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The Laundry Wars: a “choose your own adventure” guide to surviving the laundry apocalypse.

Fun fact: did you know that, according to the AWPA, the U.S. imports approximately 83% of its wire hangers from Vietnam? I bet you’re super-glad you know that now. (I know I am).

Less fun fact: Last week the U.S. placed a hefty trade penalty on wire hangers from Vietnam.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because your laundry bill is about to make a significantly larger dent in your wallet. Maybe you are like many of us who outsource our restaurant-related laundering. It saves us time, and goodness knows we have an awful lot of things to launder on a daily basis. Tablecloths, napkins, serviettes, kitchen towels, aprons, chef coats, and server uniforms all need to be clean and pressed before service. Until last week, it was both logical and cost-effective to have someone else do our laundry for us.

This may not be the case anymore, though. The new trade duties are said to be as high as 21%. This may not seem like a lot, but it could potentially double the price of wire hangers. The increase has already caused dry cleaners & laundry services from coast to coast to raise prices across the board even amidst sweeping cutbacks. Whether or not you decide to quit subcontracting your laundry service, it is definitely time to reconfigure your budget. But fear not: I have created a “choose your own adventure” guide to surviving the laundry apocalypse. From here, you can choose path A (continuing to outsource your laundry services), path B (cutting back on your laundry service expenses), or path C (discontinuing the use of a laundry service altogether).  So make your choice and let the adventure begin!

Path A: This one is pretty straightforward. Laundry is a pain, and you might decide that the peace of mind you get from subcontracting this part of your business is worth the extra money. You will need to reconfigure your budget in order to absorb the extra cost.  Your approach will be unique to your establishment and it would be wise to meet with an accountant to ensure that you employ the most sensible strategy.

Path B: If you are currently paying a laundry service to launder all of your restaurant’s linens, towels, aprons and uniforms, you might consider cutting back a bit. You can save money by having your employees launder their own uniforms. Of course, you will have to institute a few more rules regarding appearance (i.e. Uniforms must be clean and pressed before work). This is fairly common for front of the house staff, but it may be a change for the back of the house.  However, your employees have to do laundry anyway so it shouldn’t cause too much chaos.

Path C: This pill is probably going to be the hardest to swallow. If you are used to having an outside party wash and press everything for you, abruptly deciding to do it all yourself is going to be thorny. It can, however, be done. You can start by having your employees launder their own uniforms (see path B). Next, you’re going to need to invest in a commercial-sized washer and dryer. If you have items that need to be pressed, consider buying a steamer. Then, you have to decide whose responsibility it will be to wash, dry, press, and fold your linens each day. If you have divided your server duties into sections, these jobs can be distributed accordingly. Keep in mind, however, that path C requires a great deal of monetary investment up front, finding space for the equipment as well as the commitment of your staff.

Whether you choose adventure A, B, or C, the best thing that you as a manager or restaurant owner can do is to openly discuss the current laundry debacle with your staff. Get a sense of whether or not they are willing to take on more responsibility and listen to their ideas. They might come up with an entirely new and brilliant approach. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the situation. How are you planning to deal with the increased cost of laundry services? Please feel free to leave a comment below.