THE FIRST THING that an event guest asks for might not be a cocktail or the name of the band. It might be directions to the restroom.
When specifying this true rental essential, rental pros agree that the mood of the event sets the standard for the restrooms. “Executive restrooms are essential for wedding receptions, corporate functions and galas,” notes Todd Johnson, president and CEO of Houston-based Aztec Party and Tent Rentals. “Port-a-potties are used for festivals, company picnics and barbecue cook-off competitions.”
Karen Rosenthal, sales manager for Miller's Rentals & Sales in Edison, N.J., uses an even simpler test: “My rule of thumb is that if there are linens on the tables, then executive restrooms are a must.”
To determine how many units to use, rental pros use different gauges, but usually consider a mix of factors including guest count, duration of the event and gender ratio. “The basic rule is each unit gets 80 flushes,” Rosenthal says. “And I always recommend having twice as many the number of women's facilities as men's, and separate units for staff.” Andrew Sutton, executive vice president of sales for Milpitas, Calif.-based The Stuart Rental Co., notes, “Gender and attire will affect the average time spent in the facility, while the length of the event and guest count affect the number of trips taken.” Many rental pros who subrent restrooms collect the event specifics, then let the restroom specialists specify counts.
No matter how elegant the restroom, failure to evaluate the site where it is to be placed can spell disaster.
Unless they are self-contained units, executive restrooms require a dedicated water line. And while electrical power needs vary, most require at least two 20-amp dedicated circuits. Losing power could mean losing the facilities — “It's always a good idea to have a generator on site for Plan B,” notes Megan Jones, president of Celebration Party Rentals in Flemington, N.J.
Besides power and water, the third element to consider is the terrain where the restroom will be sited. If the ground isn't level, a platform may have to be built. And don't forget this weighty issue — the terrain must be able to support not only the weight of the restroom trailer, but also the weight of the delivery truck. Rosenthal recalls an event during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, when the ground was so saturated with rain that the truck coming to service the units between parties got stuck in the mud “precisely where the guests were to be arriving,” she says. “We had to hire a local farmer with a tractor to tow the service truck out of the way, leaving huge ruts in the meticulously manicured lawn.”
The site must also allow delivery trucks enough room to maneuver the restroom trailers into the proper position (“the entry/exit doors are only on one side,” Rosenthal notes), and to allow service trucks to reach the units. Sutton also considers the visibility of the units, safe pathways to the units for guests, prevailing wind direction and, for solar units, the adequacy of sun to recharge batteries.
Extra touches can make restrooms extra special.
Jeff Volkman, senior party director with Classic Party Rentals in El Segundo, Calif., prefers to have at least one attendant on hand to make sure that the units are clean. He also recommends having running water available — even non-potable water — instead of just wipes or towels so guests can rinse their hands. Another of his basics: “working air conditioning!”
Along with AC and heating, Rosenthal likes amenities such as piped-in music, fresh flowers and air fresheners. “And if the units are going to be used for multiple days, such as a rehearsal dinner and then the wedding day, a service should be scheduled to refresh the units and empty the tanks.” Housing the trailer under a tent — which can be floored, carpeted, decorated and temperature-controlled — is another special touch, notes Dan Skena, owner of Pittsburgh Party & Tent Rental in Monroeville, Pa.
Rental pros also have a wish list of items they hope manufacturers will one day incorporate.
For self-contained units, Johnson would like to see quieter electric pumps, and exterior shut-off valves on each stall/urinal in case of emergency. Rosenthal wishes for a better version of a basic: “A sanitary solution that is more palatable to the nose” would be great, she says.
Volkman would like to see smaller units — “They would be helpful for events held at sites with narrow or steep roads,” he notes. And a whole new look would also suit him. “A few companies are still very archaic and pedestrian in their decor,” he says. “Some modernization — or moving at least into the '90s — would be helpful.”
Buddy Stubbs, president of Busylad Rent-All in Tupelo, Miss., puts restrooms on his resume. “I am a second-generation rental guy who grew up renting port-a-johns, which I begged my dad to sell,” he says. “As a teenager, my job was toilet-truck detail. So I can tell my employees today that I have had the worst jobs we have to offer and worked my way up from the bottom.”
Aztec Party and Tent Rentals, 713/699-0088; Aztec Tents & Events, 310/328-5060; Busylad Rent-All, 662/842-7834; Celebration Party Rentals, 908/735-7368; Classic Party Rentals, 310/535-3660; Miller's Rentals & Sales, 732/985-3050; Pittsburgh Party & Tent Rental, 412/856-8368; The Stuart Rental Co., 408/856-3232
Restrooms seem to provide their own brand of excitement at special events. For example:
“Discovering you don't have the key to unlock the restroom door just as guests start arriving.”
— Andrew Sutton
“About four years ago, at the Long Beach [Calif.] Grand Prix auto race, we heard a call come over the radio: ‘Please check a restroom unit behind Suite 3 in Pit Row.’ Turns out a VIP guest had gotten locked inside the unit and couldn't get out. He had been banging on the door; however, the noise of the race cars had drowned him out. We got him out in time to watch the end of the race.”
— Jim Sala, Aztec Tents & Events, Torrance, Calif.
“The first time I had ever seen an executive restroom was at a party hosted by [tycoon] Malcolm Forbes in May 1987. The owner of the company was very excited about the fact that he got to escort Elizabeth Taylor to the restroom, and she was so impressed with his trailer.”
— Dan Skena
“It was at a very chic wedding up in the Malibu [Calif.] hills on a steep incline with a very narrow road. I had to use a restroom no longer available — but boy, do I wish I had it now! The overall dimensions were 6 feet by 8 feet, with each restroom measuring about 4 feet by 4 feet — a tight fit. One of the bridesmaids and her boyfriend became quite ‘amorous’ in one of these little spaces, and with all the rocking managed to knock the trailer off its blocks, whereupon it began slowly slipping down the hill — with them still going at it! When they felt it move, they jumped out and hurriedly pulled up pants, etc., to the amusement — and cheers! — of the guests who were waiting in line.”
— Jeff Volkman