When these machines are not understood and go unloved, the staff will be the first to complain about how bad the machinery is and how you should go out and buy a new one. If I had a pound for every time I was asked, ‘Can you just tell them you can’t fix it so that they have to buy us a new one?’, then I would have a good bit of money set aside to buy a commercial dishwasher for my own house.
Typically, this happens when machines are bought below the specifications that they should have been and are not fit for purpose from day one. They struggle and the staff know that it just can’t cope with the daily toil they are putting it through.
However, space, budget, and timing are all relevant to each restaurant setting.
It may be the case that, regardless of the establishment that you own or work in, the local Environmental Health Officer (EHO) has paid a visit and requested that a commercial dishwasher be installed or your existing one renewed. If this is the case, then please keep reading.
It won’t matter what make your existing machines are because there are universal rules that apply to most machines on the market. Insert these rules into your other kitchen and bar systems and pass them onto key members of staff so that they will know the simple check list of steps to go through on a daily basis. Soon enough, these rules will be adopted, and you may notice that you are seeing your dishwasher service engineer less.
Dishwash systems are expensive (buy cheap, buy twice)
Commercial dishwashers are brilliant pieces of kit and are vital to a commercial kitchen in a restaurant. The staff cannot be without one. They are the most complicated piece of machinery in the kitchen with so many moving mechanical parts and electronic components, however, they have parts in them that can fail over time or fail through misuse. When a dishwasher breaks down, the nightmare begins.
Let’s look at a following timeline of what can result when a dishwasher has broken down or has been failing for a long time… Imagine your dishwashing machine breaks down and, as service progresses, a backlog of dirty plates and dishes starts to build up. Chefs are waiting for the correct plates and frustrations build as the food is ready but can’t be plated up. This results in long waiting times between courses and angry customers.
Over time, regular customers notice the change in restaurant culture as internal frustrations begin to spill over and staff quit and leave for somewhere with better facilities. Customer complaints and bad reviews on social media and online start to rise or customers simply won’t return.
As a result, cash turnover drops, takings are down, remaining staff get less in tips, and you (as the owner) are seen as a penny pincher. Staff morale lowers as strangers get drafted in to cover absent staff and vacancies. More money is spent on marketing and advertising. Wages and staff are cut to meet ongoing costs and standards slip to an all-time low. After repeated visits, environmental health comes in and closes your restaurant.
Obviously, this is the worst-case scenario but it does happen. If your Environmental Health Officer has seen and noted on multiple visits that you have consistently neglected the state of your dishwasher and surrounds, then they may close down your kitchen, without which your restaurant is only an empty hall with tables and chairs.
Your dishwasher does not need to fail completely for it to cause problems. A customer’s perception of your establishment can be drawn in a negative way just because of one simple thing. Let’s look at the result of when a dishwasher or glasswasher isn’t doing its job properly.
As mentioned earlier, lipstick on a glass can be a real put off for some customers. Lipstick is a tough one for glasswashers. Global cosmetics manufacturers pride themselves in declaring how their lipstick will last all night and that it does not need reapplication. Lipstick that does come off the lips onto glasses can be difficult to remove. A good working machine that is properly drawing in quality chemicals should do the job.
I stayed the night in London and attended a conference in another hotel the next day. I was there for business and the value from the conference was excellent. The facilities were good, and the staff couldn’t have been nicer. There were bottles of water on each table and glasses to drink out of. A few of the glasses had lip imprints around the rim that hadn’t been removed. I avoided those glasses and it immediately got me thinking that I was glad that I hadn’t spent the previous night there. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t that big a deal. However, the reality is that I’m not alone in thinking this way.
As a business owner you will realise that customers can be fickle. Attention to detail is important and if you aren’t paying attention and you don’t have staff and an infrastructure that you can trust, then what results will you achieve?
The unsung heroes: no one cares until there is a problem
We all know how peaceful it is to watch a swan effortlessly gliding across the surface of a still pond. Underneath the water though is where the hard work takes place. This is a great analogy when it comes to your dishwasher.
Your dishwasher may or may not look like a great piece of kit. I suppose they can be closer to the ugly duckling of the kitchen, but how it performs is its main asset. Under the shiny stainless-steel exterior is a myriad of working parts that have been engineered to work hard together to get you the results that you desire – clean dishes, cutlery, cups and glasses, first time, every time.
We liken the commercial dishwasher to a car. A dishwasher washes your dishes, a car can drive you from A to B. You can spend as little or as much as you like on either, buy new or used (reconditioned), buy an expensive model, a middle of the road model, or buy the cheapest of the cheap.
You get what you pay for and every time you put your dishwasher through a cycle, it’s like mileage building up on your car. This is a good way to look at an older machine that is now breaking down. You can spend money to bring it back up to a decent standard, but something else may fail in a few months. If your car is ten years old and it starts to give you costly problems, what would you do? Keep throwing money at it or trade it in for a newer model? Usually it’s the latter.
When your dishwasher starts to develop problems, staff realise just how much they need it working properly. Sometimes it is only when it breaks down that they really appreciate how tough the job is without a working machine. Wear and tear is normal for any working dishwasher or glasswasher. However, most of the time it’s how staff treat the machines that can cause problems.
Commercial dishwasher vs home dishwasher
A domestic dishwasher is different from a commercial dishwasher. Although the principles of wash, rinse, and drain are the same, there are things that separate them. The main difference between the two appliances is that a domestic dishwasher takes longer to complete a cycle, and if used more than a few times a day it falls behind a commercial machine.
A typical commercial machine takes two to three minutes to wash, rinse, and dry a basket of dishes. For a domestic dishwashing machine to complete the equivalent process it can take anywhere between forty-five minutes to an hour and a half. In a working restaurant this would immediately prove to be an impossible situation.
The workload that a commercial machine can handle is massive in comparison, and the price of each demonstrates this well. A commercial dishwasher will cost anything from around £1500 + VAT (Value Added Tax) upwards, whereas a decent domestic machine is £400 including VAT. Domestic dishwashers are now part of our ‘throw away’ culture. Many people do not get their domestic machines repaired anymore. If it’s an expensive part that needs to be replaced, most householders will buy a new machine.
Domestic machines are typically a combination of plastic and painted ferrous metal, which doesn’t suit such a harsh environment. The robust stainless-steel body of a commercial machine is designed to handle the day-to-day mayhem that can be the norm in a professional kitchen. It is less of a throw away culture in the commercial side as usually the initial price has been such a large outlay and so professional kitchens and bars will look to get their machine repaired and not replaced.
Hand washing dishes versus a commercial dishwasher
When it comes to installing a new commercial dishwasher into premises that have never had one before, the feel-good factor is enormous. The overall impact that it has on a kitchen is massive, as many areas will increase in efficiency. Staff morale is given an injection. If they were not appreciated before, whoever made the decision to buy the commercial machine will hear a collective sigh of relief. When a new machine is put in place, the staff can see the immediate impact that it has on their daily routine. Of course, there is a degree of change involved and a learning curve, but once they get used to it there is no going back to hand washing.
Other positives of a commercial dishwasher over hand washing include:
Apart from controlling the bacteria that can poison us, time is perhaps the greatest gift that a commercial dishwasher gives to a busy kitchen. Instead of thirty minutes to wash and dry fifty plates, a medium cycle of a dishwasher is around two minutes and thirty seconds. Each 500mm² plate basket holds eighteen dinner plates, so three basket loads take care of that volume with some spare capacity.
If the machine is working correctly and the rinse aid is good, dishes will be washed and dried within ten minutes. This is time that staff can be doing something else, or if it’s at the end of a shift, they can go home on time.
A commercial machine can do more than one person. If previously you had a few people doing the dishes, eg one washing and one drying, you can now deploy a member of the dishwashing staff to another area of the kitchen or restaurant to carry out work.
Cost of labour
If time is being saved at the end of a shift with dishes now going through a commercial dishwasher, then you won’t have to pay overtime for staff not being able to finish on time.
The physical energy output of your staff is not as great with a commercial dishwasher and they will thank you for it. Where your hot water and boiler are concerned, constantly topping up wash water and rinse water in open sinks with near boiling water uses up a great deal of energy. This will cost you a fortune over the years.
When staff are careful with how they load a machine basket then there are far less breakages than hand washing. After all, this is what led to the invention of the first dishwasher! Breakages are especially prevalent when hand washing dirty glasses. Many restaurant bars do not have two sinks, and if so, they are normally small for space-saving purposes. This adds in the danger of staff cutting themselves on broken glass and broken crockery and is over and above the costs involved in constant replacements.
Temperatures for sanitising
Even if you have a second sink full of very hot water for rinsing the dishes, it will quickly lose temperature. Most machines have a built-in rinse control device or rinse thermostop which extends the wash cycle to ensure that the machine rinses at 82°C (for environmental health purposes). Hand washing cannot cope with these high temperatures, even if your staff are wearing a decent pair of rubber gloves.
Strength of chemicals
Machine dishwashing detergent should never be used for hand washing dishes as it is too strong and often contains highly alkaline caustic (sodium hydroxide). Constant hand washing in milder detergent is not good for human skin either and can cause skin conditions to develop. Therefore, if your staff are hand washing plates, they should wear gloves.
The downside of wearing gloves is that staff cannot feel the plates as they clean them to make sure that the debris has been properly washed off. Only careful inspection of every plate will ensure that they are clean.
As well as skin conditions being a problem, if staff spend hours every day bent over a sink, it will take its toll because of the constant stooping posture. If your KPs are tall, then several hours of bending over the sink every day will lead to long-term lower back problems. Keeping your staff healthy at work should be a top priority.
A consistently high level of hygiene is imperative in a commercial establishment. Each dish and piece of cutlery must be washed to a high standard and then sanitised at a high temperature of 82°C, above the survival temperature for harmful bacteria to thrive.
A separate cutlery polishing machine can be bought for this function, and many busy kitchens have a machine separate from their dishwasher that carries this out. However, you will no doubt have a chemical supplier that you already work with. If they are good at what they do, then they will work with your dishwasher to get the concentration levels correct so that your cutlery is coming out of the machine clean and with no need for further polishing.