It used to be that you could go to any restaurant and find tables covered with white tablecloths. The tried-and-true white tablecloth used to be a staple of dining out. However, much has changed over the last 30 to 40 years. Not only have restaurants dispensed with tablecloths, but many have turned to paper napkins and plastic cups too.

So what happened? According to a March 2018 article published by The Daily Meal, the demise of the white tablecloth can be laid squarely at the feet of profitability. Several decades ago, restaurateurs began making decisions based solely on increasing profits by reducing costs. It was easy to dispense with the white tablecloth and its expensive laundering costs.

The Goal of More Profit

The Daily Meal’s John Mariani pointed out back in 2018 that eliminating laundry costs did not reduce the price of a meal. He correctly identified the reality that cutting costs doesn’t translate into lower prices for customers. It only translates into more profit for owners. Thus, the paper napkin and plastic cup phenomenon.

Tablecloths have to be laundered. That costs money. Likewise for linen napkins. On the other hand, paper napkins are disposed of after use. Eliminate laundry costs and a restaurant spends less money serving customers.

Do not misunderstand. The profit motive is not a bad one. In fact, there would be no private business without profit. But at what point does the pursuit of profit lead to ruining the customer experience? In the restaurant industry, perhaps that point is reached when table linens are replaced with bare tables and paper napkins.

Why Table Linens Are Good

Alsco, a global provider of restaurant linen rental services, says there are many valid reasons to bring table linens back. For starters, table linens absorb sound. In a modern culture that, for some unexplained reason, believes ear-piercing music should be the norm, table linens cut down on some of that noise. Table linens also absorb the sounds of clinking glasses and clanging tableware, sounds that normally interrupt conversation.

Next, tablecloths are much cleaner than uncovered tables that are barely wiped down between sittings. They are softer and more inviting. They create a more comfortable and relaxed environment that, unlike bare tables and paper napkins, does not encourage customers to chow down and get out quickly.

Bring Back the Tablecloth

There are other reasons table linens are good for restaurants. They add a sense of class and uniformity. They spruce up an otherwise bland dining room. We could go on and on, but the point is this: it is time to bring back the tablecloth and linen napkin.

The question restaurateurs have to ask themselves is whether or not they want to run a restaurant or simply operate a moneymaking machine. There is something to be said about generating profit in a low margin business like restaurant dining. On the other hand, it could be that modern tastes are so fickle because diners are not getting the experience they want.

Perhaps so many restaurants fail because they concentrate so much on profit. Patrons not enjoying the dining experience at profit-hungry restaurants only patronize them until they tire of the food. Then it is off to the next hot establishment in town. When the novelty of that one wears off, it is on to the next.

Bringing back the white tablecloth will not, in and of itself, solve the restaurant industry’s problems. But it is a good start. Bringing back table linens might encourage restaurateurs to get back to focusing on the dining experience rather than just short-term profits.