Why Placing Food Scraps In Your Napkin Is An Etiquette Faux Pas

Whether you've accidentally bitten into a rotten cherry tomato or a tough piece of gristle, your automatic response might be to spit the offending food out discreetly into your napkin. However, this seemingly harmless action is actually a fine-dining etiquette faux pas.

Placing unwanted food in a napkin, while seeming like a tactful solution, can lead to half-chewed bits falling out onto the table, visible to other diners. This not only creates an embarrassing situation for the person who spat out the food, but can also be unpleasant for those around them. Additionally, when servers clear the table, they risk touching or accidentally dropping the chewed food while handling the soiled napkin. 

Furthermore, discarded bits of food could potentially stain your clothing if they soak through the napkin. No one wants to deal with awkward stains, especially on a date, or during a business dinner. To avoid such mishaps, it's best to simply place the unwanted food on the upper left portion of your plate.

How to politely dispose of unwanted food

Fortunately, proper dining etiquette doesn't require you to eat gristle, or other unpleasant bits of food. Oddly enough, the most polite way to handle this situation is to remove the food from your mouth using the same utensil with which it was eaten — fork, spoon, fingers, etc. — and discreetly place it on the upper left portion of your plate. You should still try to be subtle about this action, as your dining companions likely don't want to see your chewed food. If necessary, you can excuse yourself to the restroom and discard the food privately in the trash.

That being said, if you place food back on your plate after it's been in your mouth, it's ideal to cover the discarded food with other bits to maintain the appetites of others at the table. Additionally, the entire scenario of spitting food out should remain unacknowledged and undiscussed.

Proper napkin etiquette

When leaving the restaurant, your first instinct might be to crumple your napkin and place it on the table or your plate, but this is considered poor etiquette. Instead, there are specific ways to leave your napkin, each conveying a different message to your server.

For example, if you're stepping away from the table briefly (to use the restroom, for instance), you should loosely fold your napkin and place it on your chair; pushing your chair in signals to your server that you'll be returning. Avoid placing your napkin on the table, particularly if others are still eating. Additionally, if your napkin has food stains, make sure to fold it in a way that prevents the stains from transferring to the chair.

At the end of your meal, you may place your napkin on the table, preferably to the left of your plate, and it should again be loosely folded. While napkin etiquette rules may seem overly strict at times, try to keep in mind that they usually serve a practical purpose.