This past Valentine’s Day both fast food and casual restaurants scattered throughout the country set aside their informal surroundings and treated guests to a more formal experience featuring elegant table linens, table service, candlelight, and more. White Castle and Waffle House are just two of the well-known franchises that participated in the annual festivities.
It turns out that while most patrons appreciated the restaurant’s efforts to do something special on February 14, not everyone was on board. That’s okay. There are three important lessons to learn here, lessons that explain why table linens make so much of a difference in more formal restaurants. And rest assured they are particularly important, according to national uniform and linen provider Alsco.
Lesson #1 – Table Linens Evoke a Sense of Formality
Salisbury Post newsroom intern Samuel Motley was among those who did not appreciate the Valentine’s Day promotion at Waffle House. In a piece he wrote for the newspaper on February 21, he gave the impression that his chief complaint was one of formality. If you don’t know, Waffle House is an iconic American diner and the epitome of no-frills dining.
It would appear as though Motley and others felt that table linens made the place too formal. Eating at a table covered with a fine tablecloth and complemented by matching napkins is not the same thing as sliding into a booth, setting your fast food breakfast on an uncovered table, and chowing down.
What does this tell us about table linens? That they evoke a sense of formality. When you go into a formal restaurant you expect to see formal table linens. Table linens at Waffle House are as foreign as a lack of table linens at a five-star Michelin restaurant.
Lesson #2 – Table Linens Add to the Ambience
Next, consider what the Waffle House Valentine’s Day promotion would have been like had there been no table linens. Keep the host and the servers; keep the candlelight and soft music; keep the roses and red hearts. Without properly dressed tables, the experience just doesn’t seem right.
This tells us how important table linens are to ambiance. There is a reason we don’t see romantic scenes in television and film depicting two lovers enjoying a filet mignon in a fast food restaurant booth. That kind of setting does not create the ambiance for romance. A more formal setting complete with table linens does.
Lesson #3 – Table Linens Make Dining an Event
One last thing to consider is the amount of time spent at the table. In a fast food or fast casual restaurant, tables serve a rather utilitarian purpose. It is rare to see people sitting around a fast food table enjoying conversation for hours after their burgers and fries are gone. It is just the opposite in a formal restaurant where tables are covered with elegant linens.
Table linens turn dining the into an event. They encourage patrons to hang around and talk, to enjoy one another’s company without having to rush off to the next thing. Would you sit around an uncovered table festooned with paper napkins and plastic utensils for two hours? Unless you’re in a bar, probably not.
None of this is to say that fast food and fast casual establishments aren’t doing it right. They absolutely are. They are doing what is necessary to create the kind of environment their customers want. Likewise, a formal restaurant expecting a certain level of clientele to visit and linger must do what is necessary to attract those customers. Table linens are a very necessary part of that.