What is the cost difference between using cloth and paper napkins? The cost is not that much different!

  • Diners use an average of 2.5 paper napkins per meal at an average cost of $0.015 per napkin.
  • Many restaurants use paper napkins that can cost up to $0.03 or $0.04 cent per napkin.
  • Diners use an average of 1 cloth napkin per meal at an average cost of $0.07 per rental.
  • At these costs, the restaurant could save up to $0.005 per meal renting cloth napkins.
    • $0.03 x 2.5 paper napkins x 5000 meals = $375 paper cost
    • $0.07 x 1 cloth napkin x 5000 meals = $350 cloth rental (That’s $25 in savings!)

Environmental Factors

  • Paper products accounted for over 28% of all trash sent to the landfills–textiles was less than 1%.
  • The US uses over 160 billion paper napkins annually!
    • This adds up to 4 billion pounds of paper waste
  • The EPA recommends that restaurants utilize “reusable utensils, dinnerware, napkins and placemats” as a key tactic for Source Reduction.
    • Signature napkins can be used 70+ times!
  • Most laundries were “green” before it was cool!
  • Laundries participating in TRSA’s ESP program have
    • decreased water usage by 39%
    • decreased energy usage by 29%
    • decreased their carbon footprint by 29%

Aesthetic Factors of Cloth Napkins

  • 78% of surveyed diners preferred cloth napkins compared to 5% preferring paper and 17% with no preference.
  • 93% of surveyed diners noticed if the napkins were cloth or paper.
  • The image-enhancing benefits of cloth to the restaurant:
    • Cloth does not come apart in their customers’ hands
    • Cloth does not stick to the customers’ fingers
    • Cloth provides better protection to the customers’ clothing
    • One napkin is usually enough

The “Yuck” Factor

  • Bacteria is present and in some cases in excessive amounts on bare tables.
  • In comparison, table cloths provide up to a 24x cleaner surface than bare tables!
table that uses a tablecloth

Cloth-Covered Table

bacteria on a table surface with tablecloth

Bare Table


(Sources: EPA, NRA, TRSA, Cafe Napkin Study Dando/1994.)

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