By Linda Pouliot, Founder and CEO of Dishcraft
Did you know that a union dishwasher in the Bay Area costs a dining operator about $90,000 a year? That's more than a sous chef or, in most cases, an entry-level engineer. But the alternative to onsite dishwashing, single-use disposable dishware, is costly in another way as over 90% of these items end up in the landfill, or worse yet, in our oceans and natural environment, harming wildlife and emitting greenhouse gasses.
Before I started Dishcraft in 2015, I didn’t think much about how commercial kitchens washed dishes, nor did I know that “compostable” plates were covered in toxic “forever” chemicals that can never be composted. But, after leaving my previous robotics company, which addressed a problem in the floor-cleaning space, I was contacted by a restaurant owner who claimed dishwashing was a huge thorn in his side. He couldn’t hire and maintain enough dishwashers to keep his kitchens running smoothly and wondered if robots could help.
I soon discovered dishwashing was a universal challenge in the foodservice industry and began researching how robotics might help solve the problem. With a small, scrappy team, we built an advanced robot to automate dishwashing, and do so with less water and energy than a typical dishroom. That early vision has today evolved into a simple, reliable service that delivers clean reusable dishware—plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware—every day to operations across the Bay Area.
The idea of automating the labor-intensive dishwashing process in commercial kitchens was a fantastic challenge. With just a few exceptions, commercial dish rooms are essentially the same as they were 50 years ago. After analyzing the problem (which meant spending months washing dishes at various restaurants!) and evaluating a range of solutions, we developed a dishwashing robot with a unique combination of technology and process automation that cleans better and faster than humans. But to test our system and train our robot prototypes, we needed to have a steady source of dirty dishes, which is harder to find than one might think.
We finally worked out an arrangement with a corporate cafeteria to do a daily pickup of their dirty plates and bowls, dropping off a fresh set of clean ones at the same time. Every day, we sent a truck to pick up dirty wares at the end of a busy lunch rush, returning to Dishcraft headquarters (Dishquarters) with carts full of dirty dishes for the robot to wash. We learned a ton about efficiency, quality, and scaling, continually improving our robotic dishwashing system. Surprisingly, the biggest discovery from the test had nothing to do with the success of our robot (which, as expected, beautifully scrubbed, sorted, and racked thousands of plates, cups, and bowls beyond expectations).
Our "aha moment" came when the manager in charge of the cafeteria dishroom called our service “magic” and said it fixed a huge problem he faced: finding, training, and keeping dishwashers. We discovered that the reliable and consistent delivery of clean, reusable dishes every day was a much-needed solution to a persistent headache facing many foodservice operators.
That's when Dishcraft Daily was born.
Dishcraft Daily is a convenient dish pickup and drop-off service that uses robotics and process automation to reduce waste, improve the efficiency of food operations, and enhance the dining experience. Much like a linen service, Dishcraft Daily takes care of the pick up, cleaning and delivery of dishware—leaving customers with, as we like to say, "one less thing on their plate". This is a pivotal moment for the food service industry. With rising labor costs and ordinances restricting single-use disposables—as well as a dawning realization that most “recyclable” or “compostable” items are anything but—operators are in desperate need of reliable, sustainable, and cost-effective solutions. Centralized dishwashing makes a ton of sense.
Dishcraft Daily provides relief for a range of customers. For offices with zero-waste initiatives, switching from single-use dishware to reusable wares is far better for the environment, reducing the amount of waste by 60% in our early studies. And for operations that have on-site dishwashing, Dishcraft Daily eliminates the dependency on expensive, hard-to-find (and keep) labor.
Reusables or disposables, it's time to rethink the way we deal with dishware in corporate cafeterias, hotels, hospitals, and other dining operations. With fewer and fewer dishwashers available and hundreds of thousands of pounds of single-use disposable foodware impacting our environment, the time is now for a change. Dishcraft Daily’s delivery of consistently clean, reusable dishware every day is the solution to the very big dishwashing headache foodservice operators face. We’re so excited to see our vision come to life and know that, through technology and service, we are solving a real need.