Posh public potties in airports, hotels & parks

Tampa Airport

Twenty recently renovated restrooms in the airport’s main terminal now have automated, hands-free fixtures and glass murals depicting scenery, animals and plant life native to the Sunshine State. “We’re overflowing with pride to be nominated for our restrooms,” said an airport spokesperson.

Travelers on the go know it’s sometimes difficult to find a welcoming and clean place to, uh, go.

So it’s encouraging to see the 10 posh potties, cool commodes and imaginative public washrooms that restroom supply company Cintas has flushed out as nominees in the 12th annual contest for America’s Best Restroom.

The family-friendly restrooms at Chicago’s Field Museum won top prize in 2011 and last year the 83-stall restroom at a Buc-ee’s convenience store in New Braunfels, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, was named king of the thrones.

“Guests look at the public restrooms as a clue to how the entire operation is run,” said Katie Davin, associate professor and director of hospitality education at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

“If the bathroom is clean, that’s a good indication that the kitchen is probably clean. If the restroom is out of paper towels, maybe management isn’t really on top of things. And if a restroom has TVs in the mirrors and cool music playing, that’s a good sign the business is probably modern and hip,” she said.

Among the nominated restrooms this year are those at the Waldorf Astoria New York. The very definition of swank since the 1930s, the landmark Park Avenue hotel oozes elegance at every turn. That includes the lobby-level ladies lounge, which has an Art Deco staircase, faux fireplace with oversized marble vanity, attendants and private stalls with toilets, vanities, sinks and Salvatore Ferragamo bath amenities.

“We often see harried female midtown investment bankers in early evening entering our lobby ladies room. They emerge transformed from dark business suit to gown and fabulous shoes,” said Matt Zolbe, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We play a small but really helpful role. Sometimes the event is not even here; still we are part of her plan. The men? I suspect they change in their offices.”

Guests have surprising recall about whether or not a hotel restroom is unkempt and in need of renovation or whether or not it’s “wow,” said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. “And many non-guests expect hotel restrooms to be especially clean and safe and will stop at hotels, en route, whether they’re walking or driving, to use the restrooms.”

So, like that bit of toilet paper that sometimes gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the condition of a restroom can linger and, said Hanson, “enhance or harm a hotel’s image beyond the experience of hotel guests.”

Voting for America’s Best Restroom continues through Oct. 31. This year’s winner will be announced later this fall.

For a slide show of the nominated restrooms, see the original version of my story 10 Posh Public Potties on CNBC.