Do dish rooms make sense in modern operations?


Though dishwashing is just one of a kitchen’s priorities, the rise of disposables has affected dish rooms in all foodservice sectors.

Disposables have completely replaced dish rooms in Orange County Public School cafeterias in California. Fifteen years ago, while facing a water shortage, the Florida school district decided to combat rising costs by switching to disposable plates.

“We did quite a bit of research and documentation in terms of that it would be better for our state [water usage-wise] if we could use the disposables,” says Lora Gilbert, director of food and nutrition Services, adding that there was “a substantial difference” between the cost of buying disposables and continuing to wash dishes. Orange County completely phased out its dish rooms—even renovating old dish rooms into cafeterias—and plans to shift to compostables.

Meanwhile, other operators are seeing a swing back to dishwashing. The University of Vermont’s dining services has shifted away from disposables at its all-you-can-eat operations. Dishwashing didn’t factor into the decision, says Sustainability Manager Caylin McKee—it was about the environmental cost of disposables. But the move has increased dishwasher use.

So far, the shift away from disposables hasn’t resulted in any need for more machines or human labor in the University of Vermont’s cafeterias. But McKee notes that her operation’s most efficient dishwasher hasn’t been the very reliable, so she recommends that other operators check to be sure the high-efficiency model they’re eying has been tested on the market. The best dishwashers, she says, are “not necessarily the latest and greatest.” 

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