A Well-Dressed Table
From elegant ‘standing fans’ at Commander’s Palace to ‘tuxedo’ settings at George Trois, elaborate napkin designs add flair to feasting.
In the ultra-competitive restaurant world, it’s always important to stand out from the crowd. Some operators spend a bulk of their budget on Facebook ads; others promote specials and host the happiest of happy hours. And then there are those who create napkin art, wowing their guests in the process.
“My general manager came to me with this fold idea and it seemed a little over the top,” says Michael Lachowicz, chef/proprietor of George Trois in Winnetka, Ill. “But we tried one evening and all of the guests loved it. Now we have customers wanting to learn how to do it for their parties at home.”
George Trois’ napkins are folded into mini tuxedos and provide diners with an element of “surprise and delight,” something guests have come to expect at restaurants, hotels, even in Ubers.
“The napkins are a great tool for us,” continues Lachowicz. “It’s a conversation starter and builds rapport with the guests.”
And just as Lachowicz’s napkins are synonymous with George Trois in Illinois, such are the signature “Commander’s Fold” napkins at Commander’s Palace, one of the country’s most recognized dining institutions, in New Orleans. Servers form them in eye-catching, standing fans that are placed upon each plate.
“The napkins are so recognizable,” says Jared Apponey, captain and certified sommelier at Commander’s Palace, “that if other restaurants try to do something similar, staffers call it the ‘Commander’s Fold.’”
Luigi Spotorno, dubbed the “master of napkin folding” and author of “Luigi’s Language of Napkin Folding,” wanted to mirror in restaurants what he would see walking past department store windows.
“The windows were dressed in different styles, colors and fashion,” he says, “and they are an invitation to come inside and see what the stores offer.”
“There’s no reason why restaurants can’t follow the same logic,” Spotorno continues. “For a restaurant to be successful, it has to be much more than an eating establishment; visiting a restaurant must be an experience.”
Spotorno suggests that restaurants have between six and 20 different napkin designs up their sleeves. One of his mottos: “Sell the restaurant before you present the menu.”
This can obviously be done through napkin art, but it can also be accomplished through social media, especially when the napkins themselves are Instagrammable. Lachowicz loves the fact that “guests put the napkins in their sport coats, take photos and post them.”
There is also the opportunity for an additional revenue stream. As Michael Lachowicz has discovered at George Trois, people want to learn how to create their own napkin origami. While the restaurant isn’t in use (lunch, brunch or off-times), host napkin-folding classes. After all, says Spotorno, “Good food is enhanced and the atmosphere set by a well-dressed table.”