Have you ever shown up to a fancy dinner party or restaurant and saw a cloth napkin folded on the plate? Did you know what to do with it? If you’re new to fine dining, it can take time to learn the proper etiquette. There are a lot of rules to remember, from which utensils to use for each course to using your napkin properly. While napkin etiquette may seem confusing at first, it becomes second nature once you get the hang of it.
Learning basic napkin etiquette can help you make a great first impression. It shows that you are polite and respectful. Table etiquette is meant to ensure that everyone has a comfortable dining experience — including you. With practice, you can learn to handle a cloth napkin with ease. This guide will help you learn proper napkin etiquette before your next upscale dining experience.
Where Do You Put the Napkin When Eating?
When you arrive at the table, the napkin is typically folded carefully on top of your plate. The first step of napkin etiquette is to make room for your first course. But, where do you put it? Proper napkin placement changes throughout the duration of the meal:
- Before the meal: Restaurant napkin etiquette says to put the napkin in your lap immediately upon sitting down at the table. Carefully unfold the napkin and spread it across your thighs. If the napkin provided is large, unfold it halfway. Otherwise, unfold it completely. If you’re at a dinner party, let the host or hostess to put their napkin in their lap first.
- During the meal: You should keep the napkin on your lap in between uses, but it’s acceptable to use the napkin frequently while eating to keep your mouth clean. Gently blot or pat your lips — never wipe. It’s best to always blot your mouth before taking a drink, too.
- After the meal: Once everyone has finished eating and the meal has ended, place your napkin to the left of your plate.
What Do You Do If There Is a Napkin Ring?
Some restaurants and dinner party hosts use decorative napkin rings. They elevate the tablescape to make the dining experience even more special. When this happens, remove your napkin and place the ring in the top left of the table setting. At the end of the meal, grasp the napkin in the center, pull it through the napkin ring and place it on top of the table with the point toward the center.
What Do You Do With Your Napkin If You Need to Leave the Table?
You now know that once the meal has concluded, it’s proper to place the napkin to the left of your plate. However, if you’re leaving the table briefly, such as to use the restroom, you can leave your napkin on your chair.
You don’t need to place your napkin in any particular way, unless the chair is upholstered. In that case, try to put the soiled side up so that whatever is on your napkin doesn’t transfer to the upholstery. If your dining experience is in an informal environment, it is acceptable in most cases to put your napkin to the left of your plate instead of on your chair when you get up.
Private Dining vs. Restaurant Dining
Whether you’re at a private gathering or an upscale restaurant, napkin etiquette is equally important. However, the rules are slightly different. Here are some simple steps to recap what to do in either situation.
Dining in a Restaurant
When you’re dining in a restaurant, here are the important steps to remember:
- Pick up your napkin as soon as you sit down.
- Keep it in your lap throughout the meal.
- Place your napkin to the left of your plate when you have to leave the table.
Dining at a Private Dinner Party
When you’re sitting down at a private dinner party, follow these essential steps:
- Allow your host or hostess to take the lead.
- Keep your napkin in your lap until you leave the table.
- Watch your host or hostess closely during the meal. They will indicate when the dinner ends.
Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Napkin
When you’re in the moment, it can be challenging to remember every detail of table etiquette. It’s easy to forget something or make a mistake. Avoiding these common blunders will help you master napkin etiquette like a pro.
1. Using Your Napkin as a Prop
If you’re used to talking with your hands, you might find yourself using the napkin to illustrate your points. However, it can be distracting to the other people at the table. When telling a story, avoid using your napkin as a prop.
2. Tucking Your Napkin Into Your Shirt
While you might see this happen in movies and television shows, tucking your napkin into your shirt isn’t proper etiquette. Your napkin belongs in your lap. If you’re eating messy food, ask for a bib. Otherwise, just try to eat your meal very carefully so that you don’t get food on your clothing.
3. Using Your Napkin as a Tissue
This might seem like an obvious tip, but you shouldn’t blow your nose with your napkin. It’s unsanitary and improper to do so at the table, especially with a cloth napkin. Excuse yourself and use tissue in the restroom instead.
4. Putting Your Napkin on Your Plate
Once you remove the napkin from the table, you should keep it in your lap. If you have to get up, you can lay it gently to the left of your plate. Avoid resting the napkin on top of your plate even if you’ve finished eating. The remnants of your meal can stain the fabric and make it challenging to clean.
5. Unfolding the Napkin Above the Table
Always unfold your napkin under the table to bring less attention to your hands. You want people to focus on the conversation, rather than watching you shake out your napkin.
Whether you’re attending a fancy dinner party or dining at a 5-star restaurant, following these basic napkin etiquette rules is essential.
Put Your New Napkin Etiquette Skills to Use
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