A brief history:
- The Spartans used to wipe their hands on sliced bread. The Romans used their cloth napkins for wrapping food to take home after a feast. Paintings of the Last Supper show a communal napkin on the table.
- We lost napkins altogether in the Middle Ages. Wiping the hands with clothing and bread seemed fairly convenient at the time.
- Eventually, the French gave us the forerunner of today’s napkin. The old French word naperon means “little tablecloth.” It was a long towel that was laid over the couch on which an honored guest was to sit during the meal. A long towel was also placed in front of the master’s place.
Today’s napkin placement:
- Today, in North America, the napkin is placed to the left of the place setting. In Europe, you may see the napkin placed to the right of the place setting.
When to pick up your napkin:
- When you sit down at a dinner table, it is important that you do not touch anything on the table. This means that you do not reach for your napkin or for a piece of bread. Think of dining as a well-orchestrated play. Everyone has to do what the script calls for.
- If you are at a hosted diner, the host will pick up his or her napkin. This is your signal that the meal has begun. You may now pick up your napkin.
- Now lift the napkin off of the table and turn it right onto your lap. Still under the table, open the napkin so that the fold faces your waist. Never unfold the napkin all the way. The open part of the napkin is facing your knees.
- In fine restaurants, be sure to wait before placing your napkin in your lap, as your server may also be trying to place your napkin in your lap.
- If the napkin is folded in a fancy manner or resembles either a swan or an erector set, simply place the entire creation on to your lap and unfold this artistic project under the table.
- Worried about your napkin leaving small white specks of fuzz all over your black Armani slacks? Most upscale restaurants are able to provide you with a black napkin on request.
Napkin Placement When Excusing Yourself:
- If you need to leave the table during the meal, your napkin is placed on the seat of the chair. Say “Please excuse me” to the persons seated on either side of you. There is no need for further explanation. Exit your chair from its right and push the chair under the table.
- When you return, pull the chair out and pick up your napkin. After seating yourself (from the chair’s right), place the napkin back on your lap. In some establishments, staff may refold your napkin and place it either on the arm of your chair or to the left of your place setting.
If You Drop Your Napkin:
- If you drop your napkin from the table, do not attempt to retrieve it. Politely ask your server for a replacement.
Napkin Placement at Meal’s End:
- When your host picks up his or her napkin and places it to the left of his or her place setting, this is your signal that the meal is over.
- When you are ready to leave the table, pick up your napkin by its center and loosely fold it over. Place it to the left of where your fork was originally set (to the left of the place setting). Exit your chair from its right side and push the chair under the table.
People notice your behavior. Follow these simple guidelines and you will always appear well-schooled and competent in business and social manners.
Excerpts of blog taken from the book: Hospitality Management – People Skills & Manners on and off the Job. Copyright © 2015 Lyn Pont, PhD
“Pont’s book is a must-read for anyone considering a career in hospitality.”
— Isadore Sharp, chairman and founder, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
See the book at: www.HospitalityManners.com
Visit Lyn at: www.MannersForBusiness.com
Lyn Pont, Ph.D. – World’s Top 30 Hospitality Professionals, 2016 – Global Gurus