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Napkin Etiquette: Modern Napkin Manners

Napkin etiquette, like other table manners, is not just made up of arbitrary rules. Using a napkin properly means taking logical measures that include good hygiene and showing respect for other people. Showing good manners marks a person as thoughtful, intelligent, and neat. It does not make that person a high-brow who looks down on the uncouth masses.

Probably the most important rule in napkin etiquette is to use your napkin. Napkins have been around for a long time for good reason. They provide a convenient tool to keep the face and hands clean, to protect clothing, and even to wipe up spills. This means that diners should not be using their sleeves to wipe their mouths.

At a home or restaurant where cloth napkins are provided, even if the napkins are elegantly folded, the napkin should be neatly unfolded and placed on the lap. If the napkin is large, folding it once or twice is permissible.

When the meal is over, do not put the napkin on the dish. A napkin on a plate only creates trouble for the people having to do cleanup. It can also cause stains in fine linen napkins that are difficult or impossible to remove. A used napkin may be left on the seat or on the table, generally to the left side of the plate. If there is a napkin ring, place the napkin back in the ring.

Man with a napkin tucked in his shirt

Should a napkin be tucked in to the shirt? In most places this is considered taboo. However, there are events and restaurants, especially Italian and seafood restaurants, where it is not only considered okay, but is the fun thing to do. It is wise to generally take your cue from others in the room.

Do NOT blow your nose into a quality cloth napkin. This is considered bad form because it is disrespectful to the host, and un-higeinic for those having to clear the table or wash the napkins. Of course, desperation may require the napkin's use. Nevertheless, the possibility of a sneeze or a nose needing a wipe should be otherwise provided for in advance.

Fluttering the napkin about during conversation is considered bad form because if the napkin has been previously properly used it will contain crumbs and other substances that people do not want spread out on their plates or worse in their faces.

The napkin should be deployed on the lap when the hostess deploys her napkin. For the hostess, this should be done before the food is served so that plates and dishes do not have to be placed around or on unused napkins.

Good napkin etiquette can mark the diner as a thoughtful, cultured individual. While bad manners will always be frowned upon.

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