What’s the dish on the dish room?

Photo by Yuer Zhang ’21  Soffan Russasosfsan, a Mount Holyoke Dining Services employee, loads dishes on to a conveyer belt.

Photo by Yuer Zhang ’21

Soffan Russasosfsan, a Mount Holyoke Dining Services employee, loads dishes on to a conveyer belt.


When Mount Holyoke’s new dining commons first opened at the beginning of 2018, the dish room was generally rumored to be chaotic, with an overflow of dirty dishes and food waste during peak hours. Alleged issues included a non-stop stream of dishes during rush hour and few opportunities for workers to take breaks, as well as a general lack of training.

But now that the novelty of the dish room has worn off, the setup is functioning much more smoothly, according to various members of Mount Holyoke’s dining staff.

“We anticipated the first few weeks to be hectic and busy,” said Rich Perna, Mount Holyoke’s director of dining services. “Everyone has brand new jobs and we need to learn how things work. In addition, the Dining Commons is brand new to our entire community. Now that we are settling in after five weeks, things are far more efficient.” 

The dish room in SuperBlanch is set up with dirty dishes in the front and clean dishes in the back, and it receives a constant supply of dirty dishes from the conveyor belt on which students are instructed to place their plates. 

“Student workers in the dish room are usually at the ‘clean end’ of the dish cleaning process,” said Mamou Samake ’21, a student worker at SuperBlanch. 

After dishes are deposited from the conveyor belt and before they reach the students, they move through several “stations” where they are rinsed by professional staff, then run through a high-power dishwasher. “[The machine] has a conveyor belt, soap and water and hot air,” Samake said. Students work to unload dishes from this machine, check them for cleanliness and then restock the rest of the facilities with clean plates, cups  and silverware.

According to Perna, the conveyor system was set up to allow for a large volume of dishes at one time. “We want everyone to be able to drop and go versus scrape dishes, which takes more time,” he said, referring to the old system. 

Still, the new operation presents some challenges for student workers. “The dish room gets backed up most during the lunch and dinner rushes,” said Samake.

Phoenix Edmond ’21, a dish room worker, agreed. “When you are searching for seats during lunch and dinner, that is when it is busiest in the dishroom,” Edmond said. “When there are a lot of people eating at the same time, those people tend to leave at the same time, so there is an hour or so where a ton of plates come in at the same time.”

It can also be difficult for student workers both to keep the dish room running and make sure SuperBlanch is stocked with clean dishes. “It can be hard to find time to [put dishes away],” said Samake, “because leaving the ‘unloading’ position unattended means the conveyor will stop, and the whole dish room will be backed up.”

Edmond feels that many students stopped working in the dishroom because of the initial  chaos of the new system. “But now that we have more students working and we have a better sense of the ‘trends’ of when dishes come in, we, the workers, have gotten a better idea of how to cooperate together and have gotten the groove of things,” she said. 

Samake partially attributes this increased efficiency to the hiring of additional staff to work the dish room, especially during peak hours. According to Perna, it is staffed by anywhere from five to 10 associates, varying according to day and meal time.

“Based on how different SuperBlanch is from the dining halls, I think there is still a lot to figure out and learn,” said Edmond. “[But] there has been a definite improvement since the beginning of the semester in terms of figuring out a system that works.”