Going out to eat at a restaurant can be an enjoyable experience. The food is prepared for you, the ambiance is welcoming, and the table is cleared and reset after your meal. But have you ever wondered what happens to the dishes once a server clears them from your table?

Where do they go, and who is responsible for washing them? This comprehensive guide will walk you through the behind-the-scenes process for cleared dishes at a restaurant.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Once dishes are cleared from tables, servers bring them to a bus station or dish pit to be sorted and rinsed. Then dishwasher staff clean and sanitize the dishes, glassware, and utensils either by hand or using commercial dish machines before they are restocked to be used again.

Clearing and Sorting Dishes

Servers Clear and Carry Dishes to Sorting Area

One important aspect of maintaining a clean and organized restaurant is the efficient clearing and sorting of dishes. After customers finish their meals, it is the responsibility of the servers to clear their tables.

Servers carefully gather all the used dishes, including plates, glasses, utensils, and any other items that were used during the meal. They carry the dishes to a designated sorting area in the restaurant, such as a bus station or a dish pit.

The process of clearing and carrying dishes requires attention to detail and the ability to handle multiple items at once. Servers need to be quick and efficient while ensuring that no dishes or utensils are dropped or broken. This task may seem simple, but it requires skill and coordination.

Dishes are Sorted by Type at Bus Station or Dish Pit

Once the dishes have been brought to the sorting area, they are carefully sorted by type. This step is crucial for the smooth functioning of the restaurant’s kitchen and dishwashing operations. The sorting process involves separating plates, glasses, utensils, and other items into their respective categories.

At a bus station or dish pit, you may often see separate bins or compartments for different types of dishes. This allows for easier organization and efficient cleaning later on. For example, plates may be stacked together, glasses may be placed in racks, and utensils may be sorted into different containers.

The purpose of sorting dishes is to streamline the dishwashing process and make it easier for the dishwasher or kitchen staff to handle and clean the items. By sorting dishes by type, the staff can quickly identify and clean specific items, reducing the time and effort required for washing.

It also helps prevent any mix-ups or confusion that may occur if dishes were not sorted.

Rinsing and Scraping Dishes

Food Scraps and Loose Debris Removed

One of the first steps in clearing dishes at restaurants is to remove any food scraps and loose debris. This is an important hygiene practice to prevent contamination and ensure that dishes are ready for the next use.

Restaurant staff are trained to scrape off any leftover food remnants from plates, bowls, and utensils. This helps to prevent the build-up of food residue and makes the cleaning process more efficient.

Food scraps and loose debris are typically collected using a scraper or a rubber spatula. This process is done over a designated area, such as a trash bin or a sink, to keep the working space clean. It is important for restaurant staff to be thorough in this step to ensure that all visible food waste is removed before proceeding to the next step.

Dishes Rinsed to Remove Food Residue

After the initial scraping, the next step in clearing dishes is rinsing to remove any remaining food residue. This is typically done using warm water and dish soap. Rinsing dishes helps to remove any lingering food particles and ensures that they are ready for the next step of the cleaning process.

Restaurant staff may use a sink or a designated area with running water for rinsing the dishes. They carefully rinse each dish, making sure to remove any soap residue as well. This step is crucial in maintaining cleanliness and hygiene standards in restaurants.

It is worth noting that some restaurants may have different protocols for rinsing dishes. For example, some establishments may use commercial dishwashers that incorporate rinsing cycles. In such cases, the rinsing step may not be necessary for manual dishwashing.

It is important for restaurant staff to follow the specific guidelines and protocols set by the establishment they work for.

For more information on proper dishwashing techniques, you can visit the FDA website for helpful resources.

Washing Dishes

One of the crucial tasks in a restaurant is washing dishes. Proper cleaning and sanitization of dishes are essential to maintain hygiene and prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. There are two main methods employed by restaurants for washing dishes: manual washing and machine dishwashing.

Let’s take a closer look at each process.

Manual Washing Steps

Manual washing is a traditional method that involves the use of hands and brushes to clean dishes. Here are the steps typically followed in manual dishwashing:

  1. Pre-rinsing: Before washing, dishes are pre-rinsed to remove any leftover food particles. This step helps to prevent clogging of drains and ensures that the cleaning process is more effective.
  2. Scrubbing: Using a scrub brush or sponge, the dishes are scrubbed thoroughly with dish soap or detergent. This step helps to remove grease, stains, and food residue from the dishes.
  3. Rinsing: After scrubbing, the dishes are rinsed with clean water to remove any soap or detergent residue. This step is crucial to ensure that the dishes are free from any chemical substances.
  4. Drying: Once rinsed, the dishes are dried using a clean towel or air-dried on a rack. Proper drying is essential to prevent the growth of bacteria and ensure that the dishes are ready for use.

Manual washing requires the involvement of skilled kitchen staff who are trained to follow proper hygiene practices and ensure that the dishes are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

Machine Dishwashing Process

Many restaurants utilize dishwashing machines to handle the large volume of dishes efficiently. The machine dishwashing process involves the following steps:

  1. Scraping: Before loading the dishes into the machine, any leftover food particles are scraped off. This step helps to prevent clogging of filters and ensures that the machine operates effectively.
  2. Pre-washing: The dishes are pre-washed in the machine to remove the initial layer of dirt and food residue.
  3. Washing: The dishes go through a washing cycle where they are sprayed with hot water and detergent to remove grease, stains, and bacteria.
  4. Rinsing: After washing, the dishes are rinsed with hot water to remove any remaining soap or detergent residue.
  5. Drying: Finally, the dishes are dried using heat or hot air in the machine. This step ensures that the dishes are ready for use immediately.

Machine dishwashing is a time-saving and efficient method, especially in busy restaurant settings. However, it is important to periodically check the machine’s performance and clean it to maintain its effectiveness.

For more information on proper dishwashing techniques and restaurant hygiene practices, you can visit the Food Safety and Inspection Service website.

Sanitizing Dishes

When it comes to maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in restaurants, proper sanitization of dishes is of utmost importance. Sanitizing dishes helps to eliminate harmful bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that may be present on the surface of plates, glasses, and utensils.

There are several methods that restaurants use to ensure that their dishes are properly sanitized.

Heat and Chemical Sanitization Methods

Heat sanitization is one of the most common methods used in restaurants. It involves using high temperatures to kill bacteria and other microorganisms. This is typically done by running dishes through a high-temperature dishwasher.

The hot water and steam generated during the washing process help to eliminate harmful pathogens. Additionally, some restaurants may also use chemical sanitization methods, such as using sanitizing solutions or chlorine-based sanitizers to kill bacteria.

It is important to note that different types of dishes require different sanitization methods. For example, heat sanitization is not suitable for delicate glassware or certain types of plastic dishes, as they may get damaged or warped at high temperatures.

In such cases, chemical sanitization methods may be more appropriate.

Ensuring Proper Sanitization Temperatures

One crucial aspect of dish sanitization is ensuring that the dishes are exposed to the appropriate temperatures during the cleaning process. According to the FDA, the minimum temperature required for effective dish sanitization is 170°F (77°C).

This temperature is considered to be sufficient for killing most bacteria and viruses that may be present on the dishes.

Restaurants should regularly monitor and calibrate their dishwashing equipment to ensure that it reaches and maintains the required sanitization temperatures. Regular temperature checks and validation tests can help ensure that the sanitization process is effective and that the dishes are safe for use.

Inspecting and Storing Dishes

Checking Dishes for Cleanliness

One of the most important aspects of maintaining a hygienic restaurant is ensuring that dishes are thoroughly cleaned before they are used again. To inspect dishes for cleanliness, restaurant staff should follow a systematic approach.

First, visually examine each dish for any remaining food particles or stains. Use your fingers or a clean cloth to feel for any residue that may be present. Pay special attention to areas that are difficult to clean, such as the rims and bottoms of plates, as well as the inside walls of cups and glasses.

If any dirt or grime is discovered, these dishes should be washed again to ensure they are truly clean.

Moreover, it’s crucial to check for any cracks, chips, or other damage on the dishes. This not only affects the cleanliness but can also pose a safety hazard. Broken dishes should be immediately discarded and replaced to avoid any potential accidents.

Proper Storage to Avoid Recontamination

Once the dishes have been inspected and deemed clean, it is essential to store them properly to prevent recontamination. Proper storage entails keeping dishes in a clean and dry environment to avoid the growth of bacteria or the accumulation of dirt.

It is recommended to store dishes in closed cabinets or shelves to protect them from dust and other contaminants.

Additionally, it is important to stack dishes appropriately to prevent breakage. Using separators or padding between each plate can help prevent scratches and chips. Proper stacking also ensures that air can circulate between the dishes, reducing the likelihood of moisture buildup that can lead to mold or bacteria growth.

It’s worth mentioning that the storage area should be regularly cleaned and sanitized to maintain a hygienic environment. This includes wiping down shelves and cabinets with a suitable disinfectant, as well as regularly washing any storage containers or bins used for dish storage.

In order to maintain high standards of cleanliness, restaurant staff should be trained on proper dish inspection and storage procedures. Regular monitoring and reinforcement of these practices will help ensure that dishes are always safe and sanitary for use.


The process of clearing and washing dishes at a restaurant involves many steps and personnel to ensure dishes are properly cleaned and sanitized for the next guests. Servers start by clearing and sorting dishes, then dishwashers thoroughly wash, rinse, and sanitize them.

Proper training, supplies, and procedures are critical to protect public health. The next time you dine out and your table is cleared, you can feel confident that those dishes will be sparkling clean for the next patrons.

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