What you do with your napkin when you remove it from the table sends messages from you and about you. It also sends messages to the server about whether you are leaving the table for good or if you are coming back. Using the napkin correctly shows confidence, good manners, and attention to details—all valued traits in business encounters.
The meal begins when your host unfolds his or her napkin. Look for hints from the host and follow his/her lead.
In a banquet setting or at a restaurant, place your napkin in your lap as soon as you are seated. At more upscale restaurants, the server often will place your napkin on your lap for you, and when you leave the table temporarily, this member of the waitstaff will bring you a fresh napkin and place it to the left of your plate.
Fold your napkin in half with the fold toward your waist, next to your body. It is not necessary to fully open it. The napkin remains on your lap throughout the entire meal and should be used to gently blot your mouth.
Lightly press your napkin around your mouth to dab any liquid or food. Instead of using all of your napkin, try to keep it clean and use an area around the same spot.
Don’t clean the cutlery or wipe your face with the napkin. NEVER tuck it into your shirt like a bib, no matter how much you want to protect it from spills. Napkins do not belong tucked into your pants or skirt either. They don’t need to be secured like that. Do not use it to wipe off lipstick or to blow your nose!
What do you do with your napkin if you need to briefly leave the table?
If you need to leave the table during a meal, place the napkin on your chair, not on the table. A napkin on the chair tells the waiter that you will come back. Most etiquette experts suggest that when leaving the table, you place the napkin on your chair.
However, others disagree because if it is heavily soiled with food, it can soil your clothes. Use common sense. If this is the case, ask the server to give you another napkin and put the clean napkin on your chair. If the soil is not significant, refold the napkin and still put it on your chair. Well-trained staff know that when your napkin is on the chair, and not on the table, it means that you are coming back to the table.
Where do you place your napkin when leaving?
When you finish your meal, place your napkin loosely folded on the right side of the table. This indicates that you are ready to leave.