Dishwashers work as hard as other kitchen employees. Photo: CC, Christopher K. Hwang.
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Everyone relies on the dishwasher, so don’t short change them

The effects of the minimum wage hike, good and bad, are now starting to show themselves across Ontario. Most of these effects were predictable, but some are a bit more surprising. Because of the minimum wage hike, many restaurants are extending tips to the kitchen. Increasing minimum wage has led some restaurants to reexamine their tip out policy, with back-of-house employees receiving a larger portion of tips. Left out of this recent development, however, are the dishwashers—those upon whom the entire food service industry depends.

An Ottawa restaurant owner justified leaving dishwashers out of this new benefit by noting that, because of the minimum wage hike, their wages are already increasing. This was followed by laments that labour costs are the primary expense in the labour industry, and that dishwashing tends to be the first job of inexperienced and unskilled high school students. Implicit in this statement is a judgement that most people would probably agree with; dishwashing simply isn’t a complicated job.

The days of scrubbing dishes and cutlery with a soapy cloth are gone. Dishwashing in many restaurants today involves loading up a tray, shoving it into an obnoxiously loud machine that washes and dries everything in one to two minutes, and then dispersing the dining ware wherever it needs to go in the kitchen. It’s a job that doesn’t involve the meticulous attention required to cook a medium-rare peppercorn steak, or the constant and exhausting friendly demeanour of a server. However, it does come with its own drawbacks.

While the cooks and server staff get to talk and laugh and socialize together, the dishwasher is almost always isolated, sent away to the back corner of the kitchen to do the monotonous job alone. This geographic exclusion is now being amplified by dishwasher’s tip pool exclusion. More significantly, in every kitchen dishwashers are often the last to leave. It’s common for the dishwasher to have to stay about an hour after even the cooks hang up their aprons, as all of the cooking equipment itself has to be washed. It doesn’t take much contemplation to notice that if a kitchen worker gets 15 dollars in tips, they would be making the exact same as the dishwasher who had to work an hour longer than them.

Once again, all of this self pity is not to say that dishwashing is a tremendously difficult job, but that it comes with its own drawbacks that, unless you have worked in a kitchen yourself, you might not anticipate.

The dishwasher is at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. It’s easy to notice the work of the server and cook, but the only time you notice the work of the dishwasher is when they aren’t doing their job. It’s a good analogy that the food rests upon the plate, because fundamentally everything is dependent upon the dishwasher. It doesn’t matter how well the food is cooked if there are not enough clean plates to serve it on. So unless you’re okay with literally eating from the dirty plates of strangers whenever you go out, you should hope that dishwashers get the same treatment, and pay, as everyone else in the kitchen.