can't sweep correctly
July 20, 2006 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I can't sweep the floor! This is something I thought I knew how to do-I mean, I do it at home sporadically and I used to sweep the porch and the kitchen for my clean-freak mom and she never complained.

Anyway, this is going to be stupidly long-
I recently started working in the kitchen at a little locally owned restaurant and it's my job to sweep and mop at the end of the day. No matter how carefully I sweep the damn floor, it isn't good enough for the kitchen manager. It's gotten to the point where I completely sweep the entire kitchen twice and she STILL comes behind me and does it again and even when I'm positive there's NOTHING she can find, she comes up with a little pile of crumbs that I left behind. I've never felt like such a spaz in my life, it's embarassing and I think it's keeping me from moving up to actually cooking (something I KNOW I'm good at and would really enjoy demonstrating) instead of just filling salad dressing bottles and loading the dishwasher. So what am I doing wrong? I have a system, I start in one corner and keep everything moving to the back towards the door, I sweep under everything and all around table legs. I've tried a careful, close-to-the-ground motion, I've tried big athletic sweeps (the manager's chosen method), I've tried a combination. Still, the crumbs remain. Are there any magic tricks to sweeping? It's almost gotten to the point where I think the manager just hates me, and if that *I* were to go behind *her* and re-sweep that I would find just as much dirt as she does after I'm done. In any case, I just want to get the floor absolutely, perfectly crumb-free in the most efficient way possible, so please help!
posted by cilantro to Work & Money (20 answers total)
Best answer: My guess is that you are correct in that no matter WHO sweeps the floor, someone else can ALWAYS sweep more. This is how they sell vacuum cleaners door to door. "Vacuum with yours, then let's see how much more my SuperSuck Vacuum can get that yours left behind."

Sorry, I don't have any secrets. Maybe you should go ahead and mop before she gets a chance to re-sweep. Mopping gets up the little crumbs that fall between the broom whisks. Heck, if I didn't mop my own kitchen until EVERY speck was swept up, I would never mop! Good luck, I know how something simple like this can create a lot of stress.
posted by The Deej at 9:38 AM on July 20, 2006

What kind of broom are you using? I like a broom with artificial straws and a clean angle along the bottom for getting into the corners. Artificial straws fall out less and are more flexible than natural ones. Also absolutely necessary is a heavy rubber dustpan, because this seems to get the minimum gappage between dustpan and floor. When you sweep the dust into the dustpan, be sure to place the edge of the dustpan inside the tile grout line to ensure that the pan is lower than the tile surface.
If your boss continues to be discontented with your sweeping, request that she give you a sweeping tutorial.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:44 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Are you using the right broom for the job? Obviously it isn't your fault if they only have one broom. I prefer a synthetic fiber broom like this which can get the smallest crumbs. The standard natural fiber broom sucks IMO.
posted by JJ86 at 9:47 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Try dividing the kitchen into smaller areas, maybe 4 or so, and sweep each area individually, making sure to empty the dustbin and quickly clean out the broom (a quick shake or tap over the garbage can) before going onto the next section. Make sure you're sweeping away from the large appliances; sweep towards a wall or a corner. Then do a quick sweep over the entire kitchen again. I've always found that my sweeping becomes messy once my dirt pile gets too large. Also, when you're concentrating on cleaning only a portion of the room, you're more likely to spot and thus clean areas which may hide or trap dirt.
Another thought, if there are grooves or 'potholes' in the floor, sweep the area in multiple directions to unstick any dirt.

Sweeping techniques do get better with experience. You could always ask your manager for either tips or guidance - if she really hated you, she'd have fired you already; since you're still employed, you should assume that she wishes for you to get better and would thus offer suggestions.
posted by Meagan at 9:50 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Heh. I wouldn't assume the manager would already have fired her if she hates her—it could be that she dislikes her but doesn't have the power to fire her, so she's giving her crap. If she doesn't offer suggestions but continues to snipe about your sweeping, ask her point-blank what she would have you do in order to do the job better. Ask her to demonstrate very specifically what you could do better in your technique. I've gotten harrassed about tiny things like this at work by people who didn't like me or who thought I was a know-nothing newbie—and normally, they didn't ever explain what I could do better. If you believe this is hurting your chances for a promotion, talk to someone higher up about the situation—maybe ask them what you can do to sweep better. If they say you're doing fine, then you know it's just her.

posted by limeonaire at 9:59 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Key question: Is the restaurant's kitchen floor tile, with grouting that's even slightly recessed? You wouldn't believe how much almost-invisible crap gets stuck that way. And most porches and home kitchens (your past experience) don't have this on the floor, but a restaurant kitchen might, which would account for the difference.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:09 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Is it possible someone is coming in there and leaving behind something after you have swept? It's a restaurant right? So, maybe a waitress or another cook leaves something behind where you have swept and you've just been getting unlucky in this...

But frankly, brooms don't exactly get up everything. Kind of like that if you always go half way, you won't get there thing. There are *always* some small crumbs that get missed with a broom.
posted by R343L at 10:13 AM on July 20, 2006

I take it none of you have worked in a professional kitchen. The manager doesn't "hate" her; the manager is busting her balls in a completely impersonal manner. There are two goals: 1) to force her to learn how to get that fucking floor fucking clean (do you have any idea how hard it is to keep vermin out of restaurant kitchens?), and 2) to put her through hell until she can take it, because once you get on that line, there's no place to hide, and if you fuck up there the entire restaurant looks bad. Joining a restaurant staff is like joining the Marines: you're going to have to do it till Sarge thinks it's perfect, and you're going to learn to put up with Sarge's foul mouth and bad attitude in the process. I don't know whether you plan to make this a career, but everyone gets yelled at, hit on, and otherwise abused in the back of the house. If you can't take it, you might prefer to work up front, where an entirely different ethos prevails. In any case, don't take it personally, because it's not personal. It's Chinatown, cilantro.
posted by languagehat at 10:15 AM on July 20, 2006

I get that this is a job, and your employer provides the tools and specifies the method to be used in doing a task. That said, if getting the floor clean efficiently is the mutual goal, I wonder if introducing an inexpensive motorized sweeper wouldn't help? Or perhaps a stick vacuum would help?

You might make a positive suggestion, that putting such a device into the job might easily save time, and improve the outcome. However, restaurant cleaning methods, even for floors, are often mandated by local regulations and inspectors; don't be surprised if your boss isn't thrilled with the suggestion. But if you make it with an attitude of trying to find creative ways of improving, they may take it as healthy initiative; a lot depends on how you make the suggestion.

It is also possible that your boss is looking at sweeping as a kind of test to see if you will keep at something, trying to do your best, and improve, while being criticized for it. It may also be a way to see if you'll take sanitation seriously, and do what is required to keep the place super clean. Restaurants and commercial kitchens are strenous work environments, and it is good to know if a new person is going to be willing to work hard, under pressure, without making problems, before giving them responsibilities that will screw up other operations in the kitchen, if not done correctly and on time.
posted by paulsc at 10:25 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: I think languagehat has the reason WHY she sweeps after you.

Other comments:

Get your eyes checked.

Maybe the manager has a case of OCD, and sweeping again is just one of her "things"?

Can you bring in your own broom, or suggest the kind of broom to use? If so, bring in one of those Swiffers. I never knew how much crud got left behind with a regular broom until I started using a Swiffer in addition to my bristled broom.

But really, I think this is a case of hazing the rookie. Maybe she keeps some crumbs in her pocket specifically to throw on the floor after you're done sweeping, for the sole purpose of making you look extra hard for that last little molecule of crumbness.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:04 AM on July 20, 2006

Response by poster: I get what you're saying, Languagehat and paulsc. I've managed big, busy restaurants before (bar and front of the house, but I've helped out expediting in a pinch more than once). I know the difficulty and importance of keeping the kitchen clean, and it's hard work even when you can hose everything down to a drain in the floor. I had some servers and busboys and bartenders who had problems cleaning what they needed to clean, as well, but they all seemed to either figure it out faster than I am figuring out this sweeping thing, or else just quit. Anyway, this restaurant I'm working isn't exactly the kind of place you're imagining-it's me and three old women (60's-70s), one woman about my age (28), a cashier, one waitress, and the manager, making cakes and pies and salads and sandwiches in a tiny kitchen with mostly non-commercial appliances. It's always very, very slow and no one is particularly intense or hardworking. It's just the crumbs on the floor that gets the manager all lathered up. She doesn't seem to care about much else. Hell, quarter the mushrooms, slice them, whatever. How much turkey goes on a sandwich? However much looks right. I'm working there for 6 weeks just to save some money for a trip. Every other part of the job is stupidly easy and boring and I just want to get this sweeping thing figured out so maybe they'll let me make some cakes or something every once in a while.

Anyway, yeah, the broom does suck. It's plastic, not straw, which is good, but it's all frayed and splayed. I'll suggest a new one, but I might feel stupid if I STILL can't seem to get it right. And as for dustpans, there isn't one. Everything gets swept to the back door, bigger pieces of whatever are picked up by hand, everything else gets swept out the door and into the grass. Classy, huh?
posted by cilantro at 11:06 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Also consider Swiffing. If you have a laundry service, you can drag a towel around the floor with your feet. You may be shocked at the difference.
posted by joeclark at 11:18 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: OK, cilantro, I'll suggest thinking through your sweeping technique a bit. Different brooms work a lot differently with strokes of shorter or longer length, more or less pressure, etc. Try short, quick strokes with little pressure, longer strokes with little pressure, short strokes with extra pressure, etc., until you find out what works best with that broom, on that floor. Maybe wash the broom's synthetic bristles, to clean them of dust. Also, some people have a naturally greater ability to build up static charge in brooms, while sweeping. Might explain why your boss can do better than you, consistently.
posted by paulsc at 12:25 PM on July 20, 2006

Ditto on Swiffer. Great product.
posted by radioamy at 1:10 PM on July 20, 2006

I'll bet you a buck that if you swept a floor that your manager had just finished sweeping, you'd find some dirt.
posted by wryly at 1:18 PM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Anyway, this restaurant I'm working isn't exactly the kind of place you're imagining.... It's always very, very slow and no one is particularly intense or hardworking.

Huh. OK, I withdraw what I said and join everyone else in suggesting better equipment. That, or bitchslap the kitchen manager until she leaves you the fuck alone.
posted by languagehat at 1:25 PM on July 20, 2006

This may sound odd / paranoid, but could there be a slight chance that the manager is dropping some crumbs to find? I've heard of weirder things happening.
posted by tomble at 3:27 PM on July 20, 2006

If you really want to get this manager off your back, I would go above and beyond the call of sweeping duty. Sweep twice, and then get down on your hands and knees and scrub the floor clean. I usually wipe the moisture down with a towel afterwards at my house. This way, you can be really really careful about how much dirt you leave on the floor. I do this at my house periodically and it gets the floor really really clean. Cleaner than any other method of conveinence. That may be more work than you're willing to expend for this job, but then again, maybe not. Personally, I think it would be worth it just to see my manager try and find the dirt I know doesn't exist and see her reaction.
posted by theantikitty at 3:56 PM on July 20, 2006

I always used a whisk broom to spot sweep corners and places the dust mop wouldn't get into, and the dust mop to coversweep the large areas. Always worked for me.
posted by baylink at 7:27 PM on July 20, 2006

Speaking as a former professional restaurant sweeper-upper, I can tell you one pretty effective thing we would do to someone who complained about our sweeping/mopping efficacy: we would pour a bunch of ammonia in a hard-to-reach place near their station.

But more to the topic at hand, the proper way to sweep out a restaurant is to first go through with a VERY STIFF straw broom, and sweep dirt "out from under" everything. Move everything that can be moved. Your sweeping motion should be so vigorous as to cause some amount of shoulder soreness. You should spend most of this time bent at the waist so that you can see under things. You are sweeping everything into the walkways, where you can then move it into piles with a push broom.

When you get to things like stoves (that cannot be moved) with your straw broom, sweep very hard under there, like you're rowing a boat, or stabbing a monster.

Finally, unless you are completely inept with a broom, you may just be dealing with a jerk. Is this person the second-lowest person on the totem pole? Are you going to leave this restaurant someday, and they're not? Some people are just flat out douchebags. Be sure to let her know how bright a future in restaurant crumb eradication she has, "Gee, HER NAME HERE, someday you'll be sweeping at the White House!"
posted by popechunk at 9:07 PM on July 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

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