The Napkin Etiquette Rule You Should Know For Fancy Restaurants

According to Pamela Eyring, President and Director of The Protocol School of Washington, how you conduct yourself at the table is a true indication of how professional you actually are (via Reuters). Proper etiquette can elevate the impression you leave on those around you, and knowing what to do with a napkin is part of it. Not only can those beautifully-presented pieces of cloth protect your fanciest clothes, but they also communicate messages to guests and servers about your dining experience.

Romans used napkins at meal times and would even take food home in the fabric (via ​​Etiquipedia). However, once cutlery was introduced in the 18th century, the sizes of napkins shrank to match utensils, and rules surrounding the use of forks, knives, and napkins began to take hold (per Candace Smith Etiquette). So the next time you find yourself sitting down at an upscale restaurant, there are a few moves you'll want to keep in mind while unfolding your napkin.

The size of your napkin matters

Etiquette Scholar instructs that the size of your napkin will determine how to unfold and place it on your lap: Larger napkins are unfolded halfway while smaller napkins are fully extended to cover your lap. Your goal is to open the napkin in a singular, smooth motion, without unnecessary shaking or flailing movements. For larger napkins, the fold should face your body, Eyring advises in a Reuters article, and the fabric should stay on your lap during the entire meal.

According to Forbes, your napkin shouldn't return to the table until you're ready to leave. If you do need to get up to take a phone call or use the restroom, place your napkin in your seat and slide the chair to the table; this lets the waitstaff know you'll be returning. When you have finished your meal, leave your unfolded napkin to the left of your plate to indicate you're finished.

A napkin is never used to clean silverware, blow your nose, or wipe your face, clarifies The Spruce; lightly blotting your lips — if they are free of lipstick — is acceptable, but think of the napkin as more of a clothing protector than a mouth wipe. Good luck out there!