I recently read an article in the Washington Post written by one of their most well-known food critics, Tom Sietsema, stating that “dishwashers are the unsung heroes of the restaurant world.” You can find the article here. The main idea is that without a good dishwashing team in place, a restaurant fails to be successful. Dishwashers keep the restaurant running smooth thanks to a well rehearsed system put in place to ensure the process is efficient and effective. They are often thought of as lowest on the totem pole in the hierarchy of restaurant jobs, but in recent years chefs around the country have started to change that by paying their dishwashers competitive wages. It’s a difficult, stressful, and no doubt messy job that often goes without notice. Yet, without these critical jobs and resulting organizational structures, the restaurant as we know it would not function. Sietsema felt it was so important to better understand the difficulty of this job that he chose to work a shift as a dishwasher in a fast paced busy restaurant.
In my college days at Michigan State University, I worked as a dishwasher at my sorority house (shout out to any Alpha Chi Omegas out there!) to make some extra spending money. It was disgusting, hard work that gave me a strong appreciation for wait staff and cleaning crews in the restaurant business. As I read this article, I couldn’t help but think of the many times I cleaned up scary concoctions left for me by late night food scavengers from the night before or how soaked my clothes would be at the end of my shift and how no one saw that side of the kitchen if they didn’t work in it. Nevertheless, it was a job and it needed to be done, I was willing to do it, and I am glad I did. I still regularly keep in touch with our house chef who has shared some of his best recipes with me over the years. The penne vodka recipe alone was worth my time spent washing dishes!
Actual footage of the author ignoring the dishes behind her and admiring the food instead in the kitchen at the Alpha Chi Omega house at Michigan State University
Why does this even matter? What does dishwashing have to do with economic and community development? Without the most basic system in place to wash dishes and do the dirty work, a restaurant can fail. In a community, without the most basic systems in place, growth fails.
It is important not to lose sight of the day-to-day responsibilities that have been important in economic development for so long and will continue to play a vital role, even if they no longer hold the spotlight. It’s important for existing business in a community to see your executives, no matter how big or small their business is, and to hear from them for more than a monetary solicitation. It’s important to develop your workforce pipeline from within even though it may seem challenging and easier to recruit from afar. It’s important to keep your community business friendly to ensure that you retain existing business and still remain attractive to potential new business. In sum, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort to do the less desirable tasks that can get complicated, but are worth the effort. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and wash the dishes!