Pinewoods Dishwashing Hints

How to be maximally efficient while getting along well with the rest of the kitchen.

I was the full time dishwasher at Pinewoods the summer of 2008. I'm writing this for other such people, though others are welcome to read.

I should first acknowledge some things:

  1. Everything I say is as of summer 2008. As things change, I may be giving inapplicable or bad advice.
  2. Ed Patterson trained me, and his knowledge of this job is amazing. If I disagree with Ed on something, he's probably right.
  3. This is not "how to do the job". You need to learn that stuff first. This is little things I figured out (and some I learned from Ed) that let you work as efficiently as possible.
  4. I saw this job as a game where I was trying to do it as fast as possible while still doing it well. That's what suits me, and that's how I've written about it.

The goal

When someone is doing this job as well as they can, it is possible to attend five classes regularly. Ed claims to have done this for Folk music week, and I believe him. The best I managed was two classes regularly with a good bit of between-meal free time. If you're working efficiently you can get the job to where you expect to spend five and a half to six hours working, including eating your meals. And a flexible schedule on top of that.

The method

Most of my suggestions trace back to one bit of logic: Keep everything and everyone constantly busy. This applies to the machine, to the dish-helpers, and to you. The machine is the limiting factor, in that you can't wash dishes faster than you can get them through the machine. But if you don't keep the people busy, you will fall behind the machine.

I don't mean to say that falling behind the machine is terrible. I would end up unable to keep the machine busy for the last ten minutes or so of every day. But the optimal dishwasher operating under the constraint that everything had to go through the machine would keep it busy. As it is, being ten minutes below optimal on a 6 hour job doesn't bother me too much. If I left the machine idle 30 seconds between loads except when the dish helpers were present, though, that would turn a five and a half hour day into a seven and a half hour one. Which isn't too unpleasant, but it's two hours I'd rather spend dancing or playing music.

This does leave out that one can be more efficient through better dish arrangements, but I found this doesn't have too much of an effect. You pretty quickly learn what you can fit efficiently, and once you've learned that you'll load trays about as well as Ed.

So how to keep everything busy? I spent a lot of time thinking about this. The main thing for me was procrastinating the right tasks. At the beginning of the summer I would leave hard things for later. This was bad for obvious reasons. I switched to trying not to leave anything for later. Ed can manage this, but only because he's superman. Near the end of the summer, I figured out that the overarching rule which I'd been learning slowly was that I should be procrastinating the easy stuff.

The easiness metric is simple. The machine had a 62 second cycle. Loading and unloading a rack of plates took about 30 seconds. So plates have a rating of -32. Silverware, if you're doing it alone, takes about five minutes to sort. So it has a rating of +238. These are extremes, and the actual numbers will vary by person. But the overall rating for what you need to do in the day, once you get efficient at all the individual tasks, is at about -10. Keeping the machine busy is basically a matter of keeping the average easiness measured over any 5-load sequence as high possible. This makes it so that you don't find yourself cruising along at -15 (which won't feel like -15, as when you're not rushed you slow down and relax, so you still find yourself completing things just when needed) and then suddenly need to operate at +5.

So how to procrastinate well? One example would be the cups. The dish helpers stack them for you as they come in. Then when a rack is full, they'll probably want to put it through. Do you let them? No. If they put it through, the unloaders will be bored. Instead you have them put silverware through and anything else that's a lot of work for the unloaders. You put the cups aside until after the helpers leave. In fact, you keep the cups unwashed until you come back from your break. At this point there will be lots of annoying kitchen dishes, possibly with positive ratings, and the plastic you put aside on the drying rack is ready to put away. So you run the cups through while preparing more racks to wash and clearing some space on the drying rack. If you're washing the dinner cups, keep them until you've washed everything else for the night, and run them through as you're soaping down the 'clean' side.

In that example I mixed in a few non-cups methods. One is that you need to instruct whoever's loading racks for you to put things through in the order of hardest to unload first. So silverware, then teapots, the pitchers, everything before plates and trays. If they start loading plates, everyone will be waiting around until the machine's ready for something else and your helpers will have to go before you've dealt with the hard stuff. The loader job is not physically demanding, but it's the most critical. Don't worry about overloading even very slow unloaders. Things can stack up. You can move dirty-side people to clean-side later if need be. But you can't speed up the machine.

Another thing I would do is always keep the drying rack full when leaving. This gives plastic the most time to dry, and means I always have something I can be doing once the dish helpers have their jobs down. Standing around looking bored while they work doesn't help anything, and can make them work slower. Trying to work next to them just makes them feel slow, or worse, makes the pair of you so efficient that you run out of work to do. Dish helpers may claim not to mind being idle, but they really do. Its one thing to feel you're missing part of your vacation to wash dishes; it's pretty different if you're missing it to wait for a dishmachine to give you something to do. Anyways, if you keep the rack full when working alone, you can easily empty it while you have helpers.

This can cause some conflict between dishwashers, if one always leaves the rack full and the other empty. This was hard between me and ed. He liked to leave the rack empty so he could come in with a clean rack and no work. Once I figured out how efficient it was to do so, I would leave it full so I could stay busy during the (light) breakfast cleanup. Ed never complained, but I felt bad about it. I would only leave plastic and easy stuff, but I still felt bad sometimes. That was the only nice thing about his eventual departure -- I could leave the rack full to bursting and know that the day-off dishwasher would do the same for me.

Last modified by Jeff Kaufman: Sat Sep 15, 2012