Sometimes etiquette consultants don’t know all the answers. Shocking, I know! And sometimes etiquette consultants don’t agree with each other. I have been amused by a rather vociferous exchange on one of my etiquette consultants LinkedIn groups about what to do with your napkin when you get up during a meal and when you’re done at the end of the meal.
Most etiquette consultants agree the napkin should be placed on your chair when you leave the table for a moment during the meal. The napkin goes to the left of the plate, slightly crumpled up to hide any stains, at the conclusion of the meal. But several consultants weighed in to state that the napkin should be placed on the back of the chair, the arm of the chair or on the table when you step away during the meal.
One consultant even said the napkin is not meant to wipe your mouth, but merely to cover your lap from spills and that there should also be paper napkins on the table for wiping your mouth. I had to both laugh and cry at that one. And what do you do with the paper napkin? Oy vey!
When I am looking for the final word on etiquette I turn to my etiquette books written by Letitia Baldridge, who was Chief of Staff to Jacqueline Kennedy in the White House, author of numerous etiquette books and named by Time magazine as “America’s leading arbiter of manners.”
I was pleased to read that what I teach corresponds with what Letitia espouses.
I thought a primer on napkin etiquette might be helpful to you, my dear readers. Put your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down. If the napkin is folded in a triangle, unfold it under the table and refold it into a rectangle. That way your lap is better covered in the event of spills. If it’s a small napkin, put it on your lap unfolded completely.
Blot your mouth often, but especially before you take a drink from your glass so that you don’t leave greasy lip prints on your glass.
And, as I stated earlier, when you get up during the meal to use the restroom put your napkin on the seat of your chair. Keep your napkin on your lap during a presentation even if you are finished eating. Your napkin stays on your lap until you leave the table. Then it gets crumpled up a bit hiding any stains and placed to the left of the plate. Never put your napkin on your plate.
Now that said, if your host does something different, then feel free to follow suit. The bottom line with etiquette is to be kind and gracious and not make anyone feel uncomfortable.
I’d love to hear if you were taught to put your napkin in a different place.