For months now, I’ve been thinking about starting a whole series discussing the topic of table etiquette. Mind you, this involves EVERYTHING with the table from the crystal, silverware, and china placement, to the choice of linens used for the table for the occasion. Needless to say, there is TONS of information out there on  “table etiquette” and I won’t have to worry about not being able to write something about the subject.

School has just started and the holidays won’t be far behind. However, I wanted to give everyone a chance to brush up on their table etiquette, have time to practice, and be ready for when the holidays arrive to attend a nice dinner party or even host your own dinner party.

This week, we’ll start with napkin etiquette. I know it sounds crazy, but there are correct and incorrect etiquette manners that involve napkins on all levels from the beginning of a meal until the end of the meal. First, let’s discuss the napkin and its placement on the table before everyone sits down for a formal meal. For formal meals, the napkin is usually folded and placed to the left side of the main plate (dinner plate or charger). If the napkin is placed in a napkin ring, the point of the napkin should be facing the dinner itself. The napkin ring needs to be placed at the top left side of the place setting. You’ll need to use it again at the end of the meal. So, keep it within eye distance so you can find it again.

Dinner napkin at the beginning of a meal

Napkins can also be placed inside of a cup or wine glass to add more decoration to the place setting. In this case, the cup or glass should be placed to the right of the main plate (dinner plate or charger).

Napkin in wine glass

For more casual affairs, it has now become more accepted to place the napkin on or above a place setting. Sometimes this might be a fancy folded napkin such as a flower or a wrap around on the dinner plate. For such a casual setting placement, your utensils can be placed on top of the folded napkin.

Rose swirled napkin

We’ll discuss more about the different folded napkin designs, their origins and “how to’s” on my next blog post for October 3rd. In the meantime, let’s continue with our journey to the table and sit down to begin. Once everyone is seated, unfold your napkin and place it across your lap making sure that the fold is facing towards you. Do not make a big gesture or noise upon doing this…it’s considered bad manners and lacks couth. From time to time upon eating your meal, stop to wipe your mouth to avoid embarrassment. This helps to keep a slow pace of eating, which aids in digestion. Also, it allows for you to conduct a not so obvious “check” on any possible food on your face/mouth and it allows for conversation and an exchange of pleasantries as you continue through the meal. This will definitely help you to remember not to talk with food in your mouth. : )  Each time you use your napkin to wipe, always replace it back to your lap loosely folded. Just remember…it’s considered poor etiquette to NOT use your napkin. Consider the napkin as a tool to help you keep food off of your face…and to keep you from looking as if you just stepped away from the trough !

During your meal, if your napkin falls to the floor, it is ok to try to retrieve it IF it’s at a close distance to you. However, if you find that you can’t reach it discreetly, it’s acceptable to ask the server if they can bring you another fresh napkin. Some say to leave it where it fell, but I’ll leave that up to your judgement. If you need to excuse yourself from the table during your meal with the intention of returning, place your napkin in your chair. Make sure that it is loosely folded and not crumpled into a ball. Since you’ll be returning to finish your meal, you will still need to be able to use your napkin…right ?

Napkin laying in chair - correct

Once the meal is complete and your host/hostess signals to everyone that the meal is complete, place your napkin to the left side of your plate. Again, do not roll your napkin in a ball, but merely a loose fold. And NEVER place your napkin in the center of the plate !!! In case you become confused about what to do with it or forget which side to place it on once your meal is complete, try this:  The side the napkin started on is the side it will finish on. Or better yet:  we read books left to right. Once we’ve finished reading a book, we close the cover and it ends up on the left side…again the side it started on. : )