Table Manners: Using Your Napkin while Dining

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Using a table napkin properly is more than just swiping at your mouth while eating spaghetti or some other messy food. Whether the napkin is made of paper or cloth, the manner of politely using it stays the same.

After you're seated, wait for your host or guest of honor to pick up the napkin and place it on his lap. Use this signal as an indicator for you, the guest, to do the same. You can find the napkin either to the left of the forks, beneath the forks, or on the main plate. In a restaurant, the napkin may be folded in a fancy way and placed on the plate or in a glass.

It's not necessary to fully open a large napkin; just fold it in half. However, you can completely open a smaller luncheon napkin. The napkin remains on your lap throughout the entire meal and should be used to gently blot your mouth. If you need to leave the table during the meal, place your napkin on your chair and quietly excuse yourself from the table. Don't refold it.

No matter what the occasion, you shouldn't flap your napkin around like a flag before placing it in your lap, and don't tuck your napkin into your shirt like a bib. Never use a napkin to wipe off lipstick or to blow your nose!

[Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Perkus 2012]
Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Perkus 2012

In more upscale restaurants, your server places your napkin on your lap for you, and when you leave the table temporarily, this member of the wait staff will bring you a fresh napkin and place it to the left of your plate.

After the meal is over, the host signals the end of the meal by placing his napkin on the table. You should follow suit by placing your napkin neatly on the table to the left of your dinner plate, with no soiled areas showing. Don't refold your napkin, wad it up, or place it on your plate.

Knowing your table manners gives you more confidence in embracing new dining experiences, whether it's dinner at a fancy restaurant, job interviews over a meal, or a meal at a friend's home.


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