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Etiquette -- Napkin upon leaving the table mid-dinner

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Seems there are two rules of thought -- that it be left on the chair (as no one wants to see a used napkin on the table or next to a dish) -- which is what I usually do; or, that it be left to the right of the dish.......

Often, I return to the table and find the napkin on my seatback.... Occasionally remember obtaining a new napkin at ultra-high-end places. But for the normal places like Town, Daniel..... how best to leave the napkin to go to the ladies' room?

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  1. I've read of both - but I leave my napkin on the table, to the left of the plate in that circumstance. One thought against putting it on your chair is that you may have something on the napkin that might get on the chair and then stain your clothes when you sit down again.

    1. I was always told that you put your napkin on your chair when you leave the table mid-meal; a napkin on the table means you're done eating.

      I've never seen a server put the napkin on the back of the chair, ick! Then again, I don't eat in the temples of gastronomy, mostly because the atmosphere (full of worshipful people whispering about how $CHEF is being loving tonight or whatever, as though they really were in a temple) doesn't agree with me.

      I can see the point about not wanting to get goop on your clothes, but I suspect you'd probably use a clean corner of the napkin to "clean" the chair if need be, and then request another napkin. OTOH, if you're sitting on a nicely-upholstered chair you probably don't want to put your nasty napkin on the cloth.

      IMHO, as long as you're not displaying the piece of chewed gristle you had to eject into the napkin to the entire table, leave the napkin where it makes sense to you.

      1. Who wants to leave their napkin where someone's ass has been? I leave mine on the table to the left of my plate.

        1. I love that you list Daniel as a "normal" non-ultra-high-end place!

          I find I do it differently depending on the place. If it's casual, I'll fold the napkin and leave it on my chair, assuming that the server will think I'm done and take my plate away if I leave it on the table. At nice places I'll fold it and leave it by my plate, -- clean side up, always.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Jonathan Saw

            I wondered if someone was going to point that out!

            "I'm feeling rather Bohemian tonight, let's run down to that Daniel place and grab a quick bite, maybe we can go somewhere nice tomorrow."

          2. I tie mine around my neck as a cravat and take it with me to the Loo...(g)

            1. I was taught, once food appears on the table, if one leaves to go to the restroom, they don't come back to the table.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Alan408

                "I was taught, once food appears on the table, if one leaves to go to the restroom, they don't come back to the table."

                That seems rather strict, doesn't it? Do you still follow this rule?

                If I get up from the table - for any reason - I always neatly place my napkin to the left of my plate. That's what I've done and seen done by others all my life. In some restaurants, nothing happens to the used napkin. In others, someone comes along and refolds it, placing it back in its original position. And some high-ticket places will take it away and replace it with a new one. I've never seen it laid over the back of a chair and I've never returned to the table to find my plate missing.

              2. The napkin is laid on the chair seat if you intend to return to the table.

                The napkin is placed to the side of the plate, lightly crumpled, not refolded, when you are done.

                Please don't let restaurant practices confuse you. Restaurants do things that you wouldn't want to do. Just this weekend I was at a wedding where the servers picked napkins up off chair seats, refolded them into swans, and places them on the table in front of the plate! You shouldn't try this at home.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Browniebaker

                  Not to nit-pick but I believe that I've read that when you are done the napkin is placed on the side, folded. I'll consult my etiquette guide when I get home

                  1. re: Homer J

                    Looking this up on the web, napkin etiquette tips are hilarious. I have to get back to work, so I can’t look further, but each link is funnier than the previous.

                    The one thing I DO know is NEVER fold your napkin when you are finished. I learned this as a teen from a friend whose folks sent her to all sorts of finishing schools. One thing they didn’t seem to tell her was not to screech the rules of etiquette at your dining companion.

                    Ok, as to the issue of leaving the table, people are split on the matter on chair seat or table, or even hanging it over the back of your chair (usually frowned on). However if you do put it on the table put it on the LEFT of the plate, folded loosely (NEVER wadded). The napkin goes to the RIGHT when you are finished. Never knew that before.

                    Peggy Post says put it to the left. Nathalie Dupree, PBS host o Comfortable Entertaining says, “Napkins are meant to get messy; there’s no need to hide them.”

                    I guess I’ll go with these two gals and put it on the left of my plate. I can go with rules that make common sense. As others have said, a messy napkin might stain the seat of the chair and your clothes. I’m sure that fancy restaurant would appreciate stains on their $$$ material covered chair.

                    Also, since your napkin is supposed to be a crumb catcher, coming back and brushing the crumbs off the seat seems, well, tacky. Worse would be walking out with crumbs attached to the back of your attire. No one does address the issue of what to do with those crumbs. Shake your napkin out? Probably let them discretely slide to the floor, not using your foot to kick them out of the way. Don’t shout out “Waiter, clean up on table five”.

                    Also, as is said a lot, do you really want to wipe your lips with a napkin that has been where your butt was?

                    Hmmmm, no one has suggested just taking it with you to the restroom. You never know when they run out of paper towels to dry your hands.

                    You didn’t ask but here are the napkin etiquette rules I’ve gleaned to date.

                    1. Wait until the host unfolds his or her napkin. This is your signal to do the same.

                    This is, for the most part, the consensus. Some say wait until the last person is seated. If dining alone or at a banquet, place the napkin in your lap within 10 seconds of sitting. This is so that the napkin doesn’t block the server from putting utensils or dishes on the table.

                    2 Do not shake it open with a flourish (heh, heh). One site said this should never be done as though you are hosting an inexpensive magic show

                    3. Place your napkin on your lap, completely unfolded if it is a small luncheon napkin or in half, lengthwise, if it is a large dinner napkin. Put the fold toward your waist. Ir may also be placed with a quarter folded over the top.

                    One site instructed specifically the napkin went on the lap and not stuffed between your legs.

                    The napkin should never be tucked into your belt, collar, or shirt like a bib.

                    4. If you drop your napkin and it is the type of restaurant with hovering waiters, let the waiter pick it up. Otherwise, if it is in arms reach, pick it up discretely. No getting down on all fours and crawling under the table to retrieve the napkin. Ask for another napkin in that case and let the staff decide if they want to retrieve the wayward napkin immediately or after you leave.

                    5. The host will signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should place your napkin neatly on the table to the right of your dinner plate. (Do not refold your napkin, but don't wad it up, either. NEVER throw it into your dirty plate.) Place it carefully so as not to spill any crumbs or anything else you might have dropped in your lap during the meal. Now this might explain not folding the napkin as folding would involve dealing with dropped crumbs.

                    Tips I think are funny, usually because I can’t imagine people doing this.

                    Do not blot or wipe your lipstick on a linen napkin. (eeeww) Use a tissue to blot your lipstick before you begin to eat.

                    Also, never use a napkin as a handkerchief. Never use it to blow your nose. And one site says attending to your nose should be done in the restroom.

                    Food should exit your mouth as it entered via fork or fingers and not spit into the napkin (poowh). Don’t make a production of removing food from your mouth by using your napkin as a sort of curtain to shield others from the removal process. I don’t know, I kind of like that idea.

                    One site said that if you think the removed food might make your dining companions ‘gag’, find a tissue to put it into.

                    Quite a few people asked if it was poor etiquette to wipe your mouth with the napkin or soil it. This is hilarious to me. I mean, isn’t that the point of a napkin?

                    The answer is always it is considered poor etiquette NOT to use your napkin. As one place said the purpose of the napkins is to keep food off your face. “Use it frequently to discreetly dap or wipe (no ear to ear swiping, please) your mouth. Replace the napkin on your lap loosely folded, not wadded and not stuffed between your legs.”

                    Another site advises to remember that the napkin is not a washcloth and shouldn’t be used in the same manner as a washcloth. Dab to clean up the messy spots, but don’t do the ridiculously affected dab.

                    This site has some funny tips for meal etiquette in the UK like “Never pick food out of your teeth with your fingernails.”


                    Link: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/a...

                    1. re: rworange

                      Okay, I think I had the never wad up the napkin when done confused with folding.

                      1. re: rworange
                        1 wiener hound

                        If you want something to think about, I am not so concerned where the napkin goes but when the person goes to the W/C I pray they wash their hands before leaving. Now that is proper etiquette when no one is watching.

                  2. When leaving the table mid-meal it is appropriate to grab your napkin near the center, form it into a rocket ship & place it in blast-off position to the immediate left of your plate.

                    If, upon exiting the table you should drop your napkin on the floor (as the Grubox is wont to do), the fine resto will typically replace it w a new one draped across the back of the chair. In your fave C-rated hole-in-the-wall, however, the vermin typically will have absconded w your napkin before your return & you will have to ask for a replacement. Or just go ahead & snag a fresh handful from the dispenser.

                    1. In a private home I follow traditional etiquette, which is to leave my napkin on my chair. No one wants to look at your napkin when it is gone. The napkin is left on the table at the end of the meal only.

                      In a restaurant, I leave it on the table if I have any doubts about how clean the chair may be. If I believe the chair to be clean, I leave it on my chair.

                      1. I think leaving it on your seat is fine. I would do a quick-fold and make sure a clean side is down so that you don't dirty the chair or your clothes upon returning.

                        It's funny b/c I almost never go to the restroom during a meal. I think my bladder shuts down b/c I'm so focused and don't want to miss a thing, like at a movie. Maybe that will change w/ age. If I go at the end of a meal, I'll neatly drape it on the table.

                        My husband, OTOH, always seems to use the restroom at some point towards the end of the meal, so I'm the "lucky" one who is privy to what the waitstaff does w/ his napkin. It's rather amusing to see someone sidle up to his chair seconds after he leaves. I've seen different ways of how waitstaff deal w/ the napkin: neatly laying it on the seatback; fancily folding it back up and leaving it on the chair or placing on top of table. It's a little awkward when I'm the only one at the table. We don't generally eat at fancy schmancy restaurants, but these things have most often occurred at higher-end places when we're splurging for a special occasion.

                        It's also amusing to see the look on his face when he returns. I sorta see why these places do this, but there's something weird about someone touching your dirty napkin and "properly" re-positioning it. I typically joke that I needed to keep myself occupied somehow when he left and that I've had secret training in napkin artistry.

                        It's my experience that people who are cognizant enough to ask etiquette questions are generally doing just fine. Given that restaurants have different ways of dealing w/ the napkin, I think you have some flexibility too.

                        1. for me, it depends on how soiled the napkin is. i was raised to put it on the chair, but, as someone below mentioned, i'm not crazy about putting my napkin where other's rears have been. if my napkin is fairly clean, i fold it neatest side up and place it beside my plate. if it's pretty dirty, i'll fold it and put it on the chair so nobody has to look at it.

                          1. Fold it once and place it on the back of the chair. Not the seat and not on the table.

                            1. All my life the erosion of manners, etiquette, and social norms have been witnessed. In today's schools the children are not even taught cursive writing. A bit off the topic, but to the point. The evolution of our society has turned a bit to dissolution. When Ms. Gentile testified at the Trayvon Martin Trial, a lot of people thought she was middle of the road. One commentator gave her a college scholarship! We are digressing as a society and in ten years this question might seem silly. I found it as an answer to a bet with my daughter. The proper placement is on your seat, until the meal is finished. The host or hostess determines the end of the meal by placing their napkin on the table. The napkin only returns to the table when the meal is finished... unless there is a MMA or UFC fight or football on TV, then the proper protocol is over the remote control possession.