The Unsung Hero of the Restaurant: The Dishwasher

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From information gathered from a misspent youth, this article will prepare the uninitiated into the exciting world of a food service dishwasher (and by “exciting,” I mean “waterlogged.”)

A restaurant dishwasher is a hot, messy, tiring, and predictable job. It’s ideal for a first-time position and those looking for a fresh start. You can expect to be paid minimum wage with the incentive to build your work experience and grow within the food industry.

Though this job isn’t the easiest one you can find, it’s generally stable and unsurprising. We want you to thrive within the food service industry, so read on and see how you can get there.

Reasons to Become a Restaurant Dishwasher

Believe it or not, there are many reasons that a person would voluntarily do the dishes for eight hours each day. 

First-time job

Put simply, it’s a guaranteed way to enter the workforce. Many people find themselves with a less-than-stellar resume and simply need to display they have the ability to hold a job. 

Fresh start

Feeling stuck in your old job? Getting hot and sweaty by the sink will really shake things up. For some others with little choice of employment, such as those recently released from prison, this is the perfect fresh start and re-entry into the workforce. Chances are most of this group are not in a position to negotiate better employment and simply desire to start over again. Entry-level positions such as this offer them such a start.


Recent military veterans may find themselves lacking in skills that translate well into the civilian world. While bayonet mastery is certainly helpful on a battlefield, it might make people at the office a bit standoffish when one skewers the last bagel while laughing maniacally. In this instance, the former military tends to use jobs like this to earn income while searching for more gainful employment.

You don’t want to think

I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but working this job is not overly challenging on your brain. You can get lost in cleaning the dishes and stacking the washer, allowing your brain to wander. Depending on where you’re at, this may be just what you need.

You’re interested to try out the food industry

A dishwasher gives you a taste, literally, of life in the food industry. Though you won’t be cooking the food or serving customers, you are close to the action. You have the opportunity to see if it’s for you and whether there is another position you’d like to try in the future. Also, when you think about it, restaurants cannot operate without you so this job can feel rewarding whilst you’re finding your feet.

What Responsibilities Does a Dishwasher Have?

While the name seems self-explanatory, the dishwasher tends to fill several roles in the restaurant environment. After all, those dishes aren’t going to walk back to the kitchen all by themselves (unless you are in a Disney movie.)

A dishwasher is probably tasked with bussing tables in between bouts of the steamy horror of blasting food off of plates with pressurized water. Bussing is a term used to describe when you will trudge out into the customer areas to clean off tables. In these rare instances, you will likely be expected to mop any messes and not look directly at the diners.

In this way, you’re kind of like the lunch lady at school that had the horrible Salisbury Steak accident, leaving you disfigured and relegated to being forever in the back, never to horrify the children.

Your lot in life is to clean and remove messes, stock fresh dishes, and generally stay out of the waitstaff’s way as they serve the customer.

You are maintenance, not customer relations. It’s sort of freeing once you understand that fact.

For the employers reading this post and who are worried their staff may be miserable and lacking motivation, this post titled, 15 Employee Engagement Activities to Skyrocket Staff Morale is just what you need.

What is the Pay or Incentive System Like for a Restaurant Dishwasher?

The word “nonexistent” springs to mind, but that would be an exaggeration. If sweat were the coin of the realm, you would certainly be king. Sadly, we are paid in actual coin, so no throne for you, your grace. 

In all honesty, the pay will start off low. This is an unskilled job that panders to the least common denominator. There is no shame in that fact, just know that as an entry-level position, there simply isn’t much incentive provided.

As for incentives, you are using this job to build your work experience. This is meant to pad out your resume, not to be the ending of it. Act accordingly, and this job will act as a stepping stone in a very short period of time. Companies are more likely to hire from within, especially if the worker has a history of being dependable and consistent.

What is a Typical Workday Like for a Restaurant Dishwasher?

You will likely begin by gathering all the dishes from the dining area. This is done by a cart, plastic bin, or any other manner of moving as much as possible as efficiently as possible. Then the fun begins.

You will blast the plates relatively clean by using a stainless steel hose that shoots pressurized hot water that could take the enamel off a whale’s tooth. Instant gratificaition. All refuse is usually fed into a trough that is shredded, ground, insulted, and compacted. The process will make you actually feel sympathy for a hamburger bun. 

You will likely be using a hooded commercial-grade dishwasher. Dishes are sorted onto plastic racks which are fed into the machine. It does all manner of medieval torture to the plates to completely wash and sterilize them. The process takes an insanely brief amount of time. The temperature is high enough that you will not, in fact, need to dry the dishes. You will simply place the racks up in the kitchen area for the cooks.

That’s it, that’s the extent of your dishwashing endeavors. Just rinse and repeat (pun intended) for your shift.

Tips for Surviving a Restaurant Dishwasher Shift

Surviving your tomb of ungodly humidity is another story, but a few simple pointers will help you survive like a cockroach after the A-bomb. 

Get a hat

Most kitchen areas will make you wear something to keep your hair from falling out into food or drink. Now, unless you want to look like Auntie Mildred minus the curlers, get a hat. Besides, it’ll keep the sweat out of your eyes. 

Get a fan

In normal circumstances, water evaporates off your skin and cools you off. It’s a lovely system of temperature regulation that will not apply to you. You will be in a world of steamy awfulness that breeds curse words and heatstroke. Anything to move the air will help. While it will seem like it’s only blowing hot, watery air in your face, the air current will nevertheless go far to aid your comfort. So will the curse words.

Wear proper shoes

There is a very high chance your feet and going to take a plunge into the deep end. Wearing some kind of waterproof boots which are supportive and don’t rub will be your best bet. These gumboots on Amazon look ideal.

If you’re reading this thinking, my feet already hurt during a shift, this article about foot and leg pain we wrote is a good one.


Ungodly amounts of water. While the above paragraphs all but say you will be doomed to a life of a poached fish, cold water will be a godsend to you. All that sweat will need to be replaced and a constant stream of cold water will help. We use the BEAST tumbler to help with this. Here is our review if you’re keen.

Beast tumbler | Night Shift Essentials post

In summary, I won’t lie to you. Washing dishes on a mass scale is hot, sweaty, unrewarding labor. It is rugged, and tough, and tests your physical resistance to heat and exhaustion. Use this to your advantage.

One can be guaranteed to never take air conditioning for granted again, and affluent people pay good money to sweat out toxins that you’ll be doing for a paycheck. Besides, you can hover over all the uneaten food like an emperor of the vultures!

I’m kidding. Don’t do that. Dear God don’t do that.

In all seriousness, it’s a job. It’s honest work and there is nothing wrong with that. We all start somewhere, even if it means starting over.

In that regard, you can do worse than starting in the back of a kitchen feeding racks of plates into a machine that you are slowly treating like a mechanical overlord that must feed. 

Hope it doesn’t turn its baleful eye to you.

Again, I’m kidding. It isn’t alive. That’s the dehydration screwing with you. Go take a break and drink some water.

Next up, Insights From a Midnight Gas Station Attendant – maybe this one is for you?


Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

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Daniel Smith

Managing a global sales team I've experienced the challenges of working at all hours of the day and night. Being a shift worker I know how tough it can be balancing everyday life when you feel like you haven't slept in weeks! Providing advice and tips on how to manage your schedule, whilst still staying healthy is where I can help.

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Working as a dishwasher can be a rewarding experience. It's a great way to learn about the foodservice industry and earn some money. If you're looking for a challenging and fast-paced job, then dishwasher may be the right fit for you. Learn more about the hot, sweaty and rewarding job inside!Looking for a commercial dishwasher job? As a dishwasher, you will be responsible for cleaning and sanitizing all of the dishes, silverware, and cookware used in the commercial kitchen plus more. Learn more about the job and your potential new career in food services here! Looking for a fun and rewarding job? Consider becoming a dishwasher at a restaurant! As a dishwasher, you'll be responsible for cleaning and sanitizing all of the dishes, silverware, and cookware used in the restaurant. This may seem like a daunting task, but it's actually a lot of fun! You'll get to work with a team of friendly and hardworking people, and you'll be able to see the fruits of your labor every time you see a clean and shiny dish.