The 54th Deadline

A Motivation and Creativity Blog by Nhan Pham

The 54th Deadline: Dishwasher Days

Honestly, do you want to know what I think is one of the hardest jobs at any restaurant? No joke, I believe it is dishwashing. Yes, I am talking about the occupation where someone washes the dishes. As someone who has learned a lot from life due to washing the dishes at various restaurants, let me tell you one thing – it is harder than you realize.

It is one of those jobs where the opportunities to become a dishwasher are plentiful. Go on Craigslist for two seconds. In no time, you will find a restaurant advertising for a dishwasher spot. The position is that easy to find. The reason – people quit it because of how challenging it is.

And before anyone wants to look down on anyone from their high horse, allow me to explain. 

From just a logical standpoint, one can safely say the dishwasher has a very crucial role in any restaurant. Think about it. You cook food and need to put it on clean plates for your customers. Without clean plates, you cannot serve any food properly. Customers get annoyed, and the business loses money overall.

Dishes are one of those things restaurants take for granted. Restaurants take many things for granted. Dishes are just so crucial to the whole operation that it makes you wonder why people don’t give dishwashers more credit. Without the dishwasher, this means no clean plates, silverware, drinking cups and a whole lot more. Not to mention, it is not uncommon to throw more “grunt” work onto the dishwasher’s to-do list. 

It’s OK, right? They’re only a dishwasher in your eyes, right? (Shame on you!) 

Again, it is harder than you realize.

Sink or Swim
My first job out of college, after a year and a half of long-term unemployment, was a dishwasher job. I was just happy at this point to have any occupation. Any form of a paycheck meant a lot. I actually could earn some income toward my direction.

Here is the thing. I sucked. Yes, at the very beginning, I was an awful dishwasher. Forget the fact that I was a college grad going into a restaurant to work as a dishwasher for a job. That did not matter one bit. It was completely moot. I had the dishes to wash, and I had to clean them quickly. 

Again, it is harder than you realize.

When you are standing there at what I affectionally call to this day the “Dish Pit,” it’s just you and the dishes. Nothing else matters. 

When every customer wants to dine in at a restaurant, you have to clean up after them. It is quite overwhelming to see all of those stacks of plates and cups pile up. They become mountains of dirty dishes. Then again, it does not matter. Someone has to clean them. And you have to be as fast and efficient as possible.

I started off working just one day a week. My first night happened to be Friday evening, which was easily one of the busiest hours for this particular restaurant. The dishes just kept coming downstairs (oh yeah, this Dish Pit was downstairs). This fact meant someone had to bring the clean dishes back up when I was done cleaning them. Ideally, this would be the dishwasher themselves. Let’s just say I got the crap kicked out of me with these dishes. I was physically frail due to being unemployed for so long. Just cleaning some dishes after a while exhausted me. I felt so darn pathetic.

Honestly, I am glad I did not get fired. I was indeed slow at the start. I am truly thankful for not getting fired, and everyone gave me so many shots!

This dishwasher job proved to be a catalyst toward setting up my eventual passions toward cooking, but that is another (ongoing) story.

I just sucked at the start. On a scale from one to five, I was maybe a one on a decent day. It took a lot of perseverance to tough it out. My body had a hard time coping with the stress. Dishes came in droves. On a good day for the restaurant, I could be at the Dish Pit for hours just scrubbing and spraying.

Again, it is harder than you realize.

I Chose to Swim
Eventually, though, I got better as a dishwasher. I learned some handy tricks to expedite the process. I found my cadence with washing dishes. Think of it as a rhythm you develop. A science of sorts. Yes, these little tips and tricks matter in a restaurant. At the Dish Pit or any other station – they all matter! 

Remember how I said the Dish Pit was downstairs? Well, I got so fast at dishes that I could wash the dishes that were brought down and then immediately run them back up a few minutes later! It goes to show that any perseverance adds up after a while. 

I went from struggling to keep up to thriving as a dishwasher. I kept at it and could breeze through dishes like a champ!

Gradually, the restaurant staff grew to trust me enough to start teaching me some of the kitchen line stuff. From there, I became instantly hooked with wanting to be an aspiring chef.

What began as a “just for now” job turned into something special. It turned into something that gave my life a whole new meaning and outlook to appreciate.

Again, it is harder than you realize.

Ode to the Dishwasher
These days, I naturally would want to learn more about cooking than the dishwashing stuff. Due to the restaurant I work at being understaffed, I have to partake in the bubble baths of washing dishes here and there. The station annoys me on certain days because I just want to advance further as a cook, but meh. I am a team player. I consider myself someone who will help out the restaurant I work for if it’s for the best of everyone else.

I just wanted to vent. Especially to people who give crap to dishwashers!

It may be not a job people respect, but it is still very crucial in its ways. Every restaurant needs a dishwasher. But hey – it pays the bills. It’s better than not having a job. To those of you who have never had to wash their share of dishes at a restaurant, don’t talk smack about it. I am going to assume most of you could not cut it if you had to subject yourself to a night at the Dish Pit on a busy evening. Just one busy night! It’s tough, grueling and almost thankless work. But it needs to be done.

The position has humbled me. I have learned a lot from the Dish Pit. Without my experiences at the Dish Pit, I honestly don’t know where I would be to this day… Probably not in a good spot. 

I may have aspirations of being an excellent chef one day, but I will never forget what the Dish Pit taught me. When you eat a bakery of humble pie, you learn to appreciate life more. Getting the crap beat out of me at the Dish Pit at the start felt like eating a mouthful of humble pie every evening.

But I survived. And because I survived, I can advance in life a lot tougher than before. Just remember that the restaurants you dine at have a dishwasher who has to wash your dishes. Do not be a prick to the person cleaning up after you because you were too lazy to cook at home.

Again, it is harder than you realize.

“Hope is my catalyst.” – Nhan Fiction

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