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Black napkins offered

We had dinner at an upscale but not ultrafancy place Saturday night and we were asked if we wanted black napkins??? Hesitated in answering- not sure if it was some voodoo thing. The waiter said- oh so you don't get lint on your dark clothing! This was a new experience for us- has anyone out there been offered a black napkin???

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  1. Haven't been offered them, but have read about their use for the reason you state.

    1. There's one place I frequent that does this. Lots of business diners. I think it's ridiculous and pretentious, but some of my co-workers like it. Maybe everyone doesn't keep a lint roller at their desk like I do.

      3 Replies
      1. re: jennywinker

        Hmmmmm... an interesting take, but "ridiculous and pretentious"?

        I'll go with practical and thoughtful.

        Unless you carry your lint roller with you (not practical), you won't have accomplished anything... still lint-covered in public, no chance of lintlessness until you return to your cubicle/office, where it really doesn't matter.

        1. re: jennywinker

          I don't think it's ridiculous or pretentious at all. As I am very often wearing black pants or a LBD I am always happy when a bar or restaurant has black napkins as the white lint from standard napkins can be a bear to remove.

          I have lint rollers all over my house but don't carry them with me when I'm out and about so I appreciate the black napkins enormously. It's the little things.

        2. If I'm wearing black at dinner I do appreciate a black napkin. I don't like rising from my chair to find my skirt or pants covered in lint from a white napkin. I don't carry a lint roller in my pocketbook. I'm surprised you were asked - my experience in fine restaurants has been that the white napkin is automatically replaced with black if you're wearing black or dark colors. It isn't pretentious, it is proper service, IMHO.

          1 Reply
          1. re: janniecooks

            Agreed. It shows a level of sensitivity by the restaurant to not offer napkins that will leave bits of white fuzz on black clothing. I appreciate the gesture.

          2. Jfood likes the idea but for a different reason. The lipstick marks on a nice white napkins always looks a little (can't think of the appropriate word). The black napkins would help hide this lipstick as well.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              jfood, are you meaning mrs jfood getting her lipstick on her napkin? or recieving a clean napkin that has lipstick stains on it?

              reason i ask is most places that use linen napkins have them machine laundered by a linen service, so the custo shouldn't worry about getting anything on their napkin (lipstick, wine, hotsauce, etc) we (resto staff) think nothing of it. if a stained linen makes it to the table setting, well, that's the direct fault of a table-setter not paying attention.

              anyways, my response to the OP is "why did they even ask? " if the resto provides black linens for that purpose why not just say "here you go". anyway, it's a nice gesture on the resto's part. but i also wonder if it's more expensive to have two types of linens available than to just get the better quality whites that don't leave lint.

              1. re: excuse me miss

                it's the former, during dinner.

                The other night was the first time the hostess looked at the jfood clothes and swapped the whites on the table to the blacks in her hand. Interesting change at the beginning of the meal.

            2. Yes, it's actually quite common. I love it... particularly since I'm always wearing black slacks.

              1. I need to get out more. I've never encountered a black napkin, nor have I ever had a lint problem with white napkins.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pikawicca

                  I'm with you pikawicca. But, I am relieved that restaurants don't mind "lipstick" left on their napkins!

                2. Black napkins aren't usually offered, but I always ask and about 70-80% of the time I get one.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Gingerleen

                    I like it better when I ask for a Riedel wine glass, and they can magically produce one from the back to replace the standard issue wine glass on the table. Better bring the black napkin, too, in case the the wine tips over :-)

                    1. I've had white napkins leave a nice black outfit covered in lint. I don't bring lint removers in my purse anticipating I may be covered when done with a meal. I don't find it pretentious in the least bit, I find it thoughtful.

                      1 Reply
                      1. I wear black just about every day. I always ask for a black napkin if white ones are on the table, and about 75% of restos can accommodate that request. It can be a real pain to head back to the office covered in little white specs, and for those of us who don't dress business casual, it's a nice consideration. I don't find it pretentious at all.

                        I also agree with jfood - seeing the stained white napkins on the table is a little off putting to me, whether it's lipstick, food, etc. Black is much classier.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Suzy Q

                          "Off-putting". That's the word jfood could not think of to keep him out of the dog house.

                          Thanks Suzy Q.

                          BTW one of jfood's friends growing up was a Suzy Q.

                          1. re: jfood

                            Thanks jfood! My great aunt DeEtte, a proper Charleston lady, always taught me to use the right word in the right situation. I succeed about half of the time. She, of course, would have expected the restaurant to have on hand whatever color napkin she needed to match her outfit of the day...and you know, she probably would've gotten it, too. :-)

                        2. I never even heard of this until a month ago. I had dinner at a nice restaurant with a few other people. As we sat down, the hostess replaced one person's white napkin with a black one. We were perplexed at first, but later on realized it was to protect her black pants. Once we realized that, we all thought it was a great idea.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: brandygirl

                            On the other hand, couldn't they just buy a better brand of white linen napkin?

                            I've had lint come off from some, but not all, white napkins?

                            Wouldn't the purchase of a better napking offset the extra charge (wouldn't there be one?) of having to pay for the separate washing of the black napkins? Which, by the way, would fade after time.

                            Soooo many things to think of! Owning a restaurant is obviously rewarding, but also must be very trying.

                            1. re: dolores

                              I would love this. I mostly wear black, at least black pants when dining out and this would be SO helpful.

                              1. re: dolores

                                After the amount of washing and use these things go through, even a better quality napkin will wear out and be linty.

                                Also, napkins are often stolen or accidentally walked off with. White napkins will come back from the laundry with still visible lipstick or other stains, and since no one wants to see that on their napkin, they aren't used. I don't think any restaurant is in a hurry to buy expensive ones.

                            2. I too wear a lot of black (I'm a charter member of the "Dress Like A Ninja" club), but....!!! Black napkins, or more precisely, the NEED for black napkins, really ticks me off. I grew up with white linen Damask napkins, starched and ironed, and they NEVER had lint!

                              Okay, so in today's world, hardly any restaurants use linen Damask, but the fact remains that if things are laundered propery and a decent grade of napkin is bought in the first place, what's with the black? Sometimes I feel the world is slipping into a deep morass of mediocrity!

                              14 Replies
                              1. re: Caroline1

                                In such this world of non-Damask, not properly laundered white napkins, the black napkin is a good solution for the diner wearing black.

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  >>Sometimes I feel the world is slipping into a deep morass of mediocrity!

                                  Good point, Caroline1, very good point.

                                  I too ascribe to the 'dress like a ninja' club, and I know, I just know, that I've gotten white napkins that didn't leave lint. On the other hand, I did get the cheapies, and I'm not sure (though they seem like a good idea), that the black napkin isn't just a cheap, easy, lazy alternative. But again, wouldn't they have to then separate their laundy, pay more to wash it, and frequently replace the faded black napkins?

                                  It doesn't make sense to me. If you're going to open a restaurant, spring for the better napkins.

                                  1. re: dolores

                                    In this day and age, most napkins are some sort of synthetic fiber that doesn't leave lint and can't even form it. So that says to me that the laundry method is the problem. So where is the lint coming from? Does the restaurant use lint-laden old fashioned 100% cotton "flour sack" dish towels they toss in with the napkins, or do they send the napkins out to a commercial laundry that tosses 'em in with diapers and flokati rugs? Weird. Just plain weird.

                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                    I prefer the aesthetics of a black napkin (see my earlier post).

                                    1. re: Suzy Q

                                      I did earlier. Both of them.

                                      I appreciate aesthetics too, but... Do these restaurants also use black tablecloths? Or if the black napkins are only a bow to us Ninjas, what about the people who wear red, or green, or blue? Both white AND black lint will be an eyesore on them! Why not just do the damned laundry right and forget about black napkins? Unless they are coordinated with black tablecloths.

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        I think it is It is partly the laundry process. A restaurant has a certain allocation with a laundry service. The service picks up everything, washes it, returns it. Duh.

                                        The white lanudry will include- chef jackets, dozens of kitchen towels, table cloths, and napkins. The lint, IMO, comes from the towels. Keep in mind, different laundry services may separate these things out, but my assumption is that they wash one restauant's whites together, to keep the count right, and to be efficient.

                                        I love the black napkin thing. I actually stole the idea for use in my home, since I rarely wear other colors than black.

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          Caroline, I'm having a difficult time understanding the insistence on white linens. Is the dining experience diminished somehow for you because you have a non-white napkin? Or is it because you don't consider colored napkins to be part of a "correct" table setting?

                                          What color napkins should be used when in an establishment with NO tablecloth?

                                          1. re: Suzy Q

                                            Gee, come on. This isn't rocket science. No. I don't mind black napkins. And I don't mind white napkins. What I do mind is LINT! Black napkins ONLY address the problem for people wearing black. And when it comes right down to it, white napkins only address the lint problems for people wearing white! So as I have questioned in other posts, what about diners wearing red or blue or green. What makes them unworthy of consideration?

                                            If it is a laundry problem, and that would certainly be my number one guess, then why is the restaurant unable to say to the laundry service, "Look, take care of the lint problem with our napkins or we find another laundry." Some restaurants do their own laundry in-house, and I suspect those are the restaurants that don't have to bother with black napkins. It's really more economical to do it that way too. Now do you understand? It's not the aesthetics. It's simply the lint,

                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                              It was an honest question, Caroline - just trying to understand your POV. Sorry if you were offended in some way. I know from many of your previous posts that you're a stickler for proper table settings and I thought that might be where you were coming from.

                                              Back on topic, I've never had a problem with black lint coming off on non-black clothing when I've dined with black napkins. I think a previous poster's thought about white linens being washed with fuzzier towels, etc. definitely has some merit.

                                              1. re: Suzy Q

                                                Once again, let me give this a shot and see if it stays on the board this time. I don't have a problem with black napkins if everyone has black napkins. Or pink or green or yellow or any other color. I don't even have a problem with everybody getting a different color napkin. But it does bother me to go into a restaurant where ALL of the unoccupied place covers, including the ones where we've just been seated, are set with the same colored napkins, then have a wait-person ask if we'd like black napkins, then whisk away whatever color we happen to have and replace them with black if we say yes.

                                                To me, that is similar to (but not exactly like) going into a fine dining restaurant and being asked if I would like to have the metal flatware replaced with plastic. Not the same, you say? Well think about it. Plastic utensiles are only used once, then thrown away, so they are much more hygenic than silverware that may or may not have been properly cleaned and sterilized by the dishwasher.

                                                For me, when I'm offered an ALTERNATE color napkin to the one already on the table, that's telling me they have a laundry problem, they're aware of it, but this is the best they're willing to do to fix it. And having the sort of quirky, curious mind I do, that makes me start wondering what sort of substandard practices may be going on in the kitchen where they are preparing my food? That's not a good place for restaurants to go.

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  Your standards are quite high, Caroline1, and may not be met by many dining establishments.

                                                  A stance like yours is rather hazardous: having expectations that are too high for the flawed world in which we live. You may find yourself continually disappointed as a result.

                                                  I believe you've mischaracterized the offer of black napkins as being indicative of inferior laundry practices. Your statement that offering black napkins might be indicative of substandard food preparations goes a bit far, IMO.

                                                  The laundry facility may be the best that's available, or the best that the resto can afford. The linens may be perfectly sterile, but bearing lint. The resto may not be able to ask that their linens be washed separately from the lint-producing towels. Often, the laundry service provides the linens and the type offered to restos are not damask. Linens can be a huge expense to the resto, and increasing the expense even further by insisting on damask may not be financially feasible.

                                                  I like that you are interested in classical table settings and service, but others may not share this interest with the same fervor as you, or may not be able too afford the interest if they share it.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    Well, I'll try responding to a second comment from someone who presumes to know me by stating I am pushing classical table setting. And I will tie the two thoughts (this thread about black napkins) together, so please be patient with me, Chow Police! '-)

                                                    First, about table settings. And I'm not talking about picnics, or a quick lunch at McDonald's. I'm talking about knock-yourself out slaving over a hot stove fancy dinners at home and moderately to excessively upscale restaurants. But especially in drop-dead gourmet delicious home cooked meals. When someone goes to such levels, then presentation and table setting become to the food what a mounting is to a diamond. If you were a jeweler, would you expect to sell a fine diamond stuck to a bride-to-be's finger with bubble gum? Obviously no. Then why should you treat the food you work so hard over in that manner? How a table is set defines the difference between "dining" and "eating".

                                                    Oh, and just for general information, you can buy quite attractive sets of flatware at WalMart for ten bucks for 4 five piece place settings. Individual flatware pieces are even cheaper than that. So what makes it such an "unafordable interest" to simply put the forks on the left and the knife and spoons on the right when setting a table? The point that you obviuosly missed in my thread about table settings is that you do not have to have twenty piece place settings to set a table properly. Only a little easy-to-master common sense knowledge. Sort of like tying your shoes.

                                                    When it comes to restaurants offering an optional "other color" napkin (it doesn't matter if it's black or chartreuse), and the primary reason for such an offering is because of lint on the napkin that will show up on a diner's clothing, isn't it far more caring of the restaurant to simply handle the lint problem? If lint is not the reason for the offer of black napkins, then why not simply use black napkins in the first place and save the wait staff an added hassle?

                                                    When people accept an alternate color of lint from a restaurant's napkins with warm feelings of how thoughtful the restaurateur is to think of them, they are voting for quick and easy "less than optimal" fixes. Why accept substandard solutions?

                                                    And THAT is my point. If the time comes when the majority of you are happy with the thoughtfulness of being offered black lint in place of white, or are protective of bad waiters who get bad tips, or even insist that it doesn't matter how a table is set, if the time comes that most Chowhounds defend and support these things with your patronage or your actions, in the long term it is you who are forcing lowered standards on me. I am not forcing higher standards on you. Why do you do that to yourselves?

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      I am a huge fan of an elegantly set table even for informal meals, and I read your previous long thread, so you have taken a misstep here.

                                                      Please don't misunderstand my stance, as well. Please don't presume you need to educate me about table settings, flatware, linens and table protocol as I am an active practitioner.

                                                      I simply don't agree with you. I like having the option of a black napkin when I’m wearing black. And I don’t read into it that it means a less than optimal laundry service like you do. I simply think that lint happens, and will continue to happen.

                                                      I mentioned problems with fabric choice and the laundry itself and the expense involved, but these practical concerns were not acknowledged by you. You’ve identified lint as an indication of some professional laziness or moral turpitude. I think you’re too quick to judge.

                                                      And much too quick to judge me. You have no idea of who I am or of my entertaining acumen.

                                                      You go too far when you lump me in with those you accuse of not caring about setting a proper table (when I'm known among my social circle for exactly that and for wonderful food and wine). You don’t know of whom you speak.

                                                      You’re not only preaching to the choir, you’re accusing the choir.

                                                      I have said nothing to you about flatware, its placement or number or specificity.

                                                      And please, additionally, don't lump those who prefer black lint in with those who "are protective of bad waiters who get bad tips." You're lumping two unrelated behaviors together. And again condemning much too quickly.

                                                      And now, you're accusing me of forcing you to lower your standards when I am a champion of fine table settings but I choose to use a black napkin to avoid white lint on my garments?

                                                      In so doing, you've condemned and convicted a brethren! Your table settings may be lovely; how about some etiquette, some fairness and kindness before judging so harshly and inaccurately?

                                            2. re: Suzy Q

                                              white linens are used because of the association with white as being "clean". yes black hides stains, but there shouldn't be stains to begin with. same reason as why chefs will wear a white chef's jacket, or servers will wear a white shirt, etc.

                                      2. Yes all the time at semi & fine dining places in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. Often at places that deal with business lunches etc...
                                        I appreciate it as I generally in am a black suit or black pants.

                                        1. Black napkins for the same reason I wear black clothes when I dine out, I invariably get stains on my person, and they do not show up so blatlantly against black. ;-)

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: ChinoWayne

                                            I think this is a thoughtful touch. I also appreciate purse hooks under a bar. But I was at a restaurant recently and they brought over a mini metal stand to hang my purse on - that was a little strange. Think I'd rather stash it under my chair.

                                            1. re: bbrooke

                                              Where was this? How odd! I can't quite picture this as part of the table setting - kinda like an extra chair!

                                              1. re: Catskillgirl

                                                I've been to a couple of pretty upscale places that had an extra chair/bench type-o-thingee for your purse. I don't often bring one, but I love the idea. That is, if you're 2 people at a 4 top. With a larger crowd I could imagine it being more of a pain than anything....

                                          2. I had never heard of this before, but I love the idea of swapping out white for black on guest by guest basis. Low-key pampering! Our favorite place uses black napkins for everyone (aesthetic thing ... goes with the decor). The thing I love is when they serve this blackened shrimp app that we like, they bring a lemoned fingerbowl with (of course - that's all they use) a black napkin. So when you wipe all that ick off your little paws, you don't see the ugly black smears on a white napkin sitting on your table before they remove the course. So tasteful.

                                            1. Me think it's kind of pushing it too much; must be an american (US) thing.

                                              Never seen this in Montreal, or in Europe.

                                              1. Well I wish black napkins were available at a certain posh restaurant in NYC some years ago. I, wearing the obligatory little black dress, got up to leave after the meal and noticed a large white addition to the front of my dress. Strangely, that was the only time it happened although I usually wear dark colors.

                                                1. I've seen black napkins...and I actually love it when the staff are attentive enough, when appropriate, to replace white napkins w/black ones w/o asking. I just adore snappy service!

                                                  1. I have had the waiter wait until we were all seated, and then put the more appropriate color in front of each guest. I had on black pants, I got a black mapkin. My husband wore khaki's, got a white one. It was not just random, either as he had more than enough of each color in his hand.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: sparkalina

                                                      sparkalina, that sounds like an outstanding restaurant.

                                                    2. Never heard of this before. Don't expect to be offered one (or, if you ask for one, don't expect to get anything other than a blank look) anywhere in Europe.

                                                      We have white napkins here (unless we are talking about down-market places that have paper napkins - in which case you'll get whatever colour they've bought in this week)

                                                      1. At Flemings in Boston they offer black napkins and my husband and I were so confused and he made me ask why blah blah blah. I guess it's a pretty good idea though...

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: littlehottie

                                                          Never had a linen lint problem. I can't imagine what a linty linen would even look like!

                                                          If I had experienced this quirk, I'd much rather see the place just improve their linens or use a different laundry service. It seems a little fussy to me. And like something that's getting exploited for the sake of pretentiousness.

                                                        2. lol....recently at our birthday dinner we were brought black napkins without having been asked. I think my BIL was a little put off by it (he doesn't like to be fussed over and may have found it too pretentious), and I know my very down-to-earth DH was a bit bemused. But naive person that I am, I didn't even realize WHY the black napkins were offered until my sister posted her review...(see www.chowhound.com/topics/495053 )

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: janetofreno

                                                            I would like to hear from a restaurant OWNER /manager, as to to the quality of white linen napkins available, laundry services, problems etc. We the customers would do well to inquire as to what is possible,what are the types and $ ranges of white linens available these days, what are the possible laundry options. etc. Can you even purchase white damask linen in large quantities anymore? What would be the cost of purchasing, seperate laundering and ironing these napkins? What is cost of nice cotton or linen ones? What is cost of in-house laundering vs out-sourcing? We should do some research and ASK a few owners of restaurants what the various linens and services are, before we make statements and judgements interpreting their actions.

                                                            Any owners/managers have their side to tell here?

                                                            1. re: anthrochick

                                                              why not go right to the horses mouth? here is the company's website for the linen service that supplies practically every restaurant in toronto.
                                                              i'm sure you could contact them for a price list, etc.
                                                              also, have a look through the "plant tour" photos to get an idea of what the whole operation looks like.

                                                              1. re: anthrochick

                                                                hi. most small restaurants in my area use ameripride as their linen service. the advantage to using a linen service is that they'll take care of other items such as floor mats, restroom hand toweling, mop heads, microfiber, etc. this company is very reliable. as they will tell you when they are trying to sell you their services, they use radio chip tracking systems in the garments to ensure that orders are complete. commercial laundries, like commercial bakeries, are actually extremely high-tech.

                                                                restaurant linens include uniforms, aprons, tablecloths, napkins, wiping cloths, dusting, cleaning, and microfiber cloths, bathroom toweling, mop heads-- it's all extremely expensive to purchase at one time (just as it's expensive to purchase all those forks, ramekins, bread plates, etc). if you go through a linen service you can lease rather than purchase linens, and many places choose to do this. linen services also replace items when they become worn. another advantage is that there is little/no linen storage at the restaurant-- when you lease a restaurant by the square foot, it can be very expensive to lease 500+ sq feet to maintain a laundry and linen storage area, so the linen service is probably much more of a savings in the largest cities with high restaurant overhead, and for many smaller restaurants.

                                                                restaurants that do in-house laundry have a higher up-front cost and end up paying staff to launder, fold, iron linens as necessary. at some places there is enough down time for this to be feasible. other places may literally have to hire extra people just to keep on top of linens. there is no "best" way to get laundry cleaned, the "best" solution will depend on a number of factors and should be decided by each individual restaurateur. btw we do in-house laundry as part of a green in-house cleaning program, using plant-based detergents etc, but every other establishment i've ever worked at, with one exception, used a service.

                                                                i think it's very nice when i'm offered a black napkin, but mostly i'm appreciative of the labor involved with linens-- i'll happily take whatever i'm offered. the idea that restaurants should stock a rainbow of colored napkins to coordinate with cutomers' outfits is a bit much imho :)

                                                            2. I see this all the time. In fact, considering that black pants are more common than white/light colored ones, I have sometimes wondered why ALL the napkins weren't black, if they were going to be replacing white ones with black ones all the time based on the diner's pants color.

                                                              1. Seems to me that restaurants where the server folds the napkin and places it on the table for you when you get up wouldn't want to set a black napkin on a white tablecloth, next to white dishes--it would look jarring. During a recent three hour lunch at The French Laundry, everyone got up at least once or twice. The napkins for everyone were white and quite lint-free.

                                                                1. Heh, I thought of this discussion last night when I saw what happened to my napkin. I was wearing a dark navy sweater and khakis. The white napkin (no choice at this place far as I know) didn't seem to harm my sweater at all, but by the time I left the *napkin* was noticeably contaminated with dark lint. ;-)

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: CrazyOne

                                                                    I like the idea of a black napkin being offered...lovely attention to detail if a waiter noticed that I had on a dark color and offered me a black napkin. There is a certain upscale restaurant in Atlanta, located in a lovely river setting, that I avoid because of the white lint thing and the hassle of de-linting afterwards. If only they knew of the black napkins!

                                                                    I was asking about the restautant's side of things because it seemed that they were getting some slamming for a seemingly helpful gesture, IMHO. I was wondering about Caroline's comment re: damask vs lint-y linen. ( I have damask and lint-free linen at home, but don't know how damask would hold up for daily laundering), and wondered about linen quality , lint-free napkins etc. Obviously, The French Laundry managed to do it, - wonder what type of linens they use and who they use for laundry service!

                                                                  2. Ahhh, glad I found this post. I was in a restaurant last week and a lady asked for a black napkin. I was wondering why? Come to think of it, she was wearing black. I learn something new everyday...

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: jcattles

                                                                      yea, I didn't know about this either til this thread.Love the Not About the Food posts!

                                                                    2. Season 52 and Cantina Laredo offer black napkins...Wish all restaurants would do that...can't stand to have black/dark cotton slacks covered in lint from white napkins.