How does a dumbwaiter work?

Updated February 21, 2017

Two-story restaurants with no upstairs kitchen can sometimes have difficulty transporting meals between floors, and waiters can find themselves trying to manage flights of stairs while carrying multiple trays of food. One restaurant contraption, the dumbwaiter, helps alleviate those problems. Dumbwaiters have a long history dating back hundreds of years. There is evidence that dumbwaiters were used in medieval castles to transport goods from floor to floor. In more modern times, dumbwaiters were extensively used in American restaurants in the early twentieth century.

Manual Versus Electric

Manual dumbwaiters use pulleys and tracks to move the dumbwaiter up and down. Aluminium tracks are installed along the corners of the shaft, which extends from the bottom floor to at least halfway up the next. There is a rope or cable that pulls the cart from the bottom floor to the intended floor. Some dumbwaiters can extend another floor down to the basement. When the cart reaches the top, manual locks hold it in place. Each cart can hold anywhere from 100 to 1,000lbs., depending on the size of the dumbwaiter construction. Automated dumbwaiters are electronically powered. The premise is still the same inside the shaft: the cart is attached to tracks along the length of the shaft. However, electronic commands activate a 3.5-horsepower motor that pulls the cart to the next level, lock it in place or send it down.

For Home Use

Modern dumbwaiters are used beyond the restaurant business. Disabled people can have dumbwaiters installed in their homes to send supplies up and down the house. If someone has trouble walking or lifting, they can load an automated dumbwaiter with all their necessities, send it to the top floor, and then retrieve them from the dumbwaiter. Using a dumbwaiter system is considerably cheaper than installing a freight elevator in your home. Residential dumbwaiters cost anywhere from £1,950 to £4,550 plus installation.

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About the Author

Paul Bright has been writing online since 2006, specializing in topics related to military employment and mental health. He works for a mental health non-profit in Northern California. Bright holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and a Master of Arts in psychology-marriage and family therapy from Brandman University.