Formal dining: using your napkin

I recently wrote a short piece on Restaurant Etiquette for the website Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling. Even as I was writing it, I knew I could not possibly cover every aspect of  restaurant dining in one article. There are a myriad of things to consider; most of them, thankfully, have been ingrained into our psyche. Some aspects however, require a little more consideration. I’m rather proud that I am able to fill an entire blog post solely with “napkin etiquette”.

Photo credit

Photo credit

The title of this post is not “Napkin etiquette”. Could there be such as thing? The napkin is always inoffensively hidden in plain sight, on one’s lap. So here is my post on napkin etiquette, more appropriately entitled: The Etiquette Butterfly’s Practical Guide to Using Your Dinner Napkin.

1. The napkin for your use is the one to your left, or directly in front of you or tucked in your wine glass. Place it on your lap as soon as you are seated. Do so without show or flourish.

Refrain from using the napkin as a bib. The exception is that if lobster is to be served, a suitable bib may be provided or everyone may tuck their napkin into their collar. If you regularly stain your shirts, it might be because you are leaning in too close to the table when you take a bite or eating your soup incorrectly. Do read more on my previous posts on eating messy food and soup etiquette.

Fold the napkin with the edges facing away from you

Fold the napkin with the edges facing away from you. Photo credit: Jay and Bee

2. Place the napkin on your lap folded in half with the edges away from your body (see photo above). There is a practical reason for this. We all know napkins are there to prevent staining one’s clothes and for dabbing excess food from around one’s mouth (I say dab; madam shouldn’t have to ruin her lipstick now, should she?). Dab with top layer of the napkin only.

If the edges were facing you or the napkin is laid unfolded, the natural tendency would be to use the side of the napkin which is in contact with your clothes. This would defeat the purpose of having a napkin. (See evidence below).

Food stains (beautifully represented by my red lipstick) kept from clothes by two layers of cloth.

3. If you have to temporarily leave the table for whatever reason, place the napkin on your chair. Just place it again on your lap when you return.

4. When you have  finished your meal, place the napkin directly in front of you on the table, or to your left if your plate is yet to be cleared. This is one way of showing the waiter you have finished. There is no need to fold it neatly, just lay it crumpled as it falls.

Photo credit

Photo credit

Napkins or serviettes?
Traditionally, a person belonging to the upper-class would probably say ‘napkin’ and the middle-classes would call it a ‘serviette’. None of that matters today, of course. Now, it is customary to call the cloth ones ‘napkins’ and those folded paper ones used at McDonald’s ‘serviettes’.




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