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The money of laundering: less is more

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Linens have long been a thorn in the side of restaurateurs, who find themselves with little choice but to pay a premium for rental services to launder and deliver napkins, tablecloths, aprons, kitchen towels and uniforms.

“I complain about linen like you wouldn’t imagine,” says Mike Williams, GM of Crogan’s Montclair, a restaurant in Oakland, Calif., that spends $2,000 a month on laundry service. “I’ve thought of it all—buying my own linen and working it out with a dry cleaner, trying to launder it [on-site]—but every way you run the numbers, it doesn’t add up.”

While a magic-bullet solution to lowering laundry costs remains elusive, operators are saving money by rethinking what’s essential.  

Ditching the tablecloths

For casual-dining chain Ted’s Montana Grill, whose mantra is “Eat Great. Do Good,” eschewing tablecloths from the get-go was a no-brainer. According to Purchasing and Sustainability Manager Paula Owens, the 46-unit chain saves $260,000 a year—not to mention 2 million gallons of water—by opting for vinyl cloths that can be wiped clean and topping them with recyclable kraft paper.

As restaurants continue to say au revoir to tablecloths to appear more modern, they’re finding the cost savings to be a worthy bonus. Masselow’s at Northern Quest Resort & Casino outside Spokane, Wash., undressed its tables when it rebranded as Masselow’s Steakhouse this spring. “A big part of it was to make the restaurant more approachable, but the bonus was the money saved,” says Bob Rogers, the restaurant’s executive chef. Even though the tablecloths were washed in-house, the resource, labor and replacement costs added up. “I’d rather put that money toward something that will enhance my guest experience,” he says.

Enlisting employees

Servers at Crogan’s Montclair always have been responsible for washing their shirts, but Williams realized another savings two years ago when he bought a bulk order of black chef coats. Though the coats cost slightly more than standard white, the investment paid for itself in a month, he says, and Williams now saves more than $10,000 a year by not renting coats. Like servers, kitchen staffers wash their own coats and don’t mind doing so.

“If anything, they were excited to be getting coats that were much better quality than the ones the linen companies give you,” Williams says.

Thinking green

Sustainability-minded restaurateurs know that going green often can mean saving green, as well.

Pizza by Certé in New York City pays a linen service only for side towels and aprons. It purchases shirts and hats that employees wash themselves, doesn’t use tablecloths or linen napkins, limits employees to one apron a day and gets the most bang for its buck from towels, says Client Relations and Business Development Director PJ Jordan, by rinsing them in sanitation solution and rainwater that it collects on-site.

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