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A day in the life of a cloth restaurant napkin.

Two spaces open up at the bar. The barmaid quickly clears the dishes and used napkins from the last patrons, does a quick wipe down with a towel she will use most of the night.

You sit down, and she asks if you'd like a cocktail. She makes you a dry martini and proceeds to peel you a fresh twist. She squeezes a lime into your sparkling water. And hands you a menu, place setting and napkin.

You place the napkin on your lap. You use it to wipe your mouth. You use it to cough into. You use it to wipe your hands after you politely sneezed into your hands. You wipe your mouth.

And you set the napkin next to your plate.

She clears your plate. She clears your napkin.

She wipes down the counter, and begins preparing another customer a martini, with a twist, and a sparkling water with a squeeze of lime.

And the evening continues.

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  1. This is a revelation? Think about waiters and waitresses who take your cash and then immediately head into the kitchen and touch food. Even if that bartender never touched a soiled napkin, she touches herself hundreds of times during the course of the evening without even thinking about it. Her eyes, her face, her hair, maybe pulls her underwear out of her crack through her pants (I know, graphic, but people do these things without even realizing it), etc. It's part of life. Always has been for all my 53 years and I'm still alive.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ttoommyy

      There's no reason that a waiter or waitress should be going into the kitchen and touching the patron's food. The waiter or waitress should be merely picking up plates with food on them.
      Even when I waited tables more than 40 years ago, we didn't touch the food. if we had to fill salad bowls or ladle sides into monkey dishes we used tongs or spoons, etc. Even rolls from the bun warmers were placed in baskets using tongs.

      In many states and/or municipalities food handlers (not waiters/waitresses) must use gloves if touching food.

      1. re: bagelman01

        In many chain restaurants, and even "mom & pop restaurants" servers fix salads, dish up soups, plate desserts, etc. Yes, they use utensils to do this work, but absolute safe food handling practices go out the window when it gets crazy busy. My point is that you just can't escape these things and it's no big deal.

        1. re: ttoommyy

          And sometimes some of these servers aren't taught proper kitchen hygiene/sanitation.

          But, in many places they are and tables wiped down with wet cloths are from cloths reserved in a bucket of sanitizer. In NYC you see the proper forms observed, but in the 'burbs, much less so.

          This is due to stringent NYC health inspectors keeping restaurants and bars inline through frequent visits.

    2. I keep the napkin on my lap. Prefer another napkin to dab my lips.

      You forgot about people who put the napkin on the chair seat when they leave the table..

      1 Reply
      1. re: miss_belle

        "I keep the napkin on my lap. Prefer another napkin to dab my lips. "

        Not sure I understand what this is about. What's the purpose of the napkin on your lap if not to use on your lips? And does it mean you always request two napkins when you dine out?

        1. re: carolinadawg

          often she is washing glasses in between many of these steps and, in the process, her hands get soaked many times a night in soapy, antibacterial, hot, water.

          1. And the point is? The napkin goes into the laundry after you've used it and the next person gets a fresh one...

            2 Replies
            1. re: Kajikit

              The OP's point is the bartender touches the dirty napkin and then continues to fix drinks, etc. with hands that touched the dirty napkin. Seems to bother the OP.

              1. re: ttoommyy

                The alcohol will kill any germs!

            2. Cloth napkins, the ones that are starched are awful, I just place on my lap and use a paper napkin for everything else. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone leaving used tissues in their plates and seeing wait staff picking them out with their hands. Think about that!

                1. I watched a busser, knowing in advance what was going to happen: Table was cleared. Seats were wiped with damp towel. Table was then wiped with same towel. I almost threw up. I know it happens, I just don't want to see it happen.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: RLTRLDY

                    This would only bother me if it were a nudist restaurant.

                    1. re: carolinadawg

                      Yup. Ideally that damp towel is supposed to be kept in some variety of bleach or sanitizer solution.

                      1. re: babette feasts

                        I just came here to say the same thing, it's not some rag they found in a corner somewhere.

                      2. re: carolinadawg

                        I've never been to a nudist restaurant, but aren't you supposed to sit on a towel?

                        1. re: babette feasts

                          nor have I, but I think it is a requirement! are towels provided or self catering? do they offer you cloth napkins to sit on and cover your junk? do you take the napkin with you? or leave it behind for the waitstaff to remove with your dinner plates and utensils? not to mention the lactating woman who orders lobster. what happens with the lobster bib?

                    2. Germs. The problem is not that you have too many of them, but too few.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S

                        No, this simplistic. People have plenty of bacteria, but most of them are not harmful and many are beneficial. The problem is the few percent that are harmful. It is these that we are properly concerned about being spread through contact.

                        Influenza, for example, can be spread through contact and is communicable for a few days after a person believes he has recovered from it. It could very easily be spread through careless handling of napkins at a bar. The reason it doesn't happen often is just because not many people are out and about with the flu.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          Well, I was being humorous.

                          Of the nastiest viruses, the virus that is probably most contagious is the norovirus (aka among folks in the medical trade as "throw and go" - aka as "stomach flu" but it is of course not an influenza virus, and sometimes mistaken for "food poisoning" - basically, violent vomiting and diarrhea, often resulting in dehydration), because people are most contagious *after* their symptoms abate (unlike more familiar viruses) and victims are keen to leave their sickbed upon feeling well. They should self-quarantine for 2-3 days more at least. This is why it spreads so fast on ships - people don't want to waste their vacation $$$....

                          1. re: Karl S

                            Yes, Norovirus is nasty. It occasionally gets into a restaurant, and the place must be shot down for a day to sanitize everything.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              Huh. I thought noro was an STD. Guess not.

                              1. re: linguafood

                                So not so.

                                When employees report symptoms of norovirus (regardless of what they call it - "throw and go" is actually a very good specific image to keep in mind), employers should be *ordering* their staff to stay home after their symptoms abate. (Unless employers want more staff and customers to be infected; ignorant employers can be penny wise and pound foolish in this regard.)

                                1. re: Karl S

                                  See, and that's what always left me scratching my head over these *highly* contagious diseases. Pink-eye, hep B.... on one hand, it's supposedly only passed on through body fluids --- on the other hand, you're not even allowed to be in the same room with someone who has either. Does. not. compute.

                                  But hey, I'm not a doctor. I just play one at home occasionally '-D

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    Well, the thing about norovirus is that it is *not* killed with alcohol-based antiseptics, but you have to remove it from your fingers with soap and water and lots of friction. A lot of people don't do that, so the viruses, which live for quite a while, can get all over commonly touched surfaces.

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      If you are confused on this subject, it must be a result of your choice of sources of information. The best place to look is the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        I'm not as confused as you might think I am, nor is my interest in the subject particularly intense.

                                        Also, OT. Thanks anyway.

                        2. Isn't the problem the person using a napkin as a tissue or handkerchief - why do people cough, sneeze or even blow their nose in napkins.

                          I feel for servers having to deal with snotty napkins from uncouth diners.

                          19 Replies
                          1. re: PhilD

                            what would you propose someone do? Sneeze into their sleeve, then sit there with goo on their face? Wipe goo on their sleeve? How about wipe a runny nose and then head for the bathroom with goo on the hands that will now touch the bathroom door? Something considerably more disgusting?

                            Granted everyone *should* have a tissue at hand, but sometimes life doesn't work that neatly.

                            The diner should, then, offer to get up and take the offending napkin to the laundry bin or garbage can, as applicable, so the server doesn't have to delal with it.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              I think you answer the question you pose - carry a tissue or handkerchief.

                              I get the emergency sneeze or cough but I have seen people use the napkin instead far too often.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                but my point is that we've all been there -- a stealth sneeze that we didn't expect (or one that ended up being more, er, productive than we expected)-- couldn't get to the tissue or handkerchief fast enough, or *thought* you had one, but didn't. It happens.

                                I'd far rather see someone blow their nose discreetly into a napkin than any of the options I listed above.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Absolutely agree sunshine842. I carry tissues all the time. They are in my pocket. Many times I sneeze with no warning at all. I don't know about PhilD, but I cannot stall many of my sneezes until I get to my tissues.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Unfortunately I have seen it done many times - maybe it's one of those things that once you tune into it you then never miss it.

                                    And obviously the unexpected sneeze is understandable.

                              2. re: PhilD

                                I use to insist my servers refold (cloth) napkins for guests if they got up from the table for any reason. Even myself when working the floor would do the same. If someone got up to go to the bathroom, take a phone call in the foyer or for any reason left the table, we walked over pushed their chair in and picked up their napkin and refolded it as it was when they first sat.

                                When I use to do this I would try to pick the napkin up by a corner and quickly "snap" it, creating a triangle, where I would grab the other corner quickly and refold/replace.

                                Well one time the person got up to go to the bathroom and I went over to the table, picked up their napkin....."SNAPPED" it in the air........well the person had spit out a piece of fat or something in their napkin. When I "snapped" their napkin to refold it, the piece of fat.....became a high speed projectile which hit the woman in the face at the table next to the one I was at. The husband hearing his wife yell, and having seen my motion had assumed I "snapped" his wife in the face with the napkin (similar to locker room shower towel ass snap).

                                The wife who was struck was upset, the husband was on his feet (thank God I'm a large man or I think he would have hit first and asked questions second) and I'm there pointing to the piece of half chewed fat on the floor, when the person returned from the bathroom with the entire dining room staring at him / the scene.

                                The person couldn't have said "Check Please" fast enough. Now that my friends was a day in the life of a napkin!! :-(

                                  1. re: phofiend

                                    Sorry my friend. After spending 40+ years in or around the business there are very little, if any, restaurant topic's I don't have a story for.

                                    1. re: jrvedivici

                                      jrve..... with the passing of Veggo, whom I always read as Vay~go, I feel I would be remiss in not telling you that for absolutely no plausible reason, I read your name as arrivaderci and am almost always entertained. Cheers veggo.

                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          See the thread on site talk, we have lost our good friend.

                                      1. re: jrvedivici

                                        most places i worked required the napkins to be refolded also. i went to do it once and... the napkin was full of vomit.

                                        scarred for life.

                                          1. re: jrvedivici

                                            she then returned to the table and continued eating dinner.

                                            horrible.

                                    2. re: jrvedivici

                                      A just outcome of a screwball practice, in my opinion.

                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        Although I can't remember the last time a waiter placed a napkin on my lap, just last week our waiter refolded my napkin while I was away from the table. I don't think they did the lockerroom towel snap, but just discreetly fold and place.

                                      1. re: beevod

                                        eh, I blow my nose on it. No biggie.