For this assignment I decided to observe how glassware is washed in bars and restaurants. I chose this area of sinkdom because I knew I'd be spending some time in these venues this weekend -- my niece got married on Saturday and family was in from out of town. My brother, Bob, is also a bartender and knows a lot about the topic so he was a great person to interview first.
First, I did some preliminary research on the web to get some background on standard techniques and equipment. I learned that their are basically two methods for washing glassware in a bar: by hand in a series of three or four sinks, with the help of a brush set-up, or using some type of glass washing machine, like a dishwasher. Some brands used are Bar Maid for the rotating brush set-up (usually electric) for manual glass washing and Glastender for a machine set-up. The type of soap and sanitizer seems fairly uniform -- Ecolab's Super Trump soap and Microclean sanitizer -- at least at the bars I visited.
For hand-washing the sink sequence is dump sink (to get rid of ice and debris in glasses), wash, rinse, and sanitize. A machine can be either a small traditional dishwasher or a rotating rack that circles the glasses through a wash, rinse, and sanitize cycle. Either method has its pros and cons. Basically, the hand wash method is inexpensive and provides more flexibility for having glasses available when you need them, but the water needs to be changed frequently and is hard on the bartenders' hands. A machine can free up the bartender to interact with customers and uses less water, but is expensive to purchase and maintain and can be a real problem if it breaks down. Glasses aren't always as available when needed either, since bartenders need to wait for the cycle to finish. From "Bartending 101: How do bartenders wash glasses?" Kristine G. Bottone, www.examiner.com
Bartender observation and interviews
Bob Parker, bartender, bar and restaurant manager, currently working on opening a new bar/restaurant on St. Paul's east side
Bob prefers the four-sink hand washing method -- dump, wash, rinse, sanitize -- with a Barmaid brand electric five-brush set-up in the wash sink. Washing one glass at a time gets the glasses much cleaner, but many bartenders cut corners and wash two or more at a time using the outer brushes instead of just the center brush. The center brush works to clean both the inside and the outside at the same time, but using only an outside brush only cleans one area of the outside of the glass.
The base of the electric brush machine is metal so glasses sometimes break when pushed down too far. According to Bob, there are usually broken glasses in every shift. It's important to clean as you go and not let glasses pile up -- build the washing process into the routine -- so bartenders spend a lot of time with their hands in dishwater.
Glass washing machines are also available. They are expensive and take up bar space. They also use chemicals (Super Trump and Microclean by EcoLab) that can be corrosive if used at high concentrations and lead to "bar rot" on hands from reaching into washer and loading and retrieving glasses.
Bob prefers hand washing to a machine because you can wash just what you need and not have to wait for glasses to go through the cycle.
Jules Johnson, Ecolab employee
Ecolab manufactures and leases both the dishwasher and the chemicals used in many bars for washing glassware. They have a machine with a special cycle just for lipstick removal -- customer never touches the chemicals in the process. Seems that many bars use this service and/or their products.
Anchor Inn, northeast Minneapolis
The bartender here cheerfully demonstrated the process of washing glasses in a four-sink system and likes that method because she's able to get the glasses she needs when she needs them. It's also affordable for a small restaurant. At one point during her demo she expressed alarm at thinking she felt broken glass in sink.
Bob commented that drink stir sticks and straws shouldn't be in dump sink because they can clog it.
Jax Café, northeast Minneapolis
This restaurant/bar uses Glastender, the "Cadillac of dish washing machines". Glasses are put on a wire turntable and sprayed with water, then sanitizer, going in dirty then revolving through wash process until they come around clean. The dishwasher is big enough that a blender jar fits. It has a curtain made of plastic strips to keep spray contained, but doesn't really work, so many bartenders take them off or they fall apart after awhile.
The bartender likes his system and says bar rot is not a problem. He uses a smaller concentration of chemicals than what was used when the machines first came out. According to Bob, the machines ship with EcoLab chemicals and the amounts that used to be recommended by them were very high so that bars would have to buy more product since they ran out more often. The higher concentration of chemicals was hard on bartenders' hands. Now the amounts are regulated by the health department and are lower.
Harborview Cafe, Pepin, WI
The bartenders here use the hand-washing method with four sinks -- dump, wash, rinse, sanitizer -- and use a five brush electric Barmaid brand glass scrubber, like the Anchor Inn.
Their biggest complaint is lipstick on glasses -- has to be taken off by hand and each glass needs to be checked before being used; they use limes to take it off by rubbing it on the lipsticked rim. "Won't Kiss Off" brand by Revlon is the worst. Glasses do tend to pile up on busy nights but hand washing works best for their volume. Both bartenders agreed that an automatic dishwasher would be inefficient, waiting for dish cycles to complete in order to retrieve the glasses needed. Stem glasses break the most (really hurts when you have to squeeze a lime). Faucet tends to get in the way and can cause accidental glass breakage -- bartenders need to remember to swing them out of the way after filling the sink. Sink plugs also tend to get lost and then they crumple up a wad of cellophane to plug sink ("me, too!" said Bob). Hot water makes glasses less spotty. Hands get dry and cracked, even peel, from soap used and constant contact with water.
My own experience
Harborview let me get behind the bar and wash some glasses.
Me washing glasses from Nance Longley on Vimeo.
The water was very soapy in the first sink, which meant I had to work more to rinse. Brushes were softer than I expected. Rinsing required dipping and turning glass quite a bit to get most of the soap off, then a last dunk in the sanitizer sink and set on drainboard. On a busy night I could certainly see where it would be easy to break glasses -- there are many hard surfaces and obstacles and the process often happens under a counter where you may not be able to keep an eye on what you're doing. Having to slow down to check each glass for lipstick is very inconvenient. Bartenders at Harborview were excited about prospect of solving that problem.
Conclusion and observation of needs
Having a high-end efficient automatic dishwasher, like the one I observed at Jax Café, works in some bars that can afford it and that may have enough inventory of glassware so that they don't run out when it gets too busy. Smaller bars and restaurants have been fine with the hand washing four-sink method, preferring to have immediate access to whatever glassware they may need at any time. Having reviewed the videos I noticed differences between the processes that the Anchor Inn and the Harborview use, even though they both use the hand wash method. There were much less suds in the Anchor Inn wash sink than at the Harborview. Each place also set up their sinks in opposite directions, with Anchor Inn going right to left and Harborview left to right. The flow of glassware went toward the "business end" of each bar, either toward the beer taps (Anchor Inn) or the center (Harborview) where most customers sat. The glass washing machine at Jax was situated a bit off center at the bar, but close to the waiters' station.
- Both systems seem to take a toll on bartenders' skin.
- Glasses, especially stemware, are always vulnerable to breakage and bartenders risk being cut on a regular basis.
- It's hard to clean lipstick off of glassware without doing it by hand or using special chemicals.
- Dump sink can get clogged with debris.
- Sink plug gets lost and bartenders need to improvise to keep water from draining.
- Rinse water gets overly soapy and needs to constantly refilled or refreshed.