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The Changing Table Connundrum

By John Gregg

Ever changed your baby’s diaper on the dirty floor in a public bathroom? How about the trunk of your car?

So have I. Sucks doesn’t it?

We have all been there. You’re enjoying a nice meal at your favorite restaurant with the family. Junior blows out his diaper while your enjoying your appetizers and Mommy elects you to deal with the aftermath. You dutifully head to the Men’s room with Junior in tow only to immediately return, with his soiled diaper still encased in his brand new onsie. You hand off Junior to Mommy convinced that when they return, the mission will be accomplished and everyone can enjoy their entrees.

You are horrified when Mommy comes back to the table visibly flustered. The woman’s restroom doesn’t have a changing table either. Things are getting messy. Literally.

But being the just-get-it-done parent that you are, you quickly go into problem solving mode. Junior’s diaper is getting changed. It HAS to happen. Now.

Changing Table Note

Note I left at a local grocery store. Apologies for my poor grammar.

There was recently a situation at a Starbucks in Colorado centering around a woman’s decision to change her child’s diaper in the seating area after finding out the restroom had no changing table. I have also read and heard of many situations similar to this where store employees were less than sympathetic to a parent’s plight when this situation arises. So don’t expect to get sympathy for your situation. Some people just aren’t going to get it.

Still, I don’t recommend changing a diaper in a public area like a Starbucks lobby. I mean it’s gross and disrespectful to your fellow patrons and as someone who has worked in the hospitality industry I can tell you it violates all sorts of health codes. But I understand why it might happen. Sometimes options are limited.

There are generally changing tables available in the woman’s room in most larger businesses or restaurants. But finding one in a men’s room is a crap shoot and that is serious problem for a guy like me who travels around with two boys still in diapers.

I get it done no matter the circumstances, and I have changed diapers on bathroom floors, countertops, the backs of toilets, in the trunk of my car and even on my lap successfully. I’m sure you have too. It gets done. But it shouldn’t have to be that way.

The fact that changing tables are more readily available in the women’s room is not only an extreme inconvenience to Dads who need to change diapers, but is also symbolic of the notion that diaper changing is a woman’s job. Still, I don’t think that businesses are intentionally sexist. I just think that putting a changing table in the men’s room is just something that probably didn’t occur to them.

Not supplying changing tables is about more than just convenience for families though. It is something that anyone should want whether they have kids or not. Not having adequate facilities for parents to change diapers means that there is yucky stuff happening in places it shouldn’t be. Making sure that stuff like fecal matter is properly contained is something that should concern everyone. Whether you know it or not, parents are changing diapers in places that you would never expect…..and sometimes leaving evidence behind.

There is no federal law requiring businesses to provide changing tables in their establishments. In fact, depending on what type of business you are, you don’t even have to provide a public restroom. It’s considered a courtesy. That seems crazy to me, but that’s the law. Nobody ever claimed that laws made sense.

I recognize that it may not be feasible for a small business with limited space and resources to provide changing tables. But corporate-owned restaurants and large retailers who cater to families or receive a significant portion of their profits from consumers with small children shouldn’t have to be told why having a changing table available (for both women AND men) is not only a nice thing to provide, but smart business that provides a healthy environment for all.

So what is the solution to this conundrum?

The solution seems simple to me. If you are a business owner and you want to endear yourself to your customers with small children and provide a more sanitary climate for all of your customers…install a changing table. In BOTH bathrooms. They only cost about 180 dollars. If you can afford modern luxuries like plasma TV’s and Wi-Fi for your customers, you can afford to provide a changing table too.

However, parents, especially Dads, need to fully expect that a changing table won’t be available at the establishment you are headed to with the kids. So make sure you have a changing pad in your diaper bag along with diapers, wipes, and a spare change of clothes. If you have a pad, changing a diaper can be done on the floor in the restroom or in your car. Not ideal, but very doable.

One woman I met on Twitter even carries around a memory foam bathmat in her car, which sounds like a pretty good idea for adding comfort to your child’s mobile diaper changing experience.

Learning how to change a diaper one-handed is a great skill to have as well. It allows you to “contain” things with your other hand. You can always practice at home in a more controlled environment before attempting it in public. But trust me, if you view diaper changing as a skill and not a chore, you’ll be surprised at how adept you can become at it.

Secondly, I would encourage you to carry around some Post-It notes and a Sharpie and leave notes in the restrooms that don’t have changing tables. There is something uniquely satisfying about anonymously giving someone something to think about it when they least expect it. Consider it a very legal form of urban guerrilla warfare.

You can also request to speak to the manager and (nicely) explain to him or her why the business would be better off for all by installing changing tables. I would even stress that they could lose your business if they fail to do so. Money talks.

Lastly, I fully intend on contacting my local politicians and trying to get their support and would encourage you to do the same in your community. I would use the public health angle.

Changing diapers on the go isn’t always an easy experience. But if you stay prepared, open-minded and help to educate the business owners in your area, perhaps one day a blowout during the middle of dinner won’t be a minor catastrophe.


After nearly twenty years working in the hospitality industry, John Gregg now spends his days as a stay-at-home dad to three children age 5, 2 and 9 months. When he is not chasing children, he can be found running, drinking green smoothies or working on projects that he knows he’ll never have time to finish. He writes about his ongoing personal transformation and the joys and frustrations of being a stay-at-home parent on his newly launched blog Left. Right. Breathe.  You can also follow him on Twitter.


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