Six Solid Tips for Restaurant Silverware that Sparkles

BY MICHAEL O'BRIEN, Laundry and Warewashing Manager

Michael has nearly a quarter century of experience in the foodservice and warewashing industry.

Washing silverware properly is one of those crucial, but often-overlooked areas of dishwashing that can make a big difference to your bottom line. Whether your customers are restaurant patrons, nursing home residents, or kids in a school lunch line, nothing sparks complaints quicker or turns customers away faster than finding food stuck between the tines of a fork or bitter-tasting residue on a spoon.

Fast Fact: “Tines” are the 3 or 4 “fingers” on a fork. Tine makes a great Scrabble word. It's only four points, but can help you play out an otherwise odd selection of leftovers without arguing over whether "nite" is a real word or not.

What does it take to guarantee good SILVERWARE results?

Like so many other things in the restaurant industry, great results start with great preparation.

TIP 1. Silverware needs to be pre-soaked to get it really clean.

Pre-spraying is not going to remove sticky foods like cheese or peanut butter, or anything like egg that has dried onto the silverware. As soiled silverware comes into the dish room, it should be placed immediately into a bus tub or other container that has a purpose-specific presoak chemical in it.

TIP 2. Many kitchens like to use pot-and-pan soap for presoak, but this is a bad idea.

If the silverware isn’t properly rinsed before going through the dish machine, you can end up with suds all over the floor and a foamy mess inside your machine. Many pot-and-pan soaps don’t have the proper ingredients to soak off food residue in the short times busy kitchens require.

How much time is the right time?

TIP 3. Read the instructions on your pre-soak package.

Ten to fifteen minutes is usually the minimum. If your dish room serves a school where the silverware is returned immediately after use, shorter soak times will work. If your facility is a hospital where trays may sit outside patient rooms all night, even twenty minutes might not be enough. You will have to adjust based on results — if the forks are coming out with residue between the tines, they need to soak longer and be pre-sprayed better.

TIP: 4. After the soaking, silverware needs to be placed on a flat rack (one with no pegs) and pre-sprayed to get off all the presoak and as much food residue as possible.

All the silverware (knives, forks and spoons) should be put in together, not separated. The flat rack should then be run through the dish machine. When it comes out, have your staff give the rack a good shake to get as much water off of the silverware as possible. This will help make sure nothing dries up and leaves a crust if there is a pause before the next step.

And there is a next step! At this point, the job is only half-finished. (And you thought it was almost time for a break.)

After the flat rack, the silverware needs to be placed into a vertical rack. This can be individual plastic or metal cups with holes in them that are run through on flat or peg racks, or it can be an actual rack designed specifically for this purpose with tall, square holes to put the silverware into.

Tip 5: Once again, the three silverware types should be mixed together, not separated.

Why? This prevents “nesting” or “spooning”, which is where two similar items stick together, preventing the wash and rinse water from getting between them. The proclivity of silverware to jostle together with like types of silverware is where the term, “spooning” came from - not cuddly snuggling with your significant other. It is also how crusty residue that tastes bitterly of detergent can be left behind.

Fast Fact: “Shielding” is another dishwashing term, used to describe putting too many items on a rack and arranging them so that the wash water can’t reach all of them as the rack moves through the machine.

When the vertical rack comes out, it should be given another good, firm shake to help the rinse water drain. The silverware should dry for a minute or two, and can then be separated and sent out to the serving line.

Tip 6: Make sure the staff wears gloves while separating. 

Fast Fact: Dishroom staff should always wear gloves when handling clean dishes and silverware. They are better than relying on bare-handed washing. Why? Because people won’t usually comb their hair or blow their noses with gloves on, and it is easy to do that while working bare-handed and forget to re-wash. Cloth gloves with little rubberized dots hold the dishes securely and protect fingers from the dreaded dish-burn, and can also be washed and re-used.

All this might seem like a lot of trouble at first, but once you have a routine established, your staff should have no problem getting clean, spot-free silverware every single time.