Burger King Launches The "Token-Powered Pay Toilet"

A Burger King in Houston, TX has had it with bathroom vandalism, so they’ve installed a pay toilet. You can operate it with your own quarters, or you can request a token– but either way you have to feed the machine in order to… you know… says the Houston Chronicle.

“Vandalism is costly,” another sign on the restroom doors read. “To help with these costs and to continue providing restrooms, this security lock has been installed. Your cooperation is appreciated.”

Pay toilets are illegal in Houston, hence the free tokens. Still, the reporter who wrote the story says he saw a customer use his own quarter to access the toilet.

Is this the future of fast food?

Need to answer nature’s call? It’ll cost you [Houston Chronicle](Thanks, Therese!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Puck says:

    Wow, that’s really shitty.


  2. TVGenius says:

    Makes more sense than a bathroom key. I’d rather not have to carry around a key on some sort of stick that’s been dropped on the floor who knows how many times. At least the coins never actually enter the bathroom. Not to mention the fast food employees handling that nasty key and giving me change or condiments. Much more sanitary.

  3. mariospants says:

    Nice. Will they allow walk-ups to use their washrooms now?

  4. temporaryerror says:

    If they give you the free tokens upon request, I don’t see that it’s much different from going to the gas station attendant to get the restroom key.

  5. mariospants says:

    whups, hit “enter” with wrong key focus…

    I never really noticed too much vanadalism in these washrooms (and I’ve been to some sketchy fast food joints) unless they count shit and piss as “vandalism”.

    Will this measure mean cleaner rest rooms?

    And what happens when the token box is filled up? Will they jump to empty it during the dinner rush?

  6. brent_r says:

    Anything that could mean cleaner public restrooms is good.

  7. mike says:

    This is pretty sad. I understand Burger King’s problem though. I hate the vandelism in bathrooms. Some of the “entries” are very…vulgar.

  8. rdm says:

    Don’t they *have* to provide restrooms? Not like they are doing any favors, IIRC it’s the law since it’s a sit down establishment.

  9. Puck says:


    Hey, back off. Public restrooms are excellent sources of phone numbers for dates for some of us.

  10. Dansc29625 says:

    I am suprised that Burger King is allowing folks to do this. Something about providing a public service or something like that. Folks are just going to use the sinks.

  11. zarex42 says:

    What’s the problem? Why should Burger King have to put up with any idiot off the street coming in only to use their toilets?

  12. stevegreen says:

    @linus: i agree. plus, about 78.6% of my business comes from my bathroom wall advertisements. the other 21.4% comes from my in-bathroom appearances.

  13. donkeyjote says:

    Has noone heard of an electronic lock + buzzer? Jeez.

  14. stevegreen says:

    i meant to Puck instead of linus. i’m dumb.

  15. Hanke says:

    @mariospants: Really? I bet you don’t ever actually go to them, or you only go to retaurants within their first week of opening. Missing mirrors, broken and intentionally clogged sinks and toilets, mangled door locks, stall walls ripped off… If I ran such an establishment, I’d demand ID before I gave the key out to anyone but a parent with a small child, and only return the ID after inspecting the bathroom for damage.

  16. stickystyle says:

    @Dansc29625: At the places I have been that have these, you need to put your token in the door handle device – so you wouldn’t get in a situation where someone got *in* the bathroom without a token.

    It’s a sad reflection on society, but it’s necessary.

  17. dustincimino says:

    @Puck: I know the week just started but I vote this as best comment of the week.

  18. tomcatv1 says:

    It’s about time. Here in NYC it’s against the law but I say bring back pay toilets.

  19. ThinkerTDM says:

    I don’t see how this is going to prevent vandalism, unless someone checks the bathroom after you are done.
    And really, they should clean the bathroom more than once a week.

  20. JustThatGuy3 says:

    Why on earth are pay toilets illegal in Houston? What a strange thing to outlaw.

  21. Youthier says:

    @JustThatGuy3: Well, we have had plenty of discussions about businesses refusing the restroom to kids or people with bowel disorders so I have to think THAT’S why they’re illegal.

    Still, this seems like a decent solution to me.

  22. catskyfire says:

    Interesting concept. Also well executed… The door itself will not open without the token, so no gender discrimination. Which is the reason (along with people getting really angry about them) that pay toilets eventually bit the dust legally, and were often outlawed. Under the old system, only the stall doors were generally pay. Urinals were not behind stalls, so it was essentially free for men to urinate into an appropriate receptacle, but not women. A few legal complaints help shut down the nationwide trend.

  23. clnclarinet says:

    Pay public toilets are really common in Europe, although I guess not inside restaurants. I don’t really understand how it keeps people from vandalizing though– it’ll only keep people who don’t have a quarter from vandalizing.

    Maybe the generated revenue goes towards maintenance costs?

    Are the tokens FREE free or “with purchase”? Are “with purchase” restrooms legal in Houston?

  24. Tallanvor says:

    @Dansc29625: One of the Burger Kings in Norway is very similar, except they give you a slip of paper with a code to punch in. Could be that all the Burger King’s in Oslo are like that, but I’ve only been in one.

  25. Rippleeffect says:

    Restrooms in certain parts of LA County have always had locks/pay. Del Taco is famous for this since their building layout has the restrooms on the outside.

  26. RabbitDinner says:

    This is great, I hate the idea of people using Burger King as a rest stop. They have to provide facilities to customers, but who said they have to provide public restrooms. That being said, I don’t expect the bathrooms to be any neater just because paying customers use it, I mean, come on.

  27. MyPetFly says:

    Nothing new, I’ve seen restroom tokens around for years.

  28. baraboo says:

    another way to catch bathroom vandals in the act: install surveillance cameras. :-)

  29. Hogan1 says:

    @mariospants: Actually it’s very common, they just put a lot of effort into removing it which costs time and money. The sad truth is many people just don’t know how to conduct themselves in public and cause damage or a “mess”. I think the tokens are a great idea.

  30. snoop-blog says:

    There becomes a point where trying to police the restrooms take up too much time. I wonder how legal it would be if it required you to scan your ID card. That way, there would be records of who used the restroom.

  31. bigdirty says:

    The token thing has been common for quite a while, I remember seeing it in several places in Philadelphia, DC, and along the Jersey Shore. I actually am impressed that you can use a quarter and not just a specialty token, so it gives the option of going when you have to go, instead of waiting in or by the line to get one while doing the pee-pee dance. I’ve also seen the bathroom code on the receipt showing up throughout New York City.

    The business owners are in the right here – if people are vandalizing and costing the owner money, I would rather see a small increase in costs for prevention, rather than constant due to repairs.

  32. flipx says:

    Oh crap locked out… darn.

  33. mbz32190 says:

    I remember back in 2000 the McDonalds in Hollywood (CA) had pay toilets in their restaurants…although the mechanism was broken. Probably too many pissed off employees and customers.

  34. ibored says:

    ::waits for first report of brown customers being denied entry::

  35. toxbrux says:

    “Pay public toilets are really common in Europe, although I guess not inside restaurants.”

    Depends on the restaurant. Most fast-food places, subway stations, cinemas, and malls charge about 40 euro-cents for the toilet, regardless of whether you bought anything. Other places, like the ubiquitous middle-eastern restaurants, don’t charge, but usually you have to buy something – usually a pop for about €1, and even then, if it’s an emergency, they’ll probably let you go.

    Those 40c add up… it goes towards keeping the stalls vandalism-free, buying new mops/garbage bags, etc. The attendant is on the payroll of the restaurant and gets paid to go in once an hour, clean up, and then sit and do crosswords for the rest of the hour.

  36. RagingBoehner says:

    They’ve had these in McDonald’s in DC for a few years at least. It helps cut down on people using bathrooms as their primary hygiene facility. Not a pretty sight.

  37. Channing says:

    Well, imagine you’re in the shoes of a would be bad person. You had to go up to the counter and ask for a key/coin – they know what you look like. Obviously, they won’t remember but there’s a psychological effect on some people that make them think they’ll be found out. If I wanted to write some poo poo on the bathroom wall I’d feel much more comfortable just kinda sneaking into the establishment’s restroom over having to go up to the counter and have them see what I look like.

  38. MeOhMy says:

    Somewhat common in other parts of the world. In my travels I noticed that “pay” toilets are usually cleaner than free ones for reasons which seem obvious.

    They get around the requirement to have bathrooms freely available by giving the tokens out free upon request.

    I bet the idea of having to pay to use toilets would make a great plot for a dystopian-themed Broadway musical!

  39. dragonvpm says:

    @zarex42: Because if they don’t people will just improvise. This city built that into the municipal code for all businesses and it really does help plus if every business has to do it you spread the “cost” around to everyone while keeping the areas cleaner and more sanitary which is in the businesses best interest.

  40. synergy says:

    I’ve been in a situation where some asshat locked all the stalls and left. I really had to use the bathroom, so I did what they did before they left: I went under the door, used the facilities and unlocked the door when I was done.

    Before someone brings it up, the bathroom floor wasn’t nasty or I would’ve reconsidered the “pee my pants” vs “need to wash my hands and clothes when I get out of here” internal dialogue.

  41. forgottenpassword says:

    I await the first lawsuit from someone with IBS suing because they had to wait in line to get a token (and ended up shitting themselves as apathetic teen-burger-flippers laugh.

    And I admit,,,,, I have IBS & on more than one occasion I have had to see to an urgent & dire need by stopping at a fast food place to quickly use their restroom.

    I’d be pretty pissed if I found out I had to wait in line at my local BK to get a token (I dont carry coin change) in order to take an emergency shit.

  42. Puck says:


    I think you’re forgetting what this city was really built on…

  43. HeartBurnKid, creepy morbid freak says:

    @mariospants: You’ve obviously never been in downtown LA.

  44. RandomHookup says:

    @clnclarinet: You’ve never seen the “pay-to-pee” ladies of Amsterdam. They sit at the entrance in restaurants with a little basket. You don’t *have* to pay them, but they will give you the evil eye. They clean the loos and keep the tips.

    In the Netherlands, though, they have to let you use the facilities, even if you aren’t a customer (at least, that’s what I was told).

  45. snoop-blog says:

    I’m ALL FOR a cleaner public restroom facility!

  46. newfenoix says:

    @Channing: That’s probably why they’re doing it this way. If you have to go to the counter, you will be seen and will wind up on video too. I don’t know what this kind of vandalism costs other companies, but in 2006, the company that I work for paid just over a million dollars for restroom repairs for its 320 stores. Two store were shut down permanently because of it.

  47. chiieddy says:

    Borders in downtown Boston has done this for years. It keeps vagrants from using the bathrooms as their personal dressing rooms.

  48. joel. says:

    These are all over in Newport Beach, CA – Del Taco, Carls Jr., Jack in the Box. I think it kind of makes sense if you’re dealing with that amount of vandalism. It’d suck to have fast food prices go up because the bathroom’s getting wrecked.

    As long as this doesn’t become the norm here in the states… charging customers because corporate feels like it – that just seems wrong.

  49. Mary says:

    I was actually at the Borders in Silver Spring, MD over the weekend and they had these locks installed but not operating (and a sign said you didn’t need tokens for the restroom).

    Considering they were out of toilet paper, nearly out of paper towels, littered with disgusting waste and smelled like a sewer, I’m glad I didn’t pay to get in. But if paying to get in would have prevented it from being so disgusting, I would have been willing to donate a quarter.

  50. Panamapeter says:

    I don’t understand how this prevents vandalism.

  51. ianmac47 says:

    This sort of system is far better than “restroom for customer only” signs. Customers get tokens, non-customers slip a quarter in the machine. Everyone wins.

  52. jdotto02 says:

    Here in Vancouver, Canada many of the downtown fast food resturants make you first see the front counter and ask to be “buzzed” into the washroom. It seems to work well and they have let me in even though I didn’t buy anything. I think its manily to keep the homeless and drugged up people out as I have seen people either sleeping or passed out in public restrooms.

  53. 6809er says:

    What’s to stop a would-be vandal from entering as another person is exiting?

  54. brumbjorn says:

    I hate pay toilets. I’m sorry, but when mother nature calls, she shouldn’t be calling collect.

    I fail to see how this would stop vandalism though especially since someone can use their own quarter to get it. Sure, the staff will be (slightly) more aware when someone asks for a toekn, but someone paying is probably going to fly under the radar of the staff, especially during meal rushes.

    Thanks goodness I stopped eating at BK years ago.

  55. mmmsoap says:

    Many states have outlawed pay toilets (NY did in the 70s), due to arguments that they discriminate against women. (Women always need a stall, while men can often suffice with a tree), which is why many McDonald’s have non-functioning token/quarter locks. This is probably Burger King had to create the “free token” policy. Not exactly sure whether this will make bathrooms cleaner. I mean, since anyone can go in anyway–after ponying up the quarter or token. Seems a lot like Security Theater to me…

  56. Burger King can now officially make their slogan “Pay for poop, Pay to poop”

    ..I’m still excited that their open till 2am lol..

  57. RabbitDinner says:

    @mmmsoap: even though public urination is illegal. and women can most certainly squat.

  58. youbastid says:

    They’ve had these in downtown boston for god knows how many years. At least 7 or 8.

  59. dragonfire1481 says:

    I hope they have stall doors that go all the way to the floor, otherwise determined folks will just just crawl under them to use the bathroom.

  60. RabbitDinner says:

    @RabbitDinner: What I’m saying is, it’s called discrimination because some men may stoop to the level of indecent exposure and break the law by urinating in public?

  61. @chiieddy: some of the fast-food restaurants in San Francisco (like Burger King) have token-powered pay toilets for that exact reason. The main library downtown also has a sign telling people to not use the restrooms for their bathing needs – and includes the address for a shelter where they can use the shower facilities.

  62. weave says:

    I remember almost 20 years ago when Harrod’s in London started to charge a quid to use the toilet. There was outrage at the time. I was happy to pay to have a clean toilet.

  63. RandomHookup says:

    @dragonfire1481: Actually, you use the token to get into the restroom itself, not the stall. It doesn’t stop someone from waiting until you leave to grab the door and surf in.

  64. They are still providing FREE toliets to their customers (through the token) But the hookers using the stalls now have to pay $0.25. Oh well.

  65. The McDonalds on State St in Santa Barbara, CA (the one right next to Quizno’s, can’t remember the cross-street) does this as well. Primarily because of bums – there are a ton of them in Santa Barbara.

  66. vladthepaler says:

    Great idea. Much more sensible than using a key, since there’s nothing to re-collect from the customer after. And non-customers can pay a quarter, which is cheaper than buying something.

  67. TechnoDestructo says:


    This is to make it cost-effective to provide restrooms. Fast food workers (actually, pretty much all workers in places that have public restrooms) do NOT get paid well enough to deal with a shit-bomb in the restroom. Having them quit in the middle of a shift isn’t really good for business, even in places where they’re easily replaceable.

    I honestly don’t think I’d mind pay toilets too much if the alternative is the situation in California. (For example, IIRC, downtown Monterey has ONE public toilet) Of course, in an emergency situation, this is a non-optimal solution. It’s also just one more thing to go out-of-order in a restroom.

  68. witeowl says:

    I think this makes fantastic sense. They have to provide a restroom for paying customers since they’re a sit-down eating establishment (I assume that law is universal), but need not provide an outlet for vandals. Customers can get free tokens from the counter and non-customers have access for a reasonable fee (or maybe they can also get free tokens when they’re willing to be seen and thereby identified?).

    I hope this becomes more wide-spread, encouraging more businesses who aren’t required to have a public restroom to make their restrooms available. (I love it when they lie and say they don’t have a restroom. Well, can I use the cup you pee in, then?) For men, the world is a potential urinal. For women, the world is a frustrating “treasure” hunt for public restrooms.

    And I’d no longer have to figure out how to wash my hands after returning that gross key and “chain” back to the counter person. Blech.

  69. yevarechecha says:

    The McDonald’s near the Kenmore T stop (around the corner from Fenway Park) requires tokens for the restroom, too, but you just ask for it at the counter, so really, it’s the same as asking for a key at the gas station. It’s not a pay toilet. Given that before and after games they are swarmed by a deluge of drunk fans trying to get cheap food, plus panhandlers, I can’t really blame them for trying to restrict access. It did cause me to wait to go until I got in the stadium, though. It was an extra step I wasn’t willing to take. But I had no problem with it.

  70. creativecstasy says:

    Even my *grocery store* at home does this.

  71. DMXParsons says:

    The bathrooms at the Downtown Crossing McDonald’s in Boston have worked this way for at least twelve years.

    In Shanghai, I went to a fairly nice restaurant, followed the restroom signs to a stair down into the back alley, where a grungy attendant was asking 2 RMB (about $0.25 US) to use the facilities, customer or no. I paid but instantly regretted it.

    We have it pretty good in the US. If you are charged for a restroom visit, at least you get a toilet.

  72. dragon:ONE says:

    @Corporate-Shill: And the clients now need to pay $20.25 for “services”.

  73. varro says:

    The MSP airport is doing something like this for the Republican National Convention, only the coins open up a hole between the stalls.

  74. meneye says:

    I have a feeling that the vandals will simply piss on the floor. In the Romanian MickeyDs I remember you had to have a receipt to access the toilet. Not that big of a deal for me unless I’m traveling and don’t want to buy anything.

  75. BytheSea says:

    This is new? All the fast food resturants in Philly need the little gold tokens. They’re dime-sized, but I never thought of using an actual dime. Also, I always assumed that you had to buy something to get a token, but I never tried to ask for one without paying. Does anyone know what’s the law in PA?

  76. BytheSea says:

    @toxbrux: The difference in pay bathroom culture was interesting when I was traveling in Italy. I started at the top, Venice, where there was a mechanism for your coin and the door would swing open after a given amount of time. As I went south, machines became narrow-mouthed jars with a sign and an eagle-eyed clerk. Outside a bathroom on the southern coast, an open basket of coins sat precariously on a stool; you threw in whatever coinage you had.

  77. BytheSea says:

    @Channing: Obviously, they won’t remember but there’s a psychological effect on some people that make them think they’ll be found out.

    That’s true, it’s not just for mess, but to cut down on people ducking into the bathroom to shoot up or sell a quick sex act.

  78. happysquid says:

    I don’t think pay toilets are ok… and that is not because I think that cleaning up crazy shit is OK, but because it’s just so darn unfair. Even in establishments where they HAVE a public bathroom, there will often be ONE and it will be unisex and you’ll be stuck in line behind crazy amounts of people.

    Restrooms in restaurants, museums, airports, malls, and gas stations should be free. Restrooms that are in the street should accept quarters.

    Also, they should build 2 x as many bathrooms for women as they do for men. But that’s a different story.

  79. krunk4ever says:

    Given that they’re offering free tokens and they’re advertising that you need to pick up tokens from the front, I don’t see what’s wrong…

    There isn’t a requirement that you need to be a paying customer get a token. The guy who used the quarter probably ignored the sign or had to go really bad. If requested, I’m pretty sure BK would’ve reimbursed the poor man’s quarter.

    There is nothing wrong with restricting usage to the bathroom as others have mentioned that gas stations do it all the time.

    Once again, THE BATHROOM IS FREE TO USE, you just have to request for a FREE TOKEN from the front.

  80. Cattivella says:

    When I worked at a coffeeshop in LA we installed a token door lock. It definitely helped cut down the tragedies in the bathroom because we could refuse to give tokens to non customers. There was some grumbling from customers, but I’ll take that over having to clean up after a bum using the sink as a shower any day.

  81. Carbonic says:

    Forget the token! I’m doin it Rocky-Mountain-Chocolate-Factory-style! Yep, and I’m going to wait till I’m in the 10 customers deep in the middle of busy line……frrrrrrrrrrrrrrt, oh yea!

  82. TheUncleBob says:

    @happysquid: “Also, they should build 2 x as many bathrooms for women as they do for men. But that’s a different story.”

    Wow. There goes the idea that women should be treated equally. ;)

  83. xkevin108x says:

    I am not above pissing on the bathroom door should I find it locked when it was time to go. I’m certain most any lawyer, and especially an ADA lawyer, could get the King to change his mind about all of this.

  84. strokesoco says:

    @MyPetFly: Right. Almost every fast food joint I’ve ever been to in Los Angeles has them. You pretty much just have to show that you’re not homeless or drug-addled and they’ll let you in.

  85. Eww… think about how many folks have handled said tokens… and how many folks DON’T wash their hands.

  86. brian25 says:

    P2P : Pay to Poop!

  87. Goutnout says:

    I’ll bet one gold bathroom token that everyone who says this is wrong has never had to clean up after an upper decker.

    Where I used to work we just locked the door after the restroom was cleaned then if anyone asked if there was a key you say NO. People stop waiting and go somewhere else after a while.

  88. LostAngeles says:

    This is pretty much par for the course at the Borders in L.A. and a few Taco Bells.

  89. u1itn0w2day says:

    The fact that a free token will get you in tells me they are trying to circumvent many local health codes which require a restroom-free:for the public.

    A vandilized or dirty restroom sucks but that’s partly the business fault in that if they don’t even do rountine cleaning it will build up/comeback on them.Hate to say it but in my experience the places with the most homeless and/or junkies have the worst restrooms:but it those problems that need to be addressed and not the symptom of the restroom.

    Saw a special on McDonalds and one of the managers said the number one issue affecting a McDonalds is the restroom.

    Doesn’t surprise me BurgerKing is one of the first major fast food places to do this.I had trouble getting a signed price on a meal.The owner was trying to get out of it,in front of a corporate official who didn’t help AT ALL.

    I can see all kinds of problems with this but basically it will be ‘sorry;out of tokens BUT YOU CAN USE A QUARTER’

  90. shufflemoomin says:

    This is purely inconvenience to me. How would requesting a token stop vandalism unless it’s going to be inspected every time someone leaves? They can still request a token, go in and then wreck whatever they like and then leave. I really don’t see the point, just seems like more work for the employees to give out the tokens, inconvenience for the customer to maybe even queue to get one and the vandals can still do what they please. It could get worse if the employees start to profile and won’t give out tokens to people who ‘look like the kind that would vandalise stuff’…

  91. barty says:

    @JustThatGuy3: I’m willing to bet that some advocacy group for the homeless or poor probably pushed the city council to ban pay restrooms so businesses in certain areas would be inundated with bums hanging out in the bathrooms.

    Even the super-socialist countries in Europe allow for pay public bathrooms. Typically the only free bathrooms are in public transportation centers, your own hotel room and occasionally in some of the places you’d go sightseeing. Almost everything else, including every gas station, either didn’t have a public restroom at all or you had to pay. Quite a few of the gas stations along the Autobahn in Germany have adopted a system where you get a voucher equal to the amount you paid to use the restroom to turn around and use in the store. Heck, even the public restrooms in the “New” City Hall building in Munich required 0.25 EUR to use them.

  92. toxbrux says:

    @6809er: If you’re leaving, you don’t pay. If you’re entering, you pay.

  93. fever says:

    I wonder if this being the first pay toilet in a fast-food restaurant in America (that I’ve heard about) its location, and the fact that pay toilets are illegal in Houston are all connected… Actually, I don’t wonder.

  94. zanhecht says:

    How is this new? Fast food restaurants in Los Angeles have been doing this for at least 20 years (I remember as a little kid being scared that I would get locked in the restroom and unable to get out without a token).

  95. Justifan says:

    whats sh*tty is how it seems so many people cant go into a bathroom without ruining it. and so we can’t have nice things.