The Proper use of the Napkin | Gracious Living

Using a napkin properly

One of the most-asked questions Meredith Sweetpea hears is about the proper use of the napkins. She will endeavor to provide a rule-of-thumb description of the most-accepted napkin etiquette.

Using the napkin at formal affairs

At a formal affair, there is particular napkin etiquette. The napkin is meant to only dab at the lips, and not to actually get dirty.

The more formal the event, the more ceremonial the napkin use.

Nearly every aspect of table manners is to preserve cleanliness and proper appearance. If all aspects of the meal are going well, there should be no need to smudge the napkin!

Using the napkin at informal meals

It might seem that it is provided to mop up a mess or to clean the lips or hands following a meal, but proper etiquette has other dictates (except in the case of a barbeque!)

At one time, the tablecloth was used as the napkin, but nowadays we are provided with a separate piece made of paper or linen.

Rules for napkin use

As soon as you are seated, you should remove your napkin from the place setting, unfold it and place it on your lap. In some fancier restaurants, the server may do it for the diners, but even in this case is it not improper for you to do it yourself.

Your napkin should not go back on the table until the end of the meal.  If you need to rise from the table for any reason such as giving a toast or using the washroom, place the napkin loosely on your chair and push your chair under the table.

If your napkin falls to the floor during a very formal event, do not bend down to retrieve it. You should signal a server and request that they bring you a new one.

What to do with the napkin after the meal

When you leave the table, loosely place your napkin to the left of your plate. It should not be crumpled or twisted, nor should it be folded. Do not place your napkin on your dirty plate.

Your napkin must not be left on the chair. There is a European superstition that the diner who leaves his or her napkin on the chair will never return to dine at that table again! But other reasons have been cited as well: it may seem that you have an inappropriately-dirty napkin to hide, or that you are trying to run off with the table linens!

Other napkin dos and don’ts

  • Never use your napkin as a handkerchief. Excuse yourself and go to the restroom.
  • Do not use your napkin to wipe lipstick.
  • Gently dab at your lips with your napkin (exception in the case of barbecue, but use a disposable napkin in this situation).
  • Do not use your napkin to wipe your plate or to mop up spills.
  • Never flail your napkin around like a flag or use it to signal anyone.
  • Do not use your napkin to hide bits of food that have been removed from the mouth. These should be removed with your thumb and forefinger and place on your plate.
  • Never tuck your napkin into your shirt front to use as a bib.

–Some information excerpted from Chef Albrich.

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