Napkin etiquette: Leaving it neat while you retreat from the table

by EPI Staff on June 30, 2010

Q: What should you do with your napkin when you temporarily leave the table during a meal?

A: When you leave the table during a meal, you “always” place the napkin on the table (most often to the left of the plate). This way you reduce the risk of applying food from the napkin to your chair or possibly your clothing. We’ve heard too many stories where this is the result of a napkin left in or on a chair.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Remer June 30, 2010 at 1:08 am

This is a good one. I’ve heard it both ways. There is the issue of ‘silent communication’ with the wait staff at a restaurant ‘reading’ a napkin on the table as a signal that you are finished. Then there are those who think it’s disgusting to put their napkin where some else’s bum has been – which is sad commentary indeed. I find that most people do place their napkin on the table and, as you suggest, if done neatly, is a fine idea. No one, however, wants to see an unsightly well-used napkin on the table, or perhaps I’m just old fashioned?

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Heather June 30, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I very much disagree. I was taught to leave it on my chair, and I think it is a far better system. There are often lipstick stains, crumbs, sauce marks, etc., on my napkin, and none of my dinner companions would want that sitting next to their plate while they are eating!

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Steve December 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm

I too, learned to always put it on the chair, and only on the table when finished eating. This makes sense to me and is much more pleasing to the eye. Obviously one has to watch the chair, stains, etc. to avoid clothing mishaps, but with the point of everything to be nice to others at all times, putting it on the chair seems the best choice in terms of visual appeal to everyone else. So, I’d like more insight on how this has been handled traditionally and why the table is better, other than convenience and not sitting on the sauce.

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Just Laura December 19, 2011 at 10:14 am

While Miss Manners states in her book that the napkin is left upon one’s chair when one must excuse oneself mid-meal, I happen to prefer Emily Post’s rule that it be placed to the side of the plate. The reason I choose to ignore Miss Manners in this instance is only because I’m concerned that any sauces on my napkin may wind up on my hosts’ chair, or on my backside.

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Mike November 28, 2012 at 2:52 am

If one eats properly at the table, the napkin shouldn’t be full of lipstick and sauce marks anyway. Also, if the napkin is folded with the “used side” on the inside, it should be perfectly acceptable to place it on the table. Who wants to see or pick up a filthy napkin draped on a chair?

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Tina May 21, 2013 at 4:00 am

I have always placed my napkin to the side of my plate. The thought of leaving my napkin where others have previously sat and then wiping my mouth with it isn’t very appetizing.

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