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The expert's guide to napkin etiquette

From the choice of color to table placement and usage,learn never around your neck!

· French Etiquette

Napkins are to be used with all our meals and its etiquette is essential to know in practicing proper table manners.

This straightforward guide will teach you the rules of napkin etiquette for you to avoid any faux-pas in front of your host or your guests !

Be patient Jim, it's not that complicated

Which color ?

Informal table settings typically allow more creativity and use patterns and colors in the choice of napkins

Napkins vary in colors, patterns, fabrics and sizes. The formal dinner napkin matches with the table cloth color (white and cream) and fabric and is bigger in size than the lunch and breakfast napkins. Colors and patterns are to be expected in less formal events.

How to fold it ?

A double-star napkin fold

There are many ways to fold a napkin at less formal occasions, as a way to impress your guests with your hand skills, or simply to bring a touch of fantasy on the table. It may also be rolled up into a napkin ring.

However, at a formal occasion, the napkin will always be folded in a neutral, simple rectangular form.

Which napkin is mine ?

In a formal setting, you would find your napkin to the left of the fork or, sometimes, in the center of the charger plate (also called show plate).

In less formal occasions or lower-end restaurants, you can find the napkin in a water or wine glass, under the forks, or in a napkin ring placed on the charger or on the table left to the forks.

In China, the napkin is sometimes lying unfolded under the show plate but this is rarely seen elsewhere.

Where to place my napkin after I sit ?

As soon as you sit down, you would unfold your napkin gently and place it on your lap. A dinner napkin will be placed on your lap folded in half. For lunch, brunch, breakfast or tea party, the napkin is usually smaller in size and can be placed on your lap completely open.

How to wipe my mouth with it ?

Dab your mouth gently with the side of the napkin which will not touch your clothes

To wipe your mouth, gently dab your mouth on the corners. It is also vital that you use your napkin before sipping your wine or other beverage, so you don’t leave any greasy mouth marks on the lip of the glass. When wearing lipstick, avoid blotting it onto your napkin.

What if I need to leave the table ?

When excusing yourself from the table, put it back left to your plate roughly folded

Your napkin should not leave your lap throughout dinner but if you do need to leave the table for a moment, simply excuse yourself – no need to say where you are going – and place the napkin left of your plate gently roughly folded, which is how it is done in France.

An alternative option is to place it on the chair

In the UK or US, it is common to place the napkin onto the seat of your chair upon leaving the table for a moment.

Where to put it once the meal is finished ?

Nope, not here

When the meal is over, you would place your used napkin roughly folded back on the left of your plate, or if the table was cleared, leave it on the table where your plate was placed.

If the napkin was initially placed into a napkin ring, pull your napkin through the ring again before you leave the table for good.

BONUS : Why do the French turn their napkin around their head at weddings?

Because of a popular song named « Tourner les serviettes » (« Wave around the napkins »), which is not of the best taste nor the most elegant thing to do, but is certainly an amusing moment to watch or to take part in !

Napkin Etiquette No-Go’s

Don't even think about it !

Don’t tuck your napkin in your shirt collar

Don’t spit food into your napkin

Don’t blot lipstick on your napkin

Don’t use it to blow your nose

Don’t place your napkin into the plate when the meal is over

Do not use it to wipe your knife and cutlery

Founded in 2018 by Matthieu Ventelon, Hedonia is the first institution in China combining professional Wine and Etiquette expertise in the same training offer.

Find more information on our website :

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