Part two of this three-part article examines the specific benefits of linen-like napkins.

Even though linen has a high price point, users believe they save money in the long-run, because the napkins can be laundered and reused. But distributors point out this may not be true, because there are a number of hidden costs to linen.

“People think linen saves money because of reuse, but the hidden costs add up. You have to factor in delivery, attrition and cleaning,” says Andrew Paton, director of national accounts for Miami-based Dade Paper. He adds that with each laundering, one out of 10 napkins is typically lost.

Other hidden costs include the charge on the laundry bag, rental (if restaurants choose to rent linen napkins rather than own), and pick-up. Even if an establishment instead chooses to launder the napkins in house, there are other hidden costs, such as the cost of laundry detergent and utilities, says Glenn Harbison, director of marketing for Penn Jersey Paper, Philadelphia.

Because linen napkins are reusable, some assume that they are the greener option over disposable napkins. But distributors argue this is not true, either.

“Linen napkins have a much greater carbon footprint,” says Paton.

This is because many linen-like napkins are sustainable products as they are manufactured with recycled fibers. While linen napkins have the advantage of being reusable, the costs to reuse them such as the electricity to run the washing machine and dryers, as well as the gas it takes to transport them back and forth to the cleaners, must be taken into account.

Linen-replacement napkins also help cut down on the waste of traditional paper napkins. When a customer dirties a napkin, he or she will ask the wait staff for another. Typically, the staff will then bring a stack of paper napkins. Often, much of this supply does not get used and is simply thrown out. Linen-like napkins can help restaurants “attack the stack” says Harbison.

Since linen-like napkins are so absorbent, customers will ask for extra napkins less frequently. If a restaurant uses linen-like products exclusively, the wait staff will also be able to give fewer napkins (since less will be necessary) when patrons ask for more.

As an upscale, yet disposable product, linen-like napkins have a cleanliness advantage over linen.

“Cloth is often not 100 percent sanitary as it can be a bacteria-harboring product,” says Jones. “Linen-like napkins are disposable, which makes that concern go away.”
 
From the laundering phase until the time the napkin ends up on the table, there are a number of people who touch the napkin. The more hands that touch the napkin, the greater the chance there is for it to have germs, says Jones.

In addition, the laundering process is another opportunity for napkins to become cross-contaminated.

“Cloth napkins are laundered with tablecloths,” says Paton. “The items are taken to one big laundry machine.”
 
Maggots and other bugs could invade as they are drawn to the food remains, adds Paton.

Linen-replacement napkins are durable and able to absorb grease and oil. This leads to fewer napkins being needed to keep a patron clean. This also helps a restaurant’s bottom line, as well as the environment.

Finally, linen-like napkins offer branding opportunities that linen napkins do not. The cost of imprinting linen is very expensive, so it is rarely done.

“Linen-like napkins allow a company to brand their image,” says Andy Brahms, founder of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Armchem International. “Doing this allows customers to see your name more and create a stronger memory.”

Linen-like napkins are available in a wide variety of colors and sizes, which adds to the branding opportunities.
 
“The different colors allows one to match the décor of the establishment,” says Harbison. “There are even some that are texture-looking, and we have linen-like that looks like burlap and dishtowel.”