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Etiquette Q&A: Cloth Napkins

Posted by on Oct 16, 2015

“Can you write about napkin etiquette? The cloth kind.”

Oft over-looked in favor of fretting which fork to use, is the importance of napkin etiquette.

Firstly, approach your napkin. It should be found to the left of your plate setting. If it is not there, all bets are off. I would then recommend you throwing a heavy object through the nearest window, and jumping out after it.

If there is a host/ess, you begin your napkin journey only once he/she embarks upon his/hers. Think of the napkin as the green flag of a NASCAR race (how absurd).

In a buffet style setting sans hosting, place the napkin in your lap upon taking your seat.

A Note on Napkin Rings

Remove from the thing, your napkin. Replace the then empty ring to setting’s top-left vicinity. At meal’s end, pull the napkin back through the ring, leading with its center. Leave it on the table with its point facing the center. No napkin ring? Fold loosely and lay to the left of your setting.


Once the napkin is in its place on your lap, it is best to remain seated through to the end of the meal. If you must get up before the dine is done, there are differing opinions as to the etiquette this entails. “differing opinions as to the etiquette this entails.” should, to be clear, horrify you.

One somewhat lesser accepted approach, happens to also be the one most people think to employ: that is leaving your napkin on your seat. If the seat is upholstered, leave the napkin’s messy side facing upward. Gross. Think here of the ramification to your pants on an un-upholstered chair (mess side down) — also your host’s tablecloth and the view of other guests in the case again of an upholstered one.

The other tactic you may empty is to leave the napkins at the left of your plate, messy side down and unfolded. This is far less of a risk, and the option I’d by far recommend.

Let’s delve into the proper etiquette for placing the napkin in your lap. You will want to begin by unfolding your napkin. Important: larger napkins shall be unfolded only partially, leaving them still folded in half — smaller napkins are unfolded completely. Whatever the size and the action it dictates, this is done with a minimalist and smooth motion, we do not snap our damned napkins, nor do we defecate in the damned finger bowl.

Don’t (Do):

Don’t tuck your napkin into anything, ever, Your belt, under your chin — you do not do this. Ever.

(It is to be draped over your lap.)

Don’t go to town on wiping your mouth-hole as if you’ve torn three squares of paper towels from the roll at your local BBQ dive pit hole.

(Instead, use your napkin frequently throughout, in blotting and patting motions. A good and perhaps unsuspected time to pat is prior to sipping your beverage.)

Meal’s End:

Again the napkin acts in the manner of a NASCAR flag (how absurd) this time in the form of a checkered one. The meal is over whence the host/ess indicates it is, via the setting down of his/her napkin in the manner indicated in our A Note on Napkin Rings segment up top.

Unless you wish to kick it General Table Etiquette from 1893 style: “The napkin is not folded, but is simply crushed and laid beside the plate on rising.” 

I’d loosely fold it.

All told, allow the napkin to be your guide. Find comfort and poise in its able employ. It indicates a start and conclusion — with an etiquette in-between that’s far from rocket science.

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Born in Brooklyn New York, Kaplowitz quickly ran away with the circus and somehow landed as a chef in the Chicago and Baltimore areas. He is a published author of poetry and prose, as well as a well seasoned podcaster and radio guy. Among his hobbies Kap counts writing bios of himself in the third person, casino trips, and walking his Dachshund, Ruby Vondella. Please follow him on Twitter @iamkap to be alerted as to his frequent Thrift Store purchases.

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