“Monetize Your Restroom Usage: The Must-Have App for Cafes & Coffeehouses”

In lieu of stateside political momentum to build more — and better — public toilets, enterprising developers and entrepreneurs have attempted to tackle the problem in a number of ways. Beyond maps that track the locations of public restrooms, startups like Throne are deploying high-tech, self-cleaning and self-contained portable toilets that can be reserved through a mobile app. A new venture launching at CES 2024, Flush, wants to do just that — renting out restrooms to customers across cafes, restaurants, hotels and other high-traffic areas. USC computer science graduate Elle Szabo founded Flush after frustrating experiences trying to find public restrooms while on a diuretic medication. Some might argue it’s incumbent on governments, not businesses, to build and service more public restrooms — and this writer doesn’t disagree.

Revolutionizing Restroom Access in the U.S.

Since the 1970s, pay toilets have been banned in the U.S., giving people free access to public restrooms in their travels. However, depending on the location, finding a well-maintained and free bathroom can be a challenge.

Despite little political progress in building more and better public toilets, developers and entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to address this issue. From mapping out the locations of public restrooms to deploying high-tech, self-cleaning portable toilets that can be reserved through a mobile app, solutions have been attempted.

Yet, there is a simpler solution that has yet to be fully explored – opening up the numerous business-owned bathrooms that already exist.

At the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a new venture called Flush will be launched with the goal of renting out restrooms in cafes, restaurants, hotels, and other high-traffic areas. Founded by USC computer science graduate Elle Szabo after her own frustrating experiences trying to find public restrooms while on a diuretic medication, Flush presents a unique double-sided marketplace for bathrooms.

“I’ll never forget the day I went out for a big dinner and we all piled into the car to go hang out in Pasadena, where I knew there’d be no open bathrooms,” Szabo shared in an email interview with TechCrunch.

Flush allows business owners to rent out their bathrooms for $5 each, which can be reserved and paid for through the Flush web-based app. A modest 5% cut is taken by Flush for each reservation. To ensure cleanliness, Flush has a built-in rating system that providers can see when approving a reservation. Additionally, Flush is looking into providing insurance for any potential damages caused by guests.

“By using Flush, a coffee shop or cafe can create an additional revenue stream without increasing overhead,” explained Szabo. “On top of the added revenue stream, Flush provides a unique means for attracting new customers without any extra marketing.”

“If being on this medication was a problem for me, I wondered how many other people it was a problem for,” Szabo expressed passionately about the potential impact of Flush.

While Szabo sees a bright future for Flush, some may question the willingness of the average person to pay $5 for a bathroom emergency. This is especially true for those who are not used to paying for restrooms, as is common in countries like the U.S.

However, Flush could come in handy for situations such as a diaper change or when there are no other viable options nearby. In those cases, customers may be more willing to justify the fee. Additionally, Flush envisions businesses creating exclusive entrances for Flush users, allowing them to bypass long lines and cover charges.

While the concept of renting out restrooms has been tried before, it has not always been successful. Good2Go, a similar service to Flush, eventually pivoted to selling door access control technology after struggling to make the economics work. Another bathroom rental service, Restpace, is still in operation but charges a per-minute use fee.

However, Flush hopes to stand out by making the process more convenient for businesses and customers alike. But as the service grows, the logistics of managing bathroom rentals and queues may become difficult to handle. Flush is considering the use of smart locks for self-service, but that has not been confirmed by Szabo.

One concern that has been raised is the potential harm that a service like Flush could have on those who cannot afford to pay the fee. As homelessness continues to be a growing issue, public restrooms have become a vital resource for those without a place to go. Some argue that it is the government’s responsibility to provide and maintain public restrooms, rather than relying on businesses.

However, Szabo sees Flush as a solution to this issue.

“Homelessness is a growing problem, and some providers worry that a homeless person may destroy or soil the bathroom,” she acknowledged. “Flush provides a way to access and provide access to a clean, reliable bathroom. Just like how Airbnb was successful in providing something we all need – a roof over our heads – Flush is doing the same for bathrooms.”

Currently, Flush is a one-woman show with Szabo running and coding the service by herself. However, with plans to launch in Pittsburgh and attract investors, Szabo hopes to hire an employee this year.

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Dylan Williams

Dylan Williams is a multimedia storyteller with a background in video production and graphic design. He has a knack for finding and sharing unique and visually striking stories from around the world.

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