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The Bad Restaurant Dishwasher - A True Story


This true story should help you understand why the dishwashers in your restaurant do such a bad job. 

To get a dishwasher job, the interview went like this:

Oh?  You are a friend of Dan's?  OK, that's good."  "Can you work nights?  Can you work week ends? " 

With affirmatives to both of these questions, I was hired.  The year was 1970. Bellevue, WA had cows and horses where there are now skyscrapers.

My friend Dan trained me (in a manner of speaking).  Dan showed me the ropes for about an hour.  Dan was much bigger and coordinated than I was.  I wished for more strength and coordination and hoped for the best.

This was my first real restaurant job outside of summer camps and schools.  I had no clue how to keep up and stayed as late as necessary to get the job done. (Which was very late.)

I remember seeing the manager on occasion.  He would walk through the swinging doors which I had labeled in my mind: "the scary doors".  These swinging doors were the doors I saw dishes, plates, pots and pans come through.  It wasn't all bad.  There were cocktail waitresses on staff.  While they brought more work with glassware in tubs, this skinny-geeky-four-eyed kid was appreciative of even a little attention they showed me.

The manager would come in the swinging doors a few steps, look around and nod his head just a bit. 

You're way behind.  Work faster. You have to catch up." 

That was the whole conversation because he would turn around and walk back through the swinging doors without waiting for a response.

At the time, I was working as hard as I could.  How could I go faster?  Even though it seemed hopeless, I would dive back in and still be slower than Dan. 

In hindsight, I have a better understanding of why I was able to keep my job.  What smart and sane person would go through such torture?

The memory of this job still sticks with me.

I spent the year working the restaurant as a dishwasher.  I found that if I showed up very early and worked off the clock to start on the pile before my official shift, I was able to get a head start.

Free meals were a glorious treat.  Money was short in my family and with seven kids (That is 7), there was never enough food in the house (for a growing teenage).  Restaurant food was a bonus for me and it made little difference there were only left overs.

Mornings were tough since I was usually working until midnight or later.  The first class at high school was trigonometry and my favorite class of the day.  The late night job did not keep me alert and impacted my attendance.

I was a bad dishwasher. I was too slow and there appeared to be no fix for my performance.

At some point I overcame the "bad dishwasher" syndrome.  Not sure what year it was. I learned that it was not effort and energy as much as it was timing and technique. Time wasters not as obvious as a rookie dishwasher became obvious.

After moving into management, I washed dishes not because it was necessary but because "team" was important and everybody helps everybody.  No exceptions. 

I came to love the restaurant business.  As I moved up the ladder to become an assistant, manager and district manager, I did NOT treat the dishwasher in the same way I was treated.  Training, support, communication, and encouragement to get it done were always top of mind.

As a restaurant owner, the goal was to empower the dishwashers and, in fact, have them in charge of quality control, rotation, waste control and many other areas.  The dishwashers of yesterday become the cooks of tomorrow and, moved up the ladder.  I once worked with someone who started as a dishwasher and worked up to be the VP of a very large company.  He was a great leader and one of my mentors. 

One of the frustrations that still exists in the restaurant business. There are still managers with the same leadership style as the manager who came through the scary doors to say:

You're way behind.  Work faster. You have to catch up." 

What will the dishwasher working for this manager do?

The dishwasher will talk to friends, neighbors and other potential employees/customers when they are not working.  The dishwasher may also have contact with staff and guests in the restaurant.

What will they say? 

     Will they share pride? 

          Will they make invitations and spread goodwill? 

               Do they add to the environment in a positive way?

Or do they share how difficult the job is and tell others to avoid the restaurant?

The story about 1970 is true.  I hated that job even with the perks of a small free meal and greetings by the cocktail waitresses.  If I had more sense and knew how to get another job, I would have escaped. 

If you are a restaurant owner or manager, look again at the young people who work for you.  You influence their lives and whether you like it or not, they are your marketing team.  

Do they want to escape and avoid talking about your restaurant? 

Or do they want to brag and invite people to your great restaurant?

Your action item starting tomorrow:

Start marketing to your team and don't forget the dishwasher.  

Side note: Since 1965 I have washed OVER A MILLION DISHES. (Seriously)

Topics: Restaurant Marketing Leadership True Story