I've been thinking a lot about bathrooms lately. Who hasn't? Talk of who gets to poo where has trumped even Trump in recent months. For the record, I'm firmly in the go with the sex you identify with camp. If you're a transgender woman, by all means, pee by me.
But beyond HB2, potty talk comes up a lot in Charleston simply due to our city's lack of public restrooms. Hell, we have such a public urination problem the City Paper created the PeeNinsula 5000 to track all the whiz kids around town. But if that wasn't enough to get you thinking about baños, surely last month's video from the Fort Sumter House condo lobby was. Suffice it to say, a tourist, miles from any South of Broad facility, made his own kind of history firing into the fort.
Which brings me to my personal bathroom hell. Last weekend I found myself wrestling my toddler into his diaper on a local restaurant's cement bathroom floor. Yes, he put his hands in the toilet. Yes, I got peed on. Why? Because there wasn't a changing table in the bathroom. And this wasn't the first time this has happened. For our family, discovering a lack of changing tables has become something of a trend. Turns out the majority of Charleston restaurants we called are sans changing stations.
City Paper contacted 65 family-friendly restaurants in downtown, West Ashley, and Mt. Pleasant to find out how many have changing tables. The answer: 21 in the women's restrooms, eight in the men's. And of those eight, only three places are located downtown. Heaven help you if you're a single dad out for a sandwich with your baby.
Now before you kid haters throw a hissy fit over the audacity of me bringing a one-year-old into a restaurant, let me explain how I determined my list. It was simple. If a restaurant has a casual atmosphere and offers high chairs, I consider it family friendly. FIG? No. Home Team BBQ? Yes. I think that's fair. Why bother with a high chair if you don't want rug rats in your establishment? Which begs the question, if a restaurant is willing to invest in specialty seating for a baby, why wouldn't they install changing tables, too?
My first inclination was price. But a quick Google search of changing tables reveals these conveniences are hardly cost prohibitive. Sure a stainless steel version will run you $973, but your traditional Koala Kare unit is around $200.
Next I figured it must have to something to do with the price of restaurant insurance. If the fear of my tot toppling off a changing table is enough to make me wince, I can only imagine the lawsuit nightmares it gives restaurateurs. But don't tell me that's not included in a restaurant's general liability policy. It is according to Palmetto Moon Insurance, which insures dozens of local restaurants.
"Each carrier is different," says Michael Calder of Palmetto Moon, "but I've never seen an instance where we've had to up the premium because of a changing table. Open flame cooking is one thing, but I've never had an inspector come back and say, 'We need to amend the policy' because of a changing table."
So what gives? Fear of stinky diapers? A general annoyance with parents trying to live beyond shut-in status? If this is merely an attempt to discourage people from bringing babies into restaurants, well, wake up, Charleston. We live in a city built on eating. It's our No. 1 source of entertainment. People are going to take their tiny humans with them to brunch and lunch and, if you give them a high chair, hell yes to dinner, whether you like it our not. Pretending it's not happening isn't going to make them go away. So why not up the service — something so many local restaurants preach — by installing a simple device that allows a meal to be more enjoyable for everyone? It's not that hard. Robert Stehling did it years ago at Hominy Grill, and he's never regretted it.
"I installed the changing table after I became a parent. It is part of guest services. People were changing their babies in the parking lot," Stehling says. Sure he had his concerns that changing tables could lead to messy, smelly restrooms and a slow down to the bathroom queue, but he adds, "I thought it was the right thing to do. I made the commitment and it has been fine. I didn't really consider any insurance implications; we have a ton of insurance on everything at this point. The table comes with all you need to install and operate properly. I know there are a lot of grateful parents out there. Hominy is a family-friendly restaurant. You have to walk the walk."
Hear, hear, Robert. And I suppose that's my point. At a time when Charleston is debating its allegiance — to locals or tourists — a great way to say thanks to loyal customers who actually live here that dine at your establishment (rather than some big box chain), is to throw them a bone and install a changing table. Trust me, they'll order twice as many cocktails if you make diaper duty easier.
So, for all you parents of babies out there making dinner plans, here's my working list of spots that truly give a shit:
Women's Room Only
Bull Street Gourmet
Butcher & Bee
Early Bird Diner
East Bay Deli
Swig & Swine
Ye Olde Fashioned
Rutledge Cab Co.
Triangle Char & Bar