Guide to Changing Tablecloths During Restaurant Service

When changing tablecloths during restaurant service, ensure your hands are clean before you begin, and have everything you need ready on a tray. 

Before You Change the Tablecloth

To change tablecloths during restaurant service, make sure you have everything you need with you. This means that you should have the correct size and color of the new tablecloth on hand. Check the new tablecloth for any stains, tears, wrinkles, holes or other blemishes. 

The tablecloths and napkins should be perfectly ironed. You should also have the required quantities of placements, overlays and napkins ready to go. Again, these should be free of stains, tears, wrinkles or holes. The same applies to new tableware, dishes, candles and other items. Keep them on a tray close by, not on another table or a chair. 

Getting the Table Ready

Now comes the actual process of changing the tablecloths. First, make sure your hands are clean and freshly washed. Begin by removing all glasses and dishware from the table. 

Ensure the table is properly positioned and standing steadily. Pull all the chairs away from the table so you can freely walk and move around the space. 

If you have a table pad, put it down. Table pads keep the tablecloth from sliding around. They also soak up the noise of dishes and silverware touching the material of the table. If there are spills and burns, the table pad will absorb them and protect the table itself from burns. 

Placing the Tablecloth

Unfold the tablecloth from the center of the table out to the edges. Check that the four corners of the tablecloth are an equal distance from the floor on each side of the table. It is important to determine that the edges of the tablecloth do not hang so close to the floor that your guests will step on the cloth when standing up or taking their seats. 

You should also ensure that the centerfold of the tablecloth (facing upward) is precisely in the middle of the table. 

You can straighten the tablecloth if necessary. Then, put on the overlay (the runner) and, again, make sure the edges hang evenly. Try not to touch the surface of the overlay. The idea is for it to be properly positioned and straightened out as you place it on the table. 

If you don’t get it right the first time, take the whole overlay off and try it again. Don’t try to manipulate it into place with your fingers.

If you have place mats, check that the pattern is the correct side up and facing the guest, so the guest can read any words on the place mat as they approach the table. Placemats should be lined up with the table’s edges and with the placements located on the opposite side of the table. 

The Final Touches

The next step is to lay out the napkins. The napkins should be folded beforehand and kept ready, to speed up the table layout part of your work. Napkins should be folded elegantly yet simply. The idea is that they do not require too much handling but are still attractive to look at and easy for your guests to use.

Align the chairs so they are spaced out evenly across the sides of the table. Make sure to leave enough space between the chairs (about 8 inches) so there is enough room for a guest to comfortably leave and return to their chair, as needed. 

Put a cover plate on the exact middle front of each chair. The edge of the cover plate should be just under an inch from the edge of the table. You can use the width of your thumb to make an estimation of the right distance and then replicate this for all the chairs at the table.

Last, place the folded napkin on the cover plate, and you will have set the table for service.

All the soiled linens should go in a linen bag, but make sure you properly dispose of all food waste that may be on the linens.

Let Alsco Help With Linens

At Alsco, we know how important tablecloth presentation is. A well-placed tablecloth gives your customers the right impression of the meal they’re going to have and the experience you want them to remember. When we provide the linens for your restaurant, we handle the inventory and cleaning process for you. You can then focus on what you do best — running your restaurant. Contact us for more information on how we can help you set the perfect dining service. 


The Impact of Tablecloth on Consumers’ Food Perception in Real-Life Eating Situation. (January 2019). Food Quality and Preference.

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