Dish breakage doesn't have to bust the equipment budget

Switching to china provides many benefits, but only if broken dishes can be avoided.

Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

plates bowls

China is becoming an attractive option for operators looking to reduce waste and elevate the look of the food they’re serving. But breakage inevitably is a problem, and it can be costly. At the University of Montana, in Missoula, Mont., the catering department replaces 2 to 3 percent of its china each year due to breakage and wear, says Ryan Martin, manager of UM Catering. Here are some tips for preventing the problem and saving costs.

Proper storage and transportation

“In catering, we use china in response to expectations of quality,” Martin says. “An elegantly set table is essential to our guests’ experience. Plus, providing this extra amenity doesn’t add significant operational cost.”

Martin found that much of the breakage UM encountered occurred in getting the dishes from point a to point b. “We focused on extra training for proper loading, securing and load-out procedures,” Martin says. Still, some breakage happens. “I also distribute the process of inventory replacement over the course of the year so that one annual china purchase doesn’t skew our P&Ls.”

Care in handling

On premise, UM’s Associate Director of Residential Dining Mike Lee works with student employees at all points where they handle china. For instance, he instructs them to not stack plates and bowls too high.

“In our dishwashing areas, we schedule enough staff to handle the busy periods when there is more potential for breakage,” Lee says. “We also train our student team members on proper lifting, transporting and storage techniques.” To drive the message home, he recommends posting a placard that lists the cost
of individual pieces.

Reducing cleanup clumsiness

Buying china was more economical than renting or purchasing green disposables for Carlos Rivera, director of dining services for CulinArt, the B&I foodservice provider for Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in
New York City. The company saved about $10,000 by buying china instead of renting, Rivera says, and his department only suffers about 2 percent breakage each year, most of it during receptions on the customer end.

However, when staff members do cause breakage, it’s usually between cleanup and dishwashing, Rivera says. To help track and combat problems, he distributes an inventory checklist for catering attendants to use throughout an event.

“Treat your china like your staff,” Rivera says. “It has to be managed. You will see more breakage and loss by not giving your team members clear directions.”

Breakage breakdown

  • The University of Montana's catering department replaces 2%—3% of its china annually due to breakage.
  • Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft's dining services department saved $10,000 by buying china instead of renting.
  • Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft suffered a 2% annual breakage, most of it between cleanup and dishwashing.

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