Skip to main content

3 Keys to Savings in the Dish Room

Small changes with procedures and equipment can add up to big bucks. 

The dish room is a very important part of a foodservice operation. Clean, sanitized dishes, flatware and cooking tools are essential to promoting a quality impression and dining safety. It’s something you can’t afford to skimp on. Even so, there are ways to save money when it comes to water and energy.
 
You already know the importance of controlling water temperature to save energy and maximize the effectiveness of dishwashing chemicals and cleansers. And repairing leaks or small drips so they don’t waste gallons of water every day is an obvious callout. But by digging a little deeper into three areas—procedures, water softeners and machine maintenance—you can find many more ways to add savings. Let’s take a look:

1. Procedures pay off in many ways

“People don’t equate proper procedures with less waste,” says Bruce Tarnowski, a Regional Sales Manager with American Dish Service. With more than 30 years in the industry, he has many money-saving suggestions when it comes to equipment and operations.
 
Start with training. Every part of a foodservice operation requires training, and the dish room is no exception. Even though dishwashing is often considered a less-glamorous job and those workers may make less money and have higher turnover rates, training them is important to the bottom line.
 
“Teaching your dishwashing crew how to load racks properly can save more money than just about anything,” Tarnowski says. “Putting items in the rack the right way gets them clean the first time and saves water, energy, chemicals, labor and time.”
 
One mistake he often sees is workers washing sheet pans, cutting boards and other large, flat items one at a time by laying flat in the rack rather than using a proper sheet pan rack. These racks allow for proper separation and allow for washing multiple pieces rather than one at a time. Also, washing large items flat in a rack misdirects wash and rinse water, causing inefficiency and waste.
 
Presoak properly. Flatware should be placed in a presoaking solution to remove soils and make it easier for the dish machine to clean in one pass, Tarnowski advises. Be sure to rinse the presoak solution off before the wash cycle, otherwise it can foam up inside the dish machine.
 
Don’t overlook scraping. Baked-on or stuck-on foods can be tough to clean. We all know this from cleaning dishes at home, says Stephen Saunders, a Gordon Food Service® Chemical & Beverage Category Analyst. Spraying or scraping off food particles from plates, pans and cookware before washing improves dish machine performance and prevents running extra loads, Saunders says.
 
“The dish machine is not a garbage disposal,” he says.
 
Racking racks up savings. Sorting dishes by type and loading them into the rack properly makes sure each dish is exposed to the water spray and detergents during washing. Items tipped the wrong way results in water pooling and not cleaning effectively.
 
Under-loaded and overloaded racks also are a problem, Tarnowski says. Under-loaded racks waste water, heat and detergent because the dish machine is programmed to wash the same way whether the rack is full or not. Overloading is just as wasteful. If water and detergents are shielded by overloaded items, you risk not getting them clean and needing a second pass.
 
“And don’t overlook broken pegs on a dish rack—you can’t fully load a broken rack or you won’t be able to load it properly,” Tarnowski says. “Either one reduces efficiency that adds up to big costs over time, certainly more than it would cost to replace the rack.”
 
Aim for one-pass efficiency. A common thread in each of these procedures is getting the job done right the first time. One pass through the conveyor system means water, energy, chemical and labor efficiency says Dana Fillmore, U.S. National Healthcare Marketing Manager for Gordon Food Service.
 
“The single most important thing you can do is get trained on the processes to appropriately presoak, scrape, prespray and load a dish rack,” she says. “Doing those things properly leads to single-pass dishwashing success.”

2. Water softeners pay big dividends

Water quality not only affects the choice of detergent and rinse aid, but it also affects performance of the dish machine. Hard water is a particular problem, causing lime buildup on the inside of the machine. Saunders points out that lime buildup will leave residue on dishware and cause clean glasses to be spotty.
 
“If you don’t have a water softener, the lime buildup will happen more quickly and you need to run a delimer cycle in an empty dish machine,” Saunders says. “In some areas, this can be necessary every couple of days, which really adds up.”
 
The bottom line, Tarnowski says, is that soft water equals savings. “Eliminating hard water could save 30 percent on cleaning and chemicals,” he estimates.

3. Machine maintenance is a must

Like an automobile, your dish machine has moving parts and sensors that keep it running at its best. Caring for its operation means more effective and cost-efficient washing, Saunders says.
 
He recommends watching rinse arms and jets to make sure they’re not plugged with soil or lime buildup. Probe sensors also need to function properly so that detergents are dispensed in the right amount and the heating element is doing its job.
 
If you use a booster heater, Tarnowski recommends making sure it’s as close to the dish machine as possible so water doesn’t cool down before it reaches the dishes.
 
He also warns operators to avoid using fans in the dish room to clear out steam. The blowing air can penetrate the strips on either end of the conveyor line and blow through the dish machine, possibly compromising temperature stability. Plus, blowing the hot, steamy vapor into duct work will affect the efficiency of a building’s heating and cooling system.

Help is only a call away

There are a lot of ways to improve dish room efficiency. But dish cleaning and machine care is a science, and the Gordon Food Service Chemical & Beverage professionals are highly trained and able to help you make sure your dishes are getting cleaned effectively and economically.
 
Have a specialist or service technician come in to your establishment, Saunders says. It’s free as part of your customer contract, and they can troubleshoot, perform maintenance, train your staff and answer questions.
 
“Tiny changes to your procedures can have a big payoff,” Saunders says.