Jeff and I recently paid a visit to McDonald’s to have a quick lunch. Our friends from Moravia were spending the weekend with us and because there’s no McDonald’s in their town, we were dragged in for a burger and fries.
I don’t go to McDonald’s very often. In fact, I probably wander in there about once a year or less, usually when I’m on some kind of road trip in the U.S. I always know what to expect. I know what the burger will taste like, how the fries will be served, I know that I can get a refill on my soda and, naturally, that I’m free to use the restroom. No questions asked. Until I entered McDonald’s on Wenceslas Square in Prague…
We all got our orders and found a table to enjoy our fried chicken with fries. Now having spent four hours walking around Prague, our hands weren’t exactly clean. And it wasn’t like we had silverware to use. Nope, every child will tell you that McDonald’s is that fun place where you’re allowed and even expected to eat with your hands. Three of us were too hungry and too lazy to have the energy to wash up first. But not Jeff. He wanted to wash up. So off he goes to the restroom.
My friends and I hadn’t even unwrapped our sandwiches when Jeff got back with a frustrated look on his face. The restrooms are for customers only, he says, and the fact that you are indeed a customer must be documented by showing your receipt to the McDonald’s “bathroom lady”. As if this wasn’t weird enough, Jeff’s situation is made even more complicated by the fact that no one in our group of four was given a receipt when buying our food. How on earth can Jeff get in? The only thing we can think of is for him to grab his salad and take it with him to prove that he’s a paying customer. The salad worked. Jeff received a laugh and gained entry into the restroom.
After lunch it’s my friend and I who need to visit the unattainable room, having downed our Coke. Planning ahead, we saved some fries in case we needed them as proof. The entrance to the restrooms is now being manned by two people – a blond 20-something girl and a clean cut 20-something boy, both exuding an air of trained professionality. As we casually stroll to the ladies’ room, we are stopped by the bathroom boy who’s telling us in English that the restroom is for customers only and that we have to pay 5 Kč if we want to use it. All this is also explained in lengthy Czech text by the entrance, which says that customers may use the restroom for free after showing a receipt, and any less fortunate visitors must pay 5 Kč to be let in. Those who pay receive a coupon printed on hard paper, which can then be used against a purchase in the restaurant. Sound complicated?
When I insist that we have eaten here and don’t see why we should be charged to use the restroom, the boy looks confused and hands us over to the girl who appears to be more experienced in handling sensitive bathroom situations. “Do you have your receipt with you?”, she asks. “We weren’t given one”, my friend and I answer in unison and offer to fetch our fries. The girl says that it isn’t necessary and can we please make sure that we ask for the receipt next time if we plan on using the restroom? I consider this request complete nonsense, but my friend tries to be constructive and suggests that the customers should at least be informed about the restroom procedure when buying their food. The girl says that there’s a note to that effect by the cash registers although she agrees that the note is where no one can see it and she’s sorry about that. Just please ask for the receipt next time.
So let’s see. McDonald’s on Wenceslas Square in Prague is not issuing receipts, not letting “outsiders” use their restrooms or collecting 5 Kč per person for the privilege. The same restaurant uses receipts as a form of identification, prints special coupons and pays two employees to monitor the restrooms. The customer is inconvenienced by 1) not being able to use the restroom without a receipt, which he was not given in the first place, 2) having to return and fetch his receipt in case he did receive it but is not carrying it with him to the restroom, 3) having to remember to ask for the receipt when buying a burger, 4) having to deal with a gate keeper just to take a pee.
McDonald’s whose food is meant to be eaten with your hands apparently doesn’t think it’s important to wash up before picking up your French fries one by one with your fingers and putting them in your mouth. McDonald’s, which sells soda in half-liter cups, seems to think that the majority of its customers are a special breed with bottomless bladders. And what about those children that the company is trying so hard to get hooked on their happy burger from the age of three? Aren’t the little ones supposed to wash their hands before eating? It seems clear that fighting a quiet war with restroom seekers coming in from the street has a higher priority than offering customers a hassle free dining experience…and a bathroom.
I’ll need to make a note on my calendar to ask for the receipt the next time I go to McDonald’s. Because I won’t remember the procedure a year from now.
What a great story! The more things change, the more they stay the same. I remember from 10 years ago that going to the bathroom anywhere in Prague has always been a nightmare. They are hard to find since Czechs are supposed to take care of all the necessities at home, I suppose. Bathrooms outside are considered luxuries. I remember paying the bathroom lady, or sticking coins into the door of the stall in order to gain etrance. The worst part for me has always been begging the “lady” for more toilet paper. How incredibly embarrassing! One sguare is all that she would give out.(There was no toilet paper inside the stall – I hope that at least that has changed!?). I wonder why we put up with this.
Excellent story Dana. Written with humour, anger and frustration! There have been a number of threads on the toilets of Prague on My CR. The worst (and most expensive) were the loos in the covered way next to Charles Bridge. The best we found were in the cafe at Obecni Dum. Tourists (especially those with children) should not have to worry about the state or cost of toilets. When will the people that control tourism learn.
Dana, you should write a fiction! I definately like this piece!
Mmmm… may they at McDonald’s must print their receipts on a toilet paper? So that every visitor could now what are receipts for? lol
Thank you all for the comments. I guess my restroom story struck a cord.
Luciaviolin, the public bathroom situation in Prague is a little better than it was 10 years ago. E.g. paper towels or hand dryers are usually (not always) provided to dry your hands instead of that disgusting, faded, wet towel that’s been used by 35 people before you. Or the doors to the stalls usually have locks nowadays. What progress! More public bathrooms are also taken care of better than in the past and they are cleaned regularly. However, it is still not a pleasant experience to visit a public restroom, they are still hard to find and you still have to pay the sulky bathroom lady to get your three squares of toilet paper. And no, you will often NOT find any toilet paper in the stall. You collect your square from the “lady” or tear a piece off from a large roll located at the entrance to the restrooms. Of course not everyone sees it or even thinks of looking for it (like me), so you can easily find yourself in the stall with no toilet paper around! An example of this wonderful arrangement would be the Tesco department store on Národní třída, which comes complete with the bathroom lady, a fee and no toilet paper in the stalls. Why I’m required to pay for the restroom at a department store where I may just have bought a DVD player is beyond me. (Not that I’d ever buy a DVD player at Tesco, but that’s another story.)
The good news is that many restaurants, cafes and other privately owned places have very nice restrooms. That’s a big change from 10 years ago. Private owners seem to get it, as do many of those who run tourist sites. It’s mostly the train stations, bus stations and non-descript public restrooms placed somewhere on the street that can be real nightmares.
Nat, your idea of printing receipts on toilet paper is superb! You should get a patent on it and license the concept to McDonald’s. If you gave them an exclusive license, they’d be the only ones using the invention and their toilet paper receipts would become an attraction, thereby bringing them tons of new customers! All McDonald’s would need to do is put a note by the entrance that says “Come on in to enjoy our restrooms! Toilet paper given out at cash registers.”
I’m lovin it!!!