The Napkin Etiquette Rule To Know When Dining At A Fancy Restaurant

Fancy manners are more than just a way to show off high social status. They're also markers of respect and civility and thus particularly important in cross-cultural settings, where etiquette becomes a kind of common language, or in a business context where one is representing an entity like a company or brand that has certain values it wants to uphold.

Sure, it can seem a little silly to have so many rules to have to negotiate during what should be a pleasurable experience. But fine dining is always about more than the meal. It's also about the experience, and since that experience is being shared with others, you'll want to respect your dinner partners by observing proper etiquette.

If you thought figuring out which fork to use was difficult — it's not, by the way, just work from the outside in — you'll really be surprised by the number of etiquette rules relating to napkins. The first one is easy, however. Once you sit down, unfold the cloth napkin from its original aesthetic configuration, then fold it neatly in half, relocate it to your lap, and keep it there. There's a certain way to orient it, of course, but for starters just remember that if you're in your seat, the napkin should be in your lap.

Basic napkin etiquette in fine dining settings

This napkin rule assumes that the meal in question is dinner. If it's lunch, the napkin shouldn't be folded, but instead laid openly across the lap. But since most fine dining occurs in the context of dinner, let's stay with the fold. When folding the napkin and placing it in your lap, one side will contain the folded over portion. This side should be pointing inwards toward your body, so that it's easier to raise the napkin to your face if needed.

Should an occasion arise where your napkin is needed, never use a wiping motion. Instead, simply dab at the corners of the mouth. If your napkin becomes stained during dinner, refold it (below table level, of course) so that the stains are not visible to other diners. If you have to use the restroom, leave the napkin on your chair, and then return the chair to its proper position at the table so that busy waitstaff don't have to do it for you.

Don't announce, however, that you're going to use the restroom. Simply excuse yourself and leave it at that. When you regain your seat, fold the napkin again, and return it to your lap with the folded portion facing inwards. This is where it goes whenever you are seated.

Advanced napkin etiquette and social cues

Aside from orienting the fold and dabbing rather than wiping, there's nothing terribly complicated about proper napkin etiquette. For truly impeccable manners, however, there are a few other niceties which should also be observed.

For starters, most dinners will have a host, and it is from this individual that everyone else at the table should take their cues. For instance, don't move the napkin to your lap until your host has already done the same. This is common courtesy. Likewise, when the meal is over, your host should be the first one to return the napkin to the table. There is a particular way to do this, of course, and in this case, the napkin should not be folded. Just return it naturally to the table on your left-hand side, where the forks were originally placed.

The napkin is there to use on your mouth or hands when necessary. Never use it to clean or polish your silverware, and by all means, keep it away from your nose. A restaurant napkin is not a Kleenex tissue. If you need to blow your nose, don't do it at the table. Remove yourself to a restroom, and attend to the matter in private. Remember to leave the napkin on your chair when you get up. If you didn't need to be reminded of this, congratulations: You've mastered the fine art of napkin etiquette.