It was cute when it started. Looking for a way to differentiate their table settings, restaurateurs began replacing traditional linen dinner napkins with dressy cotton dishtowels. There had already been a gradual relaxing of rigid dining protocols as a result of the recent recession, and laid-back dishtowels were a logical extension. Linen was suddenly stuffy and old-fashioned, while its neatly rolled replacement was comforting and gave restaurant tables a fresh look.
But as dishtowels have become the linen of choice, gracing tables in gastropubs, trendy restaurants and any other establishment that serves "craft cocktails" or brunch, I find myself less enamored. They're everywhere, and they've lost their impact. And even though they're offered in waffle-weave, basket weave and other fabrics, and in stripes or plain and printed, too, they seem a little worn-out.
As if encountering the towels at every table weren't enough, they're starting to look tired, too. Some towels appear to have been in service since the trend began, as faint spots, halos and other remnants of meals long since enjoyed mar what has gradually declined into gauzy material. The worst look like they might have even soaked in dishwater a few times, ironically serving the purpose they were originally meant to.
The dish-towel-turned-napkin only works when the towel in question is crisp and new. Anything less is a kitchen rag.
If daubing your face with unsightly linens doesn't affront you, consider the lint. All towels aren't created equally, and as dishtowels have become more popular, restaurants have increasingly come to rely on versions cut from questionable fabric. Draped across the legs these inferior linens have an effect not unlike a Persian cat, leaving a fine veil of fuzz that requires half a roll of masking tape to remove.
Certainly we'll get back to the linen standard eventually -- even the good trends fade -- but dinner-table dishtowels seem an appropriate candidate for an accelerated dismissal. The white linen napkin was a classic. Bring it back and let diners tend to their dribbles chins with some style. And relegate the kitchen towels back to where they belong: a kitchen bucket.
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