Picking Up The Napkin You Dropped Is Actually Bad Restaurant Etiquette

There are a rather shocking amount of restaurant etiquette rules related to napkins. Most of these involve proper napkin placement. During a restaurant dinner, for example, the napkin should always be in your lap, preferably folded, with the fold side closest to your body. Why? So that if you need to pat your face (never wipe), the napkin is properly positioned. If you excuse yourself from the table for any reason, the napkin should be left on your chair pending your return.

What if you drop the napkin while transferring from table to lap or from lap to chair? Do not pick it up. This is poor table manners, for the same reason picking up a fork from the floor would be poor table manners. As one TikToker notes in an excellent video on the subject, replacing the napkin in this manner is not hygienic. It allows germs picked up on the floor to be introduced to the table.

Remember, the reasoning behind virtually all etiquette rules is consideration towards your fellow diners and, in a restaurant context, towards servers and staff. Thus, any inconsiderate action — in this case, introducing germs to a table filled with food — should be avoided. Of course, leaving the napkin on the floor isn't an option either.

What to do if you drop your napkin

If you drop your napkin in a restaurant, the proper course of action is to notify a server and politely ask to replace the compromised napkin with a clean one. Naturally, there is a correct way to do this as well. Don't try to signal your server from afar in a busy restaurant. In fact, try not to call attention to the dropped napkin in any way. If a server is not nearby, wait until one appears at the table. Then, make a polite request. In many cases, this won't be necessary since if servers witness a napkin being dropped, they will replace it of their own accord.

Of course, this rule must be modified if dining in your own or someone else's house. There are no servers on hand during most dinner parties, for example. In this situation, it's still not permissible to pick up the napkin and inconspicuously return it to your lap. Instead, let your host or hostess know what has happened and politely request a new napkin. The key word in both settings — house or restaurant – is polite. Acknowledge that you've dropped a napkin, and ask for a clean one in as unobtrusive and as polite a fashion as possible.

Advanced etiquette for dropped items

When the server (or host or hostess, alternatively, in a private setting) brings you a new napkin following a dropping incident, all the standard etiquette rules instantly apply. That means that if you're in the middle of a meal, the napkin should be returned to your lap and in the proper position (folded and oriented for mouth patting, if necessary). Do not display these napkin ministrations to your fellow guests, however. Such actions should take place out of sight, below the table level.

Dropped item etiquette is essentially the same regarding napkins and utensils, but there is one exception. Although there is no plausible instance in which it is okay to bend down and retrieve a soiled napkin, there is a situation in which it's permissible to retrieve a dropped fork or knife. As Emily Post points out, if you think said utensil might prove dangerous to others (causing a tripping hazard, for example), then it is incumbent upon you to remove the hazard immediately. Don't put it back on the table. Keep it in hand until you can alert a server and politely request a replacement.