and 2 stage cold activation when the can size is painfully non-standard???

[...] friend Marty blogged about a recent experience that reminded me of a bit of beautiful utility I’d seen quite a bit when I lived in Australia. The [...]