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Restaurant to non-patron: You must pay to pee

Feb. 27, 2013 at 11:43 PM ET

When you gotta go, you gotta go — but, of course, most restaurants only want paying customers to use their restrooms. One restaurant in Tennessee opted to take this issue to a whole new level by charging fees for non-paying potty use.

Patricia Barnes recently rushed into a restaurant called The Flood Zone in Erin, Tenn., and asked a woman behind the counter if she could use the bathroom. She got permission and quietly did her business.

A few days later, she received a handwritten note from the restaurant in the mail. Barnes was stunned.

"I don't feel it was a crime,” she said. "I've been into plenty of restaurants here in this town and other towns, and, you know, other states.”

The note mentioned a sign that specifically states the restaurant would charge a $5 fee to anyone who isn’t a customer. Barnes said she didn’t see the note until an employee approached her after she left the restroom.

Courtesy Patricia Barnes /
This is the letter Patricia Barnes says she received from the restaurant.

"It was a little index card at the very bottom of the mirror. I didn't look in the mirror at all that day,” Barnes said.

The restaurant’s owner tracked Barnes down by writing down her vehicle license plate and having the sheriff trace it to its owner. (The bill was addressed to “Mrs. Edwards;" Barnes’ husband’s name is Randy Edwards.)

“I just thought it was unbelievable,” she said. “I’m like, what type of people are these?”

Barnes went back to the restaurant and offered to pay the $5, but the owners refused. She then mailed them a certified money order, but that came back. The owner apparently changed her mind about the bill, saying she only wanted to make a point.

Thursday on TODAY, celebrity chef and restaurant owner Bobby Flay called the incident “totally ridiculous.”

Having members of the public come into your establishment only to use the restroom is “just part of doing business," he said. It also shows good will on the part of the owner.

“There’s plenty of people that come to the restaurant, use the bathroom and leave, and that’s the way it goes,” Flay said.

Al Roker said he thought involving the sheriff was “crazy,” not to mention an invasion of privacy.

Natalie Morales called it a “waste of resources for that town.”

TODAY readers apparently agree with the assessment, with 70 percent in a poll feeling that it shouldn’t be a big deal for non-patrons to use a restaurant bathroom.

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Restaurant's 'well-behaved kids' discount goes viral
Restaurant bans kids: Is it fair?

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