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Britain's Small Restaurants Are in Peril Thanks to a New Toilet Law

A new legal ruling may mean that thousands of small food businesses in Britain will be desperately scrambling to provide toilets for their customers.

Britain has long been the bastion of the adequate public toilet but a new legal ruling may mean that thousands of small food businesses in Britain will be desperately scrambling to provide bathrooms for their customers.

According to a long-standing law—Section 20 of the 1976 Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act, to be exact—restaurants with ten seats or more in Britain must provide bathrooms for their customers. But what about places with fewer than ten seats, such as takeaway spots and cafes?


Thanks to the recent legal case, they, too, may now also be required to provide bathrooms for customers—a mandate previously unheard of in the Queen's realm.

Greggs is the largest bakery chain in the UK. Two of its branches, both of which have fewer than ten seats, lost a court battle when the judge ruled that not providing WCs gave them an "unfair commercial advantage."

READ MORE: Millions of Brits Eat Breakfast While They Drive and Sit on the Toilet

OK, no biggie, you may be thinking. But if this ruling applies across the nation, as many as 21,500 takeaways and 5,230 coffee shops could be seriously affected.

Raymond Martin is the director of the British Toilet Association. (Can we pause here and contemplate the fact that there is an organisation called the British Toilet Association?) About the recent ruling's possible impact on other establishments throughout England, he told The Guardian, "It would be a major problem. Most of these are not going to be able to provide a toilet. Many would be forced to close down."

In court, Greggs had argued that the determination of toilet-versus-no-toilet should come down to a "predominant nature" test. Does the establishment predominantly serve take-away customers? If so, they argued, no loo should be required. But the judge ruled against them saying, ''The construction which looks to the predominant type of trade (sit-down or takeaway) is obviously wrong. It would mean that a cafe with, say, 25 tables, which also does a roaring takeaway trade, doing more business for off-site than on-site consumption, could not be required to install toilets for those brave enough to sit down for a drink.''


READ MORE: A Granny-Run Cafe Housed in a Former Public Toilet Has Been Forced to Close

Meanwhile, Britain is losing its public toilets. There are still around 4,000 in the UK, which may seem like a lot to Yankees and others from bathroom-deficit nations across the world. But the truth is that Britain has lost more than 40 percent of its public facilities in the past decade.

The private toilet is now the norm in Britain. They can now be found in "stores, supermarkets, petrol stations, and other commercial providers… luring us in to… spend, spend, spend," according to The Guardian. "The government wants people out shopping, eating, keeping the economy flowing," Martin says. "But it doesn't want to provide the toilets."

Which leads us to ask this essential question: Can the British Empire be the same without the public loo?

It certainly seems like the answer to that is a resounding no. God save the Queen's corgis!