Saturday, April 16, 2016

How a Lady Uses a Table Napkin

A lady observes the following guidelines for proper use of a table napkin:

  • Leave the napkin on the table until the hostess signals the start of the meal by picking up her napkin.  If there is no host, wait until two or three others are seated at the table to remove your napkin from its place.
  • Don't unfold the napkin above the table; bring it under the table and open it just above your lap. If it is a larger cloth napkin, fold it in half and place it in your lap with the fold side closest to the waist. Smaller cloth napkins and paper napkins are unfolded completely.
  • With two fingers extended behind your napkin, use it to blot your lips, first on one side of the mouth and then on the other, creating an invisible "V" over your mouth. This is done whenever you feel you might have something on your mouth and every time you are about to take a sip of your drink, to prevent smudging the rim of your glass with your lips.
  • Raise your napkin to cover your mouth and nose if you suddenly cough or sneeze. Think of the napkin as a screen behind which you are coughing or sneezing, not as a handkerchief to wipe or blow your nose.  
  • Should you need to excuse yourself from the table during the meal, the napkin is laid in loose folds to the left of your dinner plate.  Be careful that any soiling on your napkin is turned under and not in view of other diners. 
  • Never spit unwanted food into the napkin.  Anything that cannot be swallowed should be discreetly removed with your fork and tucked under some other food or garnish on the plate.
  • Keep your napkin in your lap until the hostess signals the end of the meal by removing hers from her lap.  When there is no host, wait until everyone at the table is finished eating before placing your napkin, loosely folded, to the left of your plate.

Photo: appearing on Pinterest


  1. Replies
    1. Trish, I thank you for your kind remarks and great support!

  2. Dear Miss Nancy:
    Once again, another fabulous post! Thank you!
    Mrs. B

    1. Mrs. B, your comments are always such a pleasure. I'll be dropping by Bunny Cottage for a virtual cup of tea soon!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Actually, etiquette authority Letitia Baldridge states that, should you need to excuse yourself from the table during a meal, your napkin should be placed on your chair.

    It is only when you leave the dining table after the meal's conclusion that you should leave your napkin on the table, to the left of your plate, loosely positioned to avoid showing any signs of use.

    Helpfully, Dagmar

    1. Hello, Dagmar,and thank you for sharing this information.

      You are, of course, quite right. Etiquette authorities have been embroiled in a very enthusiastic debate about this point for years, and it certainly is proper to place the napkin on the chair when one leaves the table during the meal. The other school of thought, however -- the one I've represented here -- is that for sanitary reasons it is better to keep the napkin on the table instead of allowing it to touch the area where people rest their rear ends. Either way is proper, as long as any unsightly part of the napkin is not in view of others at the table. I hope this helps shed some light on the differing views. I appreciate hearing from you!

  5. Nancy, I so agree! I've never understood the "place it on the chair" school of thought. I can't tell you how many wedding receptions and networking dinners I've attended where waitstaff has come around during my temporary time away from the table and lifted my napkin from the table and laid it over the back of the chair. The chair back is not any cleaner than the seat really, and I'd prefer my napkin be untouched, thank you veddy much.

    1. I loved reading your comment, Jean! Thank you.