Yes, I have talked about the importance of dishwashers before and I stand by my statement that they are the most important people in your kitchen. Just think about the state of your operation any time that the dishwasher doesn’t show up.
How often do you (chef, cook, manager, owner, server, bartender) think about the person, standing by the dish machine as a critical player in defining your success? How many times have you thanked those dishwashers for doing a great job? What level of respect have you ever offered the pearl divers in your kitchen?
If you line up a dozen chefs from different types of operations and ask them where they got their start in the business – I would guess that 11 out of 12 began as a dishwasher. Why then is it so hard for those same people to show a little respect for these critical members of the kitchen/restaurant team?
Having been there myself, and having relished the occasional opportunity to take off my chefs coat and run some trays through the dish monster, I feel qualified to offer some insight through a dish washer’s eyes, into how you should operate – life lessons for cooks, chefs, managers, and servers to connect with.
These life lessons are not in any semblance of order:
 EVERYONE DESERVES RESPECT REGARDLESS OF HIS OR HER JOB
This has to be number one. What is ironic about a dishwasher is that he or she is viewed as an interchangeable part until there is no one to do the job. Maybe, just maybe, if attitudes changed the dishwasher might actually stick around.
 WHEN YOU FILL THE FIRST SINK WITH DIRTY POTS AND PANS THEN YOU START WASHING WITH DIRTY WATER
It was either Voltaire or Mark Twain who proclaimed that: “Common Sense is Not So Common.” I could never understand the logic behind a cook’s decision to fill up that freshly soaped wash sink with dirty, greasy pots and pans that might not even be scraped and expect that they will come out clean. One pot at a time please!
 SCRAPE AND STACK – IT’S NOT THAT HARD
OK chefs – how many times have you walked past the pot sink only to find piles of pots and pans stacked every which way, on the floor, and on top of garbage cans and un-scraped? Of course, the solution is to continue to grab new pots until every one that resides in your kitchen joins that stack of dirty pots waiting for someone to magically clean them in an instant. We wonder why dishwashers show up late or not at all. Cooks need to be part of the solution rather than the primary cause of the problem.
 SQUARE PEG IN A SQUARE HOLE
This applies to front and back of the house. How much effort is required to stack similar plates, pots, platters, and pans together? How difficult is it to put the same glasses in the same glass rack? Those few extra seconds will make everyone’s life a lot more satisfying.
 MISE EN PLACE WORKS IN THE DISHPIT AS WELL
Everything has a place and everything is in its place – does that ring a bell? Pre-soaking flatware – put the forks with forks, spoons with spoons, and knives with knives – simple. Stainless pans can go through the dish machine – not a good idea for aluminum. If you place the same glasses in the same glass rack then they can be stored and stacked in an organized fashion once they are washed – simple right? Cook’s knives do not belong anywhere near the dish machine and never left near or in the pot sink. The list goes on and on.
 FEED THE DISHWASHER – MAKE A FRIEND
Should the dishwasher eat better than anyone else? My vote is YES. Nobody else wants to do this hot, sweaty, dirty, thankless job – put a little joy in his or her life. Oh, by the way – treat them like human beings and let them sit down for ten minutes to enjoy the meal. Your food and the dishwasher deserve a little more respect.
 RESPECT IS EARNED
Cooks, chefs, and servers – if you want great service from the dishwasher and if you expect respect from that person then treat him or her with that same level of respect. Learn his or her name, know something about the person, say thank you and please, refrain from vulgar labels thrown his or her way, and why not roll up your sleeves for 10 minutes when you get a chance and help that person out. Run a few trays, stack some plates, deliver clean items to their destination, etc. Earn the respect that you demand.
 IF MY JOB IS SO UN-IMPORTANT WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO DO IT
“Anyone can wash dishes” – true, but not everyone wants to.
 BEAUTIFUL FOOD ON A DIRTY PLATE DOESN’T WORK
How important is that spotless plate to the customer? Try serving your beautiful food with improperly cleaned plates, spotted glassware, or forks with dried egg between the tines. The dishwasher prepares the canvas that allows your painting to draw acclaim.
 FUNNY HOW THE LOWEST PAID PERSON IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MOST EXPENSIVE INVENTORY
Hey chef – think about this one for a moment. What is the value of your Italian china, Riedl glassware, sterling silver, service platters, and the dish machine itself? How much do you spend on cleaning chemicals on a weekly basis? Who is in charge of this substantial inventory? Why…your dishwasher – you know, the lowest paid person in the operation, the one that doesn’t require any skill, and the one that everyone thinks is a replaceable part. Hmmm.
 YOUR KNIFE IN A SOAPY SINK IS NOT A HIDDEN TREASURE
The pot washer knows this, so why do some cooks think it doesn’t apply to them? The job is hard enough without grabbing for a hidden pot in that soapy sink only to find your fingers clutching the sharp edge of a knife that you religiously sharpened on a wet stone. Personally, if a cook puts a knife in a sink and walks away he or she should stand next in line to receive a final paycheck.
 IS IT POSSIBLE TO PRACTICE CROSS UTILIZATION WITH THOSE POTS
Cooks are always planning – working out a production sheet for the station they are assigned. How about adding a little planning for pot and pan usage at the same time? Could that pan be reused a few times? If each cook was responsible for cleaning his or her own pots and pans you can bet that planning would kick in.
 DISHWASHERS ARE PART OF THE TEAM AS WELL
In the end, it is essential to know that the goal of the restaurant is customer satisfaction. Every person who works in the operation carries the weight of that responsibility. Every person is just as important as the next in making sure that every guest is happy during and after the dining experience – including the dishwasher! Treat that person as well as the host, server, manager, bartender, and every line cook with equal respect – they help you accomplish that ultimate goal and make your job a hell of a lot easier.
I would encourage every chef to post these life lessons on your kitchen bulletin board and draw every person’s attention to it. I would encourage every chef instructor to make these lessons required reading of every student enrolled in a culinary program. I would encourage every chef to start any new kitchen employee out with a week in the dishpit – regardless of the position they were hired for. I would insist that every restaurant manager require every new server, backwait, and bus person to spend a week in the dishpit so that these lessons make sense, and I would insist that every chef who hires culinary interns schedule students to spend a full week scrubbing pots and washing dishes before they earn the privilege of handling food in your kitchen.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training