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Raising the Bar:

How Today’s Hottest Restaurants are Upgrading Their Dining Experience

Anew chef, a new look and an over-the-top review helped launch Eleven Madison Park into New York’s epicenter of fine dining. But despite all the changes and the influx of new diners waiting to get a reservation, Eleven Madison Park is not resting on its laurels. Recently, the restaurant’s management decided to take it a step further and enhance their dining experience by upgrading their napkins to the finest in Egyptian cotton.

At The Modern, the Danny Meyer restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art, they have designed their own dessert napkins - a move that helps to set the restaurant’s unique tone and separate it from the crowd.

And at The Mandarin Oriental, around the holidays or for special events, the restaurant puts out an earthy, brown corduroy specialty tablecloth that inspired one female patron to say, “This tablecloth is beautiful enough to wear.”

These days and nights, many of NYC’s upscale restaurants are taking it up a notch even before diners open their menus. Restaurants like these pay so much attention to food, but there are additional ways to give diners what they expect, which is simply put, the finest in NY dining.

“There are other ways to get diners attention that make a huge difference to the total touch and feel of a restaurant,” said Matt Schlosberg, vice president of business development for White Plains Linen, the tri-state area’s largest linen rental company. White Plains Linen serves top chefs and caterers who include Jean Georges Vongerichten, Mario Batali, Danny Meyer and Abigail Kirsch.

At many of these and other venues, it’s goodbye starchy tablecloths, and hello to softer signature or Egyptian cotton cloths and napkins. Recently, both Petrossian and The Iroquois Hotel restaurant, Triomphe, switched to high-end Egyptian cotton napkins, made in Italy. “Especially this winter, people dining out want something soft to wipe their mouths and hands with,” added Petrossian Director of Purchasing Michael Chamberlain. “Food is what keeps customers coming back, but we want to make sure they are comfortable while they’re eating.”

For most, white tablecloths are still the standard, but Schlosberg points out that many restaurants are beginning to experiment with a variety of different colors and fabrics that can also “set their establishments apart, when matched up properly with the rest of a restaurant’s décor.” Silver, beige, black and gold are in for 2007, and so are satins, organzas and iridescent crushes, which all help add a contemporary feel. “We love our creamy Egyptian cotton tablecloths,” says Iroquois General Manager Paul Celnik.

Some restaurants even rent a handy supply of black napkins for those times when a customer, who is wearing black, is adamant about staying lint free. “It’s a small perk that helps ease their mind and lets them enjoy their dining experience even more,” adds Schlosberg.

Some of the higher-end establishments like Jean-Georges extend their diners experience past the dining room and into the guest lounges, providing signature washcloths. “Don’t discount the little things,” adds Schlosberg. “They can make a huge impact and help keep customers coming back.”

As more people dine out, the need for table linens is on the rise. For most restaurants that prefer the look, the feel, and the smell of professionally cleaned linens, renting is the best option.

Each week, for over 2,000 of their customers, Peekskill-based White Plains Linen picks up and delivers over 600,000 pounds of tablecloths and napkins, cleans them and brings them back to the restaurants in New York City. “It’s a daunting task, but someone has to do it,” said Schlosberg. Renting is also the best environmental option for the “green-thinking” hospitality manager, as restaurants respond to this new customer trend that is gaining a strong foothold in the industry.

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