Cleaning up

When it comes to cutting costs, operators might be surprised to learn that they’re allowing savings to literally wash down the drain by using a hand-washing system to clean dishware. After all, Energy Star, the federally funded program designed to make appliances more energy-efficient, has been working with the commercial market for three years now. “The industry is really driven toward lower energy usage and lower water usage,” says Bob Vroom, head of engineering at Champion Industries in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “They have set rates to qualify the top 25% of machines, so that has really sent usage down.” As more companies compete to gain the Energy Star rating, the savings will be passed along to the appliance buyer as efficiency increases. Vroom estimates that a current Energy Star-rated commercial machine will save an operator 20% in energy and water usage over any model that’s older than three years old. And the energy savings came at the right time, as operators now fi nd themselves paying charges for draining water; anything that reduces usage will help to negate such charges. “Now, not only do you pay for the water to come in, then be heated; you pay for the drainage on that fresh water as well,” Vroom adds.

Weighing the Wash

Suddenly, commercial dishwashers make financial sense for small operations that waste valuable employee time on hand washing their wares. For smaller shops that are just washing plates, not doing pots or pizza pans, the under-counter machines work fine. Larger door-type machines should be purchased if you need to wash pots and pans. The full cycle from wash to rinse can take only 90 seconds, and temperatures reach as high as 180°. One company even recently debuted a ventless door-type machine, the first high-temperature machine to operate without the costly installation of an overhead vent. The machine uses a system that reuses steam to heat the incoming water to save energy and water usage. In general, however, a door-type machine requires less time for soaking pots and pans, and adds more money to the bottom line; and, with multiple cycles, you can wash anything from delicate glassware to heavily soiled cooking utensils. 

Andy Radke, general manager at Roadhouse Pizza (roadhousepizzaripon.com) in Ripon, Wisconsin, says his kitchen made the switch to a commercial dishwasher because of efficiency and sanitary issues. “Washing everything by hand doesn’t necessarily always get it as sanitized as the dish machine,” says Radke. And, while making the switch from hand washing to machine washing, Radke has picked up a few tricks. “When considering a washer, you definitely want to consider the size of the rack, because you want to fit as many items in your machine as possible in each cycle,” he explains. “This will pay off in the long run.” 

Depending on the equipment you have, there may be other options beyond a hightemperature dishwasher. Patrick Cuezze, owner of Pizza Next Door (pizzanextdoor.com), a Chicago-style pizzeria in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, says his aluminumcoated pots and pans can be reused without being washed, so only his plates and glasses require a low-temperature undercounter machine. “A lot of people were shocked we would use a low-temperature washer, but it has been great,” Cuezze says. “It cycles in 120 seconds and simply dumps chemicals. We have an overhead sprayer, so we just need to get things sanitized at that point.”

Plate Pickin’

You also have the ability to save money through your choice of dishware. The three main material choices an operator has for dishware are ceramic, plastic and disposable. In general, ceramic plates are heavier but easy to break, while plastic and disposable dishes are cheaper but less upscale-looking. And, much like with water drainage, there are hidden costs associated with disposable plates. With disposables, you must consider the trash hauling costs as well, because several states are getting more stringent with what you can haul and keep in landfills. 

Melamine gives operators the benefits of traditional plastic and ceramic plates in a more affordable way. Melamine makes plastic unbreakable and heat-resistant, but is still cheaper and more lightweight than traditional ceramic china. Melamine has existed for years in cafeterias, and at one time was not produced in anything other than basic colors. Today, however, melamine is sold in many different colors and patterns, and used in various sustainable products. Some manufacturers may blend this material with others; for example, you can now find plates crafted with bamboo and melamine.

Radke chose red ceramic plates after his restaurant’s recent renovation, which heavily relied on using red throughout the interior and exterior of the building; but he also considered plate size when ordering. “Your plates should be able to fit on a table full of drinks, and the customer should still have a lot of room,” Radke says. “We recycled a lot of plates from the old restaurant, and they left the table too cluttered. They were heavy for the employees to carry, and from the customer standpoint, it’s more comfortable to fit everything that they ordered on the table.” 

Unlike Radke, Cuezze chose a basic bone-colored plate. “Unless china is really important to the theme of your restaurant, I can’t see spending a lot of money on flatware at a pizza restaurant,” Cuezze opines. Cuezze uses a white plate for more than just aesthetics; he has found that they’re also easy to replace. “We bought a basic, standard-size color and pattern from a restaurant supplier so we could spot fill when it’s needed,” Cuezze says. “We also bought a lot used from auctions, and used-suppliers here in town had a lot of them. Since it is such a standard size and color, you can easily obtain more if you need them.”

When it comes to saving money on plates and glasses, little changes can often make a big difference. When Matt Lowery opened Pyramid Pizza (pyramid-pizza.com) in Emporia, Kansas, he served customers drinks in 32-ounce cups, but he noticed a large amount of unused soda when he was cleaning up. Lowery made the switch to a 20-ounce cup, and says he currently spends half as much on syrup. 

Combining the savings between dishwashers and dishware by choosing the right supplies has numerous benefits for operators. The speed and efficiency of commercial dishwashers now makes spending payroll on a human dishwasher nearly obsolete, except for the smallest of operations. And, given the hidden costs of drainage and disposal popping up around the country, a combination of sustainable-minded plates and an Energy Star dishwasher can negate those costs and ultimately add to the overall dining experience at your pizzeria.

Jacob Threadgill is a PMQ intern.