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Paper versus Cloth

What’s the smart choice in napkins – paper or cloth? The answer may surprise you. The current state of the economy is well documented. A steady decline in the world economy, including the United States’, is keeping more people from traveling, staying in hotels and dining out in restaurants.


What may surprise you, however, is that now is the perfect time to make some drastic changes to your restaurant. Why? As the competition in the restaurant business increases, it is more important that quality and service meet high standards.

And although more people are dining out in 2002 than fourth quarter 2001, many restaurants are still struggling for business. Therefore restaurateurs can’t afford for the dining experience to be negative.

To help ensure a memorable meal, a simple, but significant, change can be made to your restaurant – switching from paper products to cloth napkins and tablecloths. Gone are the heaping loads of trash and the critical first impression of your establishment (remember, there are no second chances to make a good first impression). Envision a run-of-the-mill restaurant that uses paper products. Now, picture that same restaurant with draped table linens and linen napkins that don’t tear after one use. This one simple change immediately improves the image of a restaurant.

Restaurant owners, and restaurant patrons have become even more concerned with quality and service due to the economic climate. People want the best value, especially when the economy takes a downturn. Restaurant owners know to succeed they must stand apart from the competition because people are dining out less frequently. One of the most effective ways to do this is to switch from paper to linen. It immediately sends the message that the establishment is first-class in all areas.

It also changes the décor of your restaurant and allows you to make seasonal changes. By simply changing the color of your linens, your restaurant can change from fun to stylish, and back again. Instead of paper year round, you can have white linens in the summer and maybe red table linens during the holidays. You can’t achieve that with paper.

Let’s look at some facts: When asked if they would prefer to dine with cloth or paper 78 percent of patrons responded with cloth, compared to 5 percent with paper (17 percent were undecided). Those same people were asked if they noticed a restaurants napery and 93 percent responded yes and 5 percent no (2 percent were undecided).[i] Fifty-four billion meals per year are served in United States’ 858,000 foodservice locations with average daily sales in excess of $1.1 billion. By 2010 there will be over1 million foodservice locations in the U.S.[ii] The average restaurant customer uses 2.5 paper napkins per meal at an average of 2¢ per napkin.[iii] Per year, 461,600 tons of paper napkins are disposed. That’s 2.6 million cubic yards or 50 football fields 30 feet deep. If cloth replaced paper, landfill consumption would be reduced by 2.5 million cubic yards.[iv]

Here are 10 benefits of converting from paper to cloth:

  1. Value -- “There is a higher perceived value when you use cloth napkins vs. paper napkins in a restaurant.” Cloth is a value-added service to the diner.
  2. Price – Cloth costs more, but the Return on Investment is also greater, as is repeat business. In a nutshell, linen influences diners. Although paper napkins cost between 1¢ and 3¢ per napkin (depending on quantity and quality), the average person uses 2.5 napkins per meal; three to four napkins are used for every one-cloth napkin.
  3. Stylish image/first impression – Tabletops are usually the first visual impression a diner notices when entering a restaurant. That first impression creates a preconceived notion of what the dining experience will be. Or as one restaurant owner said, “When you put candles and fresh flowers on tables, you don’t want to see paper.”
  4. Less Waste/Environmentally Friendly – Paper napkins produce almost 10 times more waste than cloth napkins.
  5. Durability – Restaurateurs make their money using cloth. Cloth napkins have a much longer shelf life than the immediate disposable paper napkin.
  6. Making your establishment a “fun” place to be – Cloth napkins convey a better image to customer, which helps restaurateurs gain a competitive edge and make up the additional cost over paper.
  7. Ease of use – If you were to spill a glass of red wine, would you want one cloth napkin, or one paper napkin? Cloth absorbs liquid. Paper also absorbs liquid, but not in significant quantities.
  8. Variety of colors – Want to convey a vibrant and fun restaurant? Use orange or yellow linens. Want classy? Use white. Both work. It’s an atmosphere and a décor that can’t be achieved with paper.
  9. Customization – Restaurant logos can be embroidered on linens and paper, but which would you rather use to market your restaurant to the public?
  10. Variety of styles – Plain, checkerboard, two-toned, lined, etc., linens can be custom made for your establishment. Paper, for the most part, is mass-produced.

This Market Research Study was commissioned by Textile Rental Services Association’s Linen Service Subcommittee and conducted by Research Inc. of Greenville, SC. Statistics used in this story were compiled from TRSA’s Market Research Study, the National Restaurant Association and the Textile Maintenance Institute of Chicago. Contributing writers include: Debi Wingate, Klein Merriman, Steven R. Biller, and S. Clifford Weller. Special thanks to Bruce Grindy of the National Restaurant Association and Roger Cocivera of TRSA for their help with current statistical information and verification..

[i] Café Napkin Consumer Attitude Survey conducted by Dando & Company, Chicago, Ill.; January 31, 1994.
[ii] National Restaurant Association’s 2002 Restaurant Industry Forecast
[iii] Merriman, Klein; “Finding Local Solutions to Solid Waste Problems;” as seen in Textile Rental magazine; November 13, 2001.
[iv] Café Napkin Consumer Attitude Survey conducted by Dando & Company, Chicago, Ill.; January 31, 1994.

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Laundry Employee Gets Trapped

DALLAS, Texas — An employee of Crown Health Care Laundry Services, died at Vaughn Regional Medical Center after being trapped inside a dryer. The 28-year-old was trying to remove lint when the machine malfunctioned.