The hotel and restaurant table linen market seems to have had somewhat mixed fortunes.

Talking about the hospitality linen market as a whole (including bed linen), Richard Yates, sales director at Linen Connect, says it’s been a busy year.

His company does not deal directly with hotels and restaurants but his laundry customers have been very busy and Linen Connect has had the busiest first half ever.

Table linen sales in the early months “haven’t been mega” but that is to be expected. The main buying season is before Christmas and there’s still stock in hand in the early months, so sales don’t start to pick up till around March.

Given that seasonal influence though the figures have been OK, says Yates.

David Hill, sales and marketing director at Johnsons Stalbridge Linen Services says that the company has traded well so far. He attributes much of this to the company’s emphasis on premium quality products and service. In a tough economic climate, hoteliers and restaurateurs need to stay ahead of the game in terms of both their food and hospitality and quality linen will always pay dividends in the long term.

However, Tonrose’s Chris Kingsford believes that 2012 has been challenging for the hospitality industry. In London, the Olympics did not bring the expected boost to the sector, partly due to the mayor Boris Johnson’s continual warnings, broadcast over public transport networks, of large crowds and expected travel difficulties. So people tended to stay away from the centre.

As a result says Kingsford, laundry volumes delivered to hotels and restaurants fell significantly and less table linen was used. Much now depends on business in the last quarter to redress the balance.

However, the table linen market has been in decline longer term, as an increasing number of establishments now rely on settings placed directly on polished tables, according to Raj Ruia managing director of the textile supplier Richard Haworth.

Even upmarket hotels and restaurants are removing cloths from their tables.

More cheering though is a move at the top establishments to differentiate themselves through their linen choices.

So in contrast to the polished table style, Ruia says that the top brands are using floor-length table cloths and colour is becoming popular – duck-egg blue, medrite grey and even bolder shades such as purple.

Jimmy McCullough is sales director for Liddell UK, a Vision Support Services company that specialises in the hotel market. He says that the depressed economy during 2012 has had an impact on both occupancy and rates in the hospitality sector. He does note a regional difference, with London hotels and restaurants attracting good numbers while rates remain squeezed but the Olympics did not add significantly to their business. Still, despite market conditions, the company continues to expand in the UK.

Tonrose’s Kingsford describes the company’s year as good but not remarkable. Laundries are trying to hold back on buying stock and to make their pool stock work harder.

Replacement purchases will come eventually, but the hope is that prices will have come down to near pre-cotton crisis levels.

Richard Yates at Linen Connect comments that price remains a main concern both for laundries and suppliers.

He says that the laundries are still undercutting each other so they want lower and lower prices but still expect the same quality from suppliers.

Yates stresses that Linen Connect is standing firm on price. “Our price is competitive and we will not jeopardise our quality or our service.”

He describes the service as “the best in the world”. He explains that customers can ring the company at any time and will usually get delivery the next day as the warehouse has a very good transport network. Even with the Olympics we’ve been able to do that, says Yates.

Concerns about pricing have been an issue throughout the textile market and these were hugely emphasised by the cotton crisis of 2010/2011. However there is some feeling in the market that prices have steadied a little.

Problems of linen security and misuse have also come more to the fore. The high price of cotton has made linen more of a target for theft.

The TSA has run a highly successful poster campaign to increase awareness of the problem and the subject will be further discussed at the national conference in November.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one option that will be addressed and textile suppliers are beginning to explore the possibilities of supplying linen ready for use with this technology.

Richard Haworth offers a service for attaching the transponders to linen from its Kearsley site.

The chips or tags are sent in by the customer or its supplier.

As far as table linen is concerned Ruia says that the service is mainly used for larger items, such as the company’s Horizon table cloth which is 130in wide and has no centre join.

He points out that, in addition to the security aspect, RFID provides a wealth of data that can help in managing the whole laundry operation.

Linen Connect’s website carries the message “we’re RFID ready” and Yates says they can provide a service once customers are ready to commit to the technology.

He does stress the value of the TSA poster campaign – theft is a massive problem and laundries also need to be more severe on linen misuse. It doesn’t affect the supplier, but they do need to tackle it head-on.

At Hilden, commercial director Rod Nutter says the company is taking a pro-active approach through a partnership with Tagsys and says there has been huge interest in its benefits in tracking linen.

In terms of products, the table linen market is increasingly focussing on polyester although cotton still has a place. Spun polyester in particular has practical benefits while still allowing a quality, good looking product.

At Johnsons Stalbridge Linen Services, David Hill says that premium quality polyester tablecloths and napkins offer all the look and feel of high quality cotton but keep their shape through frequent washes and will not fade or shrink.

Last year the company made a large investment in stock and as a result introduced the Premier range of white tablecloths and napkins with hemmed and stitched edges all round, giving a high quality contemporary appearance.

Richard Haworth’s table linen portfolio features Signature Plus, a spun polyester with very good stain resistance, which Raj Ruia says is the global market leader. As well as table cloths and napkins the range includes a full range of table runners. This is a response to the fashion for settings based on polished tables, rather than on the traditional table cloth.

The company has also responded to the requirements of a price-pressured market by introducing Amalfi, a plain white range of 100% polyester and MJS a spun polyester range. Both are intended to meet a price point and these have attracted much interest.

In spite of the market’s pressures, Ruia says there is still demand for 100% cotton from more traditional establishments. In 2011 the company introduced a 100% mercerised cotton in the satin band design. Even if you don’t use table cloths, he says you can still have a quality product.

Richard Yates at Linen Connect says there has been little change in product terms. He does note a move to spun polyester because it has a lot of benefits. The company has seen good demand both for its Forta spun polyester range, which is available in white, ivory, black and burgundy and its Rafael 100% cotton range in the satin band style. In addition, it continues to offer Cezanne, a traditional rose-pattern design in polyester. Yates says that the competition no longer supplies this type of product.

At Tonrose, Chris Kingsford says that both 100% cotton and polyester table linens are still strong in the market and the company continues to look at development to discourage a shift to disposable linen.

The company’s leading table linen range, Kudos, is a spun polyester that is available in a plain colours with a choice of 13 shades. The website lists the advantages. It hangs well on the table and the colours are vibrant and long lasting. For traditionalists, Tonrose provides Medway, a 100% cotton product available in ivy leaf, satin band and superior satin band (which is slightly thicker and heavier).

West Lane Linens has recently entered the hospitality table linen market. This wholesaler is based in Bradford, where its manager for the hospitality sector is Tony Scanlon.

It works closely with direct mills based in Pakistan and Bangladesh and these have been supplying the UK for a long time.

Initially West Lane is offering two table linen ranges both in 100% cotton, one a cotton damask in ivy leaf, the other in a cross border design.