The Art of the Napkin

by Claire Valenty on February 4, 2011

in Table Manners

table manners napkin etiquette

We all use (or should use) a napkin several times a day.  Obviously, it is handy for wiping that excess food off the corner of your mouth (if you are lucky enough to be dining with someone who will actually mention it to you), but, what is proper napkin etiquette?

  • Napkins are decorative, as well as functional. Do not forget that importance when hosting a dinner party.
  • When setting a formal table, place the napkin on the dinner plate. If the napkin is monogrammed, the monogram should be facing the guest.
  • When setting an informal table, the napkin may be placed to the left of the plate (next to, but, not under the forks), in a wine glass, wrapped around the silverware or under the plate.

  • The napkin fold should not be ironed (although the napkin should be) and the fold should always be nearest the plate.

  • If you are using a napkin ring, the pointy part of the napkin should be facing the guest.
  • After everyone has been seated, the host should be the first one to pick up their napkin.  After they do so, take your napkin, discreetly fold it under the table and place it on your lap with the folded side nearest you.  If it is a small napkin, you can open it all the way up.

  • If a napkin ring is on your napkin, place it at the top left corner of your place setting.

  • Use your napkin to dab, not wipe, your mouth.
  • Tissues should be used for blotting your lipstick and blowing your nose (which you shouldn’t be doing at the table anyway); not your napkin.
  • It is only appropriate to wear a napkin as a bib if you are eating really messy foods, such as ribs.  If a buttonhole is provided on the napkin, fasten that to your top button.
  • If you need to leave the table during the meal, place your napkin, still folded (do not wad it up) on your chair.

  • If you drop your napkin and are unable to subtly retrieve it, ask for another one.

  • After the meal, your napkin should be placed to the left of your plate; never on it.

Further Reading:

Photo: dreamstime/Manon Ringuette

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