Arway Linen and Uniform Rentals – From Linens to Servings_ Setting the Table from Then to Now

Some of the most distinctive aspects of any modern restaurant are its linens and uniforms. From the way your table is set to the choice of fabrics to adorn your setting, there is immediately a story to be told that can set the mood. 

Such details can immediately tell a diner what to expect. Set-ups can make people feel fancy or more sociable, depending on how everything is laid out. But how did this all come to be? We will take a look back at the history of table setting that led to the restaurant linens we see today.

The Middle Ages 

In this age, a simple wooden table with no ornaments was the norm. The only real distinguishing feature was the salt cellar, which dictated the social hierarchy among those seated at the table. The most respected and honorable would be seated above the salt, whereas anyone of common standing or lower rank would be below.

For gatherings, the general practice was for each member to bring their own utensils. Otherwise, everyone would eat using their hands. 

Another common difference between the societal elite and the lower classes is the presence of a tablecloth. Those in the former would use the tablecloth to wipe their hands and mouth and leave their scraps. The latter would simply put scraps on the floor and use their clothes to wipe.

The Renaissance

Here, the tablecloth became more widespread across classes. Over time, people would introduce the smaller communal cloth napkin that servants would bring for wiping.

Here, cutlery would take a shift to its modern form. Whereas the previous era saw sharp knives, the renaissance dulled them for the table setting. Because of that, the need for forks became more apparent. By the end of this age, scraps everywhere became less common, and the tablecloth would start its more ornamental role.

The Industrial Age

As people passed enlightenment and saw revolution and innovation, so did our table manners shift. Here, cloth napkins for each individual became the norm. It was both a matter of hygiene and etiquette. 

The way the napkin was used became a clear indicator of social class. Along with that, tables started seeing more decorative pieces and elaborate settings full of ornaments. Mirrored trays became a common highlight for decorators of the upper class.

The Victorian Era

Now enters more aesthetic changes that make table setting more of an art. Lighting fixtures became decorated candelabras. Dishes started seeing more variation. Flowers would now be centerpieces. Glasses and table runners were tinted with color to accentuate the decor of the table.

The Machine Age and The 21st Century 

Now, the later 1900s established much of the pillars of table setting that we follow today. The 21st century has seen every variation possible. With etiquette firmly established, restaurants and common spaces now base their setting on personal preference and branding. 

Table setting has gone beyond necessity and becomes a core part of creating a specific ambiance.


Table setting has truly come a long way, but it’s interesting to see the details and practices that have persisted over time. There are things established during the medieval days that we still make use of today. As we cherry-pick the best of each era to cater to different vibes today, the future of table setting is an exciting frontier to watch.

For those in need of high-quality linen companies for restaurants, Arway Linen stands out above the rest. Taking pride in linen and uniform rentals since the 1970s, Arway caters to businesses and communities alike. Reach out now to elevate your space!

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