A Matter of Necessity…

Some key considerations about event toilets with advice from John Radford

No matter what the event is, where the event is, or who the event is for, there is a certainty in place: the need for welfare facilities. Toilets are just one of life’s necessities and are an essential element of any event. So, even if begrudgingly we know we need them, maybe now we should be asking a few more questions before we simply book a set of loos and hope for the best! I apologise now for any inadvertent puns…

What looks like a relatively easy element of event management suddenly takes on a life of its own when you start delving a little deeper. Toilets:

  • How many do I need?
  • What type/style is best?
  • What infrastructure do I need to provide for them?
  • Where should I locate them?
  • Do they need managing?
  • What happens with the waste?
  • How much is all the above going to cost us?
  • Have I forgotten anything?

For one of the more basic requirements in life, looking after the management of our bodily waste needs some serious planning. Get it wrong and your social media feed may be more about your toilets than the event itself, the headline artist or your great site design. Get it right and no one will ever thank you.

Big queues for toilets at a festival
Photo: Getty Images

So how many do I need to provide?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Factors are wide ranging but areas you should be considering include:

  • The duration of the event – short visitor times will mean less need arising, conversely camping festivals will need to cater for 24/7 usage over an entire weekend.
  • Style of the event (bars/culture) – is it a beer festival with large quantities of fluid being drunk and thus requiring high volume facilities or a literature festival where attendees are focusing on hydrating their minds and not their bodies?
  • Location of the event – are there ancillary facilities in place? Does the event take place where facilities already exist like a town centre or working farm visitor experience? If so, can those in house facilities be utilised? Alternatively, is the site remote and rural with negligible useable assets already in place?
  • Genders and demographic – gentlemen tend to be able to access and egress urinal facilities quicker. Children and a more mature audience may require more facilities. Do you know who is coming in terms of the age groups and gender split? Some research here will be needed.
  • History – what can be learnt from previous similar events, maybe even the same event? Were the queues big or small, did the event receive any negative feedback on access to the toilet facilities?
  • Accessible facilities – we want our events to be truly accessible so have you also considered wheelchair accessible facilities and high dependency units? There are a number of charitable organisations out there able to guide you to the right solutions.

A number of event toilet companies have online toilet calculators that provide a good starting point but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use more specific knowledge of your event or site to develop a more robust plan in terms of quantities needed. Have you had problems in the past or compliments? What has your experience been at other events?

No one will want to wait for prolonged periods to use a toilet, so spending some time with your supplier will pay dividends, they will almost certainly be happy to guide you if you don’t have experiences to draw on and hopefully offer some appropriate solutions. If they aren’t willing or able to give you some help and guidance, then maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for the right level of support. Maybe visit some of the event industry shows and exhibitions if you don’t know where to start, and talk to the various welfare suppliers all in one place.

What type?

The range of options grows all the time and simply choosing between a blue event standard unit or luxury trailer unit are long gone.

Recirc, mains, vacuum, composting – the type will depend on your budget but also your audience profile, location of services (potentially), duration of the event and what your guests may be expecting. Would you expect a luxury mains sewage operating system for a short duration evening event with little or no entry fee? Alternatively, if you were on a bespoke glamping site as part of a larger festival for a long weekend and paying a premium fee, would you be happy with a basic event toilet cubicle?

Large row of festival toilets
Photo: Getty Images

Every option can be totally appropriate for a given situation and no matter what the specification a reputable supplier will always provide a clean and effective solution – just ensure that your customer expectations are met by what is provided on site.

In our opinion, there is nothing wrong with the recirc systems that are in use these days. They are hygienic and efficient – they sometimes get a bad press but if well managed and looked after they provide an ideal solution in the right circumstances. We have seen luxury units with expensive soaps and hand towels on some sites but due to lack of care and maintenance they were smelly and dirty and didn’t present a particularly luxurious ambience. Equally composting units can sometimes be met with a rapid dismissal and yet there are some excellent suppliers out there who provide truly great toilets within this sector of the market.

Our experience is that guests want better and better facilities – that means accessible, clean, hygienic, bright and well cared for – all of which can be provided across the different types and by using the right suppliers. Provide something less than acceptable and it could bite you in the errr… pocket!

What do I need to provide?

Do you have mains water and sewage on site and are they able to be utilised? Is there a level piece of ground? Is there power nearby or will a generator or lighting system need to be co-located? Can composting units be facilitated?

In some instances, the infrastructure required and/or space needed will be minimal but it will still need to be considered. Even a single event unit will need some flat ground and be able to be accessed sensibly. Larger trailer systems will require greater floor space not just for the unit itself but to accommodate the delivery and collection vehicle.

Where should I locate them?

It’s clearly not going to be acceptable to have event toilets right up close to food areas or bars but equally guests aren’t going to want to travel across the site simply to access the facilities. We would want to consider:

  • Access from bars and food outlets
  • Ease of servicing – can they be accessed for cleansing and delivery/collection?
  • Avoid emergency routes for either pedestrians or vehicles
  • Would crowd densities hinder access – are guests able to walk through heavily populated zones?
  • Can they be easily split across the site to aid access?

Heavily intoxicated guests may not want to queue or walk any distance for facilities and will utilise fence lines or hedges or even backs of marquees to do their business! This is unpleasant, unhygienic and not appropriate, so try to ensure that ease of access is at the forefront during the site planning phase. High level signage indicating locations is a worthwhile investment.

Talk to your supplier as well about the ease of access to pump out, locate or maintain the units on your site. Will you need to provide trackway from the back of house in order to facilitate this? Or can alternative solutions be sought where that money can be spent on the units themselves rather than simply trackway access for delivery and collection?

Interior of a portaloo
Photo: Getty Images

Do they need managing?

Yes. It really is that simple. Just like the bathroom at home needs to be looked after, event toilet facilities deteriorate quickly if not managed. Toilet hire companies will invariably be able to offer this service as part of the package or you can employ someone separately if so desired. Simply expecting the facilities to stay in a clean and hygienic state is asking for trouble.

If the event is a short duration with limited numbers and usage, then realistically it may not need a dedicated person or team but even something as simple as checking that the hand sanitiser is replenished or toilet rolls are replaced when needed will involve some time allocation.

What happens with the waste?

Do you really want to know? I would say that understanding what the impact of your event is on the environment is all part of effective event management and planning. Talk with your supplier about the disposal methods they use and the impact of any chemicals in use etc. Your guests may want to know about the impact they create and having that information to hand can help keep them informed. 

How much is all the above going to cost us?

Clearly, from reading the above, putting a price on this element of an event is easier said than done. It should, however, form an integral part of your budget planning and certainly don’t simply use “what’s left” to solve this as it may not fit the requirement. What you want in terms of type and style, your location, duration and support needs will all alter the cost.


Get it right and no one will probably even mention it, and I guess that’s as it should be. Use those great suppliers that exist in our industry to help you get it right, and although tempting to take a shortcut, getting toilets right will help make your event run smoothly and keep everyone happy.

About Open Air Business 1380 Articles
The voice of outdoor hospitality - in print and online. If you liked this article, subscribe to the printed magazine here. We produce industry e-news between issues - please sign up here