“Do not talk with your mouth full.”
“Please put your napkin in your lap.”
“Elbows off the table.”
We have all heard these things many times and have learned what it means to have proper table manners. Have you ever stopped to think why we follow these rules and where exactly they came from?
As I was searching for the particulars that go beyond the basic rules of napkin etiquette, I was surprised to find out how many people do not know the importance of putting their napkins in their laps! Oh my!
Napkins originated in France where they began as a large napkin that was shared around the table (eww). Gradually napkins became a more personal size, and by the 1700’s there were rules in place to guide one in its use.
Once the hostess has taken her napkin from the table and placed it in her lap, you may do the same. Leaving your napkin on the table is a sign of bad manners. Placing the napkin in your lap has two basic functions. First, the napkin is not to be seen and can be hidden under the table in your lap. Second, crumbs that drop will most likely fall to your lap, and more than one spoiled outfit has been avoided by having a napkin in its proper place! Because napkins are not to be seen, they should be placed discreetly in your chair and not on the table, if you have to excuse yourself for any reason.
Napkins are to dab the food from your mouth, not wipe it.
When the meal is over you can then place the napkin on the table to the left of your plate. If your napkin was in a napkin ring it should begin by having the point facing towards your chair. When you finish the meal you should return the napkin to the ring and face it towards the center of the table (still on the left side of your plate).
Although there are times when it seems that it might be best to tuck your napkin under your chin, the only time this is appropriate would be a meal of lobster or a place where it was culturally acceptable (not here!). Otherwise, “napkin in your lap” should remain the standard.