What You Need to Know: Paper vs. Cloth Napkins

In this two-part series, we take a look at how something as simple as switching to cloth products can increase your profitability, enhance your brand, and reduce your operational costs. In today’s post, we focus on the benefits of using cloth napkins instead of paper napkins, and in the next edition, we’ll compare cloth towels to paper towels.

Can something as small as a napkin have an impact on branding and profits? Can making the initial investment in cloth napkins save you money in the long run? Which option is more environmentally friendly? We’re diving into the associated costs, waste and guest experience to answer these questions.

1. Costs - Even though the cost of one rental napkin is 2.7 times higher than one paper napkin, on average, customers use 3 paper napkins per sitting compared to 1 cloth napkin per sitting (according to a study conducted by Jackson Marketing Group in 2012). This means that switching to cloth napkins can result in savings of 10%, without even considering the reduction in waste haulage fees!

Credit: Etsy, LittleBluNest

Credit: Etsy, LittleBluNest

2. Waste - Both paper and cloth napkins produce GHG Emissions throughout their life cycles; from production to disposal. While paper napkins only require materials, water and energy when being produced and disposed of, cloth napkins also require materials (e.g. cleaning products), water and energy for washing throughout their life cycle. Although the exact environmental impact of paper and cloth napkins is hard to quantify because of the large variety in napkin materials, sizes and washing methods, a study done in 2014 for the Textile Rental Services Association of America concluded that one paper napkin made of no recycled materials has an environmental impact over 3 times higher than one cloth napkin being washed with the least-efficient washing machine. Keep in mind that this number doesn’t account for the fact that customers use 3 paper napkins per sitting compared to 1 cloth napkin per sitting!

3. Guest Experience - A cloth napkin on a table instead of a paper one can quickly enhance a customer’s view of your restaurant; according to the study performed by Jackson Marketing Group, 88% of customers associate a restaurant with cloth napkins as one with better service and 82% consider a restaurant set with cloth napkins as one with a better appearance and ambiance. Best of all, there is no advertising required, as table settings are one of the first things people notice about a restaurant!

Not only do cloth napkins improve the look and feel of your restaurant, they can improve the profitability of your menu items too; customers who prefer cloth napkins are willing to pay up to 64% more for an entrée at a restaurant that is set with them.

Make the change from paper to cloth napkins and let us know what feedback you receive! Also be sure to look out for our upcoming post, where we break down the costs, waste and guest experience associated with using cloth towels versus paper towels.


Sources: 1. Consumer Napkin Preference Study, Jackson Marketing Group, 2012 2. Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable vs. Disposable Textiles, 2014 (prepared by John Jewell of PE International for the Textile Rental Services Association of America)