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Napkin Etiquette -- the final int'l protocol??

  • g

Seems there are two schools for where to leave one's napkin when temporarily leaving the table: on one's seat or on the table. Personally, learned it's best left on the seat (who wants to see a dirty napkin on the table?) And in the top establishments a new napkin is often set on the chair or to the left. Mid-high-end restos don't usually have enough staff to attend to everyone's napkins, and in my experience nothing is ever done with my napkin left on my seat. But then, the seat is dirty, and don't want to blot my lips with a dirty nap....

Should one leave it on one's seat, or to the left/ right of one's plate?


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  1. On the back of one's chair, we have been there and discussed that about 2 weeks ago,

    7 Replies
    1. re: Candy

      unless your napkin is covered in mayo sauce, ketchup or goo.

      1. re: MidtownCoog

        can we all sing along....

        don't drown your food... in mayo, or ketchup or goo.... it's so fun to eat when its practically plain... so don't drown your food.

        or am I the only one who was glued to the electric company & sesame street as a child?

        1. re: MidtownCoog

          You're all wrong. Here's what to do: call the waiter over and ask for a fresh napkin, then leave the fresh napkin on the table until you return. If it's a gastronomic emergency, take the napkin with you and RUN TO THE BATHROOM! In some instances, etiquette be damned! :)

          1. re: JACK

            i just leave it tucked into my shirt collar ;)

            1. re: mark
              Shep the Sugarfree

              The instructions linked below, for the proper folding of pocket handkerchiefs, provide a valuable clue for the way the gentleman diner deals with his napkin when he must rise from his place. The "Puff Fold" is almost instantaneous, can be executed by even a gentleman, and will certainly add a bit of dash to anyone wearing a sport coat or jacket. Those not dining in sport coats or jackets, need not be quite so concerned about the niceties of napkin etiquette.

              Link: http://www.champagneclub.org/pocket.html

        2. Don't forget, that when you are done the proper thing to do is to take your napkin home as a souvenir.

          Seriously here's a link from a few weeks ago with other napkin etiquette tips:

          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.

          Peggy Post says put it to the left. Nathalie Dupree, PBS host of 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. If you leave it on the seat, 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.

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

          As to the back of the chair, there is the issue of crumbs in the napkin which would fall to the floor and a full painting-like display of any napkin stains .... eeeewww.

          Of course, MY napkins always are as pristine at the end of the meal as at the start as I am such a meticulous eater.

          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          1 Reply
          1. re: rwornage

            What was that you said about cioppino?

          2. After reading this and the previous thread I am totally confused. What about the difference between cloth and paper napkins? How about indoor and outdoor dining? Buffett vs. served?

            My only solution is once I sit down, I can never get up again until the end of the meal.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Peter

              While there is no consensus, the majority of opinion on the web is to put the napkin to the left of your plate whatever the material is and type of service.

              You gotta put your plate somewhere if leaving the buffet for the rest room so wherever that place is, put your napkin to the left of the plate resting spot.

              1. re: Peter

                drop your napkin on the floor. go to the bathroom. when you return, ask for a new one.

                1. re: Peter

                  PAPER...napkins? Oh, my.

                2. There is a common sense reason for leaving your napkin on your chair when you leave the table. First of all, when you leave it to the left of your plate you are signaling the wait staff that you are done and will not be returning. Second, the table should be balanced with each place having essentially the same items - napkins are in the laps. The other common sense reason is that you respect your fellow diners too much to show your messy napkin to them while they are enjoying their meal. If you need to leave, lightly fold your napkin so that the messy part is not touching the seat of the chair and leave it there until you return.
                  There actually is a right and wrong way to handle yourself at the table. While Peggy Post does put her opinion of napkin etiquette in her book, she is in the true minority of etiquette experts who believe it should be placed on the table during the meal. It follows the same rule that eating utensils follow - once you pick them up off the table, you don't put them back there. While the utensils are taken away from the table with the plates, the napkin does get put back to the left of the diner to signal the meal for that person is over.

                  1. Put it to the left of your plate.

                    I was out a few months ago and watched another diner put their napkin on the chair. As he walked away, static or something caused it to fall to the floor as he walked off. A busboy walked by, picked it up, and put it *back* on his chair. Somehow, nobody else in his party noticed. He came back and put it back in his lap.

                    This could never happen if you left it on the table.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Raids

                      Putting a napkin on a plate would result in a very dirty napkin, especially if there is a lot of sauce in the dish, that I would not want to have on my lap upon my return.

                      1. re: reatard

                        I believe Raids said put it to the left of the plate,not on the plate. That would indeed be messy.

                    2. I don't recall ever making my napkin so messy that it would offend anyone's senses. That's silly, really. OH NO!! How dare you show me your napkin! Horror!
                      Putting you napkin where you and everyone else has their ass on, now that's disgusting. Is it me or does it make infinitely more sense to just fold your napkin a bit, put it next to your plate and go to the bathroom?
                      And if a waiter doesn't know that it's the middle of my meal and I'm simply excusing myself and that I'm NOT finished (hint: food on plate...) then he's not doing his job. When I'm done, it's not the leaving a napkin in a certain place that signals I'm leaving, not to return. It's paying the bill that say's "I'm done'.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: monavano

                        <Putting you napkin where you and everyone else has their ass on, now that's disgusting.>

                        Dunno about you, but I usually wear pants when I dine out. Is the cloth on the seat of my pants somehow filthier than the cloth on my sleeve, which probably touched the table next to my plate at some point?

                      2. I take mine with me. You never know.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: beevod

                          To the bathroom? Where do you put it?

                          1. re: monavano

                            On the seat, silly, where else?

                        2. I wear mine on my head, it makes things very festive.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: redfish62

                            No kidding- my MIL had a napkin fashioned for her head. We were on a Disney cruise and much to her horror, we let our waiter know it was her birthday. He made Mickey Mouse ears with her napkin and made here wear it while a crew sang to her.
                            She was mortified!

                            1. re: redfish62

                              A buccaneer's knot ,appropriate limp and a rousing rendition of Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum will surly liven up any dull,plodding dinner.. Bravo.

                            2. Protocol? Etiquette? Am I socially disfunctional ... or is this a non issue? Who cares what is the 'acceptable' behaviour - do we really need a list of rules on how to behave in publc?
                              Forgive me, I'm English - we're a bit wild when it comes to social niceties. Or it it that we are repressed? - I keep forgetting to check the latest reports. (I do know not to run naked through a restaurant on Sundays - but where to position my napkin?? That's not in my book of rules).
                              Anywho - stick in in your ear or wave it like a flag - who cares?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Peg

                                I think it's a non -issue, but the OP thinks it's an issue.

                                Unless, of course, you "run naked through a restaurant on Sundays"...THEN, you should definitely keep the napkin in your lap! It's just the polite thing to do :0)

                                1. re: sedimental

                                  Actually, after posting this, I thought of a time (when I was much younger and fearless) and the "streaking" craze hit the US in the '70's. Well...errr... let's just say that the patrons at International House of Pancakes at 2 am...will never think of "sunny side up eggs" the same way ever again!!! LOL

                              2. This resurrected thread is one of the reasons I Love Chowhound.

                                Now, if I could just remember which side is the left side I'd know where I left my napkin.