Skip navigation
Flaherty FooTToo / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Out damned spot, and odor: Keeping glassware clean

Experts offer advice on pristine drink service

It’s fascinating to think that one can sit down at a bar or restaurant, open a menu, point, and within minutes, a beverage from halfway around the globe will emerge. From production to transport and storing, there are thousands of touch points before it hits your lips. It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s our job in the hospitality industry to ensure these treasures are served as optimally as possible.

There’s one culprit that can ruin this odyssey in a split second: a dirty glass. Whether it’s residue or invisible off odors, the beverage is compromised and a guest’s experience is damaged. That is shameful.

“Imagine watching a movie through dirty eyeglasses,” said Erik Segelbaum, founder of hospitality consulting company Somlyay and himself an advanced sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers. “Sure, you'll get the gist of it, but you'll miss all the nuances. All of the effort and decisions that went into crafting that beverage can simply be ruined.”

Segelbaum, former corporate wine director for Starr Restaurants where he oversaw 38 properties, says it was imperative that each operation had the proper equipment and training to ensure that every glass used was perfect. That begins with the dishwasher. 

“We always had a dedicated glassware washer,” Segelbaum said. “This is the most vital step in ensuring clean glasses. Think about the volume of dirty dishes, pans, etc., that go through the average dish machine. All of those oils and food particles end up in the water. It's completely unrealistic to expect that any dishwashing team is going to empty and rinse out the machine every 30 minutes to keep everything perfectly clean.”

He added that the dedicated glassware washer should polish those glasses while they are still hot and wet. “This will avoid any residue being ‘cooked’ on to the glass as it cools,” he said.

The Blind Tiger Ale House in New York City is one of the most popular spots for trying some of the rarest beers from around the world. Katherine Kyle has been the general manager there since 2011, and handling these liquid delights is a responsibility that she doesn’t take lightly. 

“Clean glassware affects every aspect of beer service,” Kyle said. “We even have a term for it: ‘beer-clean.’ A beer-clean glass is not only clean, but also free of any residue from soap or any other substance. An unclean glass can decrease the ability of a beer to form a proper head, which is necessary for the olfactory experience. It won't look right, smell right, or taste right.”

Blind Tiger uses the tried-and-true method of hand washing through a 3-sink glass washing station. The glasses are cleaned using motorized cleaning brushes with a low -foam cleanser, followed by a rinse, followed by a sanitizer. Glasses are stored upside down on a rack, allowing for air circulation. The final step occurs when the glasses are rinsed just prior to being filled with beer. “Each step is done to ensure that the beer will be as fully enjoyed as the brewer intended,” Kyle said. 

Jonathan Moxey, head brewer at the recently opened Rockwell Beer Co. in Saint Louis, Mo., is finding that first impressions matter. 

“We're doing whatever we can to make and serve the best beer possible,” he said. “If customers see a dirty glass, they're completely justified in calling the rest of our practices into question. We're a new brewery, and a lot of people have been taking pictures of our beer and our tasting room. Nobody needs to see a lipstick-covered glass on Instagram.”

Sparkling wines, in particular, are highly sensitive to dirty glassware. “Glasses take on the smells of what they’re stored in, and that can ruin the enjoyment of an otherwise delicious wine,” said Chicago-based Jill Zimorski, Champagne specialist for the Moët Hennessy Champagne portfolio. “Any residue, be it grease or soap, can instantly affect the formation of bubbles in the glass. It's simple hospitality: Take care of your guest and treat them, and their chosen beverages, right.”

While some forms of dirt are recognizable by looking at the glass, others can be more insidious, such as odors. Proper storage is key.

“Ideally, glasses should be stored on open shelves, and not in a closed cabinet,” Zimorski said. “When removing a glass that is seldom used, always check for dust, smell [and] general cleanliness, outside of view from the guest. Additionally, it’s best to remove glasses from storage and clean them weekly.”

If glasses are stored upside down, they need to be done so on mats that allow airflow into the glasses. It’s best to avoid stacking glassware, but ensuring the glasses are completely dry before stacking will help avoid residual moisture that leads to mildew smells. 

Polishing glassware is a must and should be done immediately after washing, to not only remove streaks, but also chemicals that are found in water.

“Using a lint-free cloth will yield the best results,” said Meg McDonnell, sales associate at Verve Wine in New York City. “And always smell the towel that you are polishing with. If it smells bad, the glass will smell bad, and inherently the wine will taste bad.”

While you can have the most expensive dish machine in the world, or the finest polishing cloths, it all comes down to setting up systems and having your staff follow them religiously.

“Training is vital and ongoing,” Kyle said. “It’s necessary to watch for, and retrain, when bad habits emerge. People get busy, and often try to speed up service as a result. But this is too important, and shortcuts cannot be allowed.”

David Flaherty has more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He is a certified specialist of wine, a certified cicerone and a former operations manager and beer and spirits director for Hearth restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in New York City. He is currently marketing director for the Washington State Wine Commission and writes about wine, beer and spirits in his blog, Grapes and Grains.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.