Napkin etiquette? Really? In the 21st century? You bet.
There you are, the confident traveler. You sweep into a restaurant or bistro. Maybe you’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to dinner at a local family’s home. No matter where you end up eating, you’ll want to set aside casual American attitudes about dining and honor the customs that make humans civilized…including the use of napkins.
Napkins can create confusion and awkward moments, just when you’re looking forward to a delicious food experience.
Without being too preachy, here are a few napkin etiquette reminders that will put you in good stead all over the world.
- Put your napkin in your lap as soon as you sit down. Here’s a link that shows how to unfold the napkin. Exception: If the meal is a buffet, wait until you have returned to your place.
- Tiny caveats: If you’re dining at someone’s home, or in a hosted restaurant setting, wait until the guest of honor or host/hostess sits and picks up their napkin. Also, in some restaurants, the server may place the napkin on your lap. Smile and say thank you.
- Once the napkin is in your lap, it stays there until the end of the meal.
- No tucking into your belt or shirt. Sorry, it’s just not acceptable.
- If you leave the table, set your napkin on the left side of the plate. In the U.K. some people put the napkin on their chair; personally, I’d avoid leaving my napkin where butts have been. Go with the table.
- Blot your mouth with the napkin, especially before taking a drink. (Keeps the rim of the glass from looking gross.)
- After the meal, loosely fold the napkin to hide any spots and set it to the left of the plate. Cloth or paper, the rule is the same. And never, ever put it on the plate.
While researching for this blog post, I found a handy guide with tips for eating in France, Germany, and Italy. It’s directed at business travelers, but it applies to all of us. Read it here.