One of the few things that encouraged me to be an etiquette advisor was the manner in which my business associates used to dine on the dinner table.
At first I thought they were too relaxed, the setting was too social for them but I later figured that they lacked basic dining etiquette.
Well it’s unfortunate that there are not the only professionals that I have shared the dining table with, a lot of other business owners, chief executive officers, sales representatives of big companies misinterpret dining style and misuse the utensils set on the table.
Are you one of those people who get confused when you sit at a dinner table with different forks and knives placed? Do you ever wonder what to do with your napkin when dining? Are you supposed to put it on your lap, and if so, when? Then what do you do with it after you have finished eating?
A napkin is one of those things at a table setting that people take for granted. However, not everyone knows how to use it. Proper dining etiquette and table manners includes knowing how to use your napkin.
When dining for dollars, using your napkin properly is an important part of the experience. Not only is it handy for blotting spills and patting your mouth, but it is also essential when you need to clean your hands.
A local etiquette consultancy firm, JS Group of Professionals has been conducting successful dining etiquette classes for all age groups and I recommend you to attend. They offer essential tips to make your dinner experience more delicious than before especially on napkin etiquette.
There isn’t really much that you should remember once you have sat at the table. First, pick up your napkin as soon as you are seated. The next thing you should do is remove your napkin from its place. Without making a fuss, unfold it and place it on your lap. This is where you should keep it until you need it.
Take the time to unfold rather than shake the napkin open before placing it on your lap. In some restaurants the wait person may provide this service for you, but that is becoming less common. However, even if they do, if you prefer, it is perfectly okay to do this yourself instead of waiting for the waiter to place it for you.
The napkin should remain on your lap until either it is needed or the meal ends. You should never use your napkin to clean your silverware or to wipe your make-up. If you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself from the table and dining area and use your handkerchief. Never use the napkin to blow your nose.
Just like any other type of etiquette, the napkin practice differs with people. Some diners prefer to place the napkin to the side of the plate when they get up during the meal. They fear putting the napkin on the chair like what other diners do as it might increase the chances of the napkin falling down on the floor. Those who prefer placing the napkin on the chair believe that it’s a silent code to communicate with the wait person that the diner is not yet done eating and hence they should not take away his/her plate. There is no need to refold your napkin, but try not to crumple it or make it into a ball.
Use your napkin to show when you are finished. At the end of the meal, leave the napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place setting or on the plate.
Either of these moves will signal to the wait staff that you have completed that course.
Many a times we are invited for dinner at a friend’s house or by our relatives but we barely acknowledge the “Let the host take the lead” rule. The meal officially begins once the host or hostess unfolds his or her napkin. This is a signal to all the guests to follow suit; unfold your napkin and place it on your lap. You may leave it folded lengthwise if it is a large dinner napkin.
Watch your host or hostess closely during the meal. He or she will generally signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should end your meal and signal you have done so by placing your napkin neatly on the table to the left of your dinner plate.
Remember there is no need to attempt to refold the napkin as it is considered soiled and will need to be laundered.
Just as it is important to know how to use your napkin it is also vital to know what you shouldn’t do with it. Don’t use your napkin as a prop to explain something during a discussion. Don’t tuck your napkin into your shirt. If you are eating messy food, you may ask for a special bib for this purpose.
Whether you are dining in a fancy restaurant or at a friend’s house, you should try to be courteous and neat as you eat, using your napkin as necessary. Be as inconspicuous as possible when putting your napkin on your lap at the start of the meal and then back on the table when it is over.
Justice Simango is a Business Etiquette and Grooming Expert who writes in his own capacity. He is a member of Toastmasters International. Feedback: [email protected]