Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Aug 16, 2005 11:55 PM

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?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.


        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.


          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.