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Welcome to WFAEats — a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and interesting in the Charlotte food scene. We want to share stories, recipes and culinary escapades and hear about yours!

In Good Taste: The “Blotter,” or Napkin Etiquette


Welcome back to “In Good Taste,” where we explore all things mannerly pertaining to food and how to enjoy it with others. Today our etiquette expert will answer a question she received by private message recently.Dear Etta Kate: I keep seeing people place their used napkins atop their plate after a meal. Is this proper?

Our reader’s concerns are right on target, even if that napkin placement is not.

There is an entire school of thought that believes there is never a good use for a paper napkin, but in today’s modern world of casual dining, Etta Kate believes these disposables often have their place. However, that place is never atop one’s plate after meal.

She only hopes your fellow diners are not treating fine linen napkins in such a way. A napkin is intended to be used delicately and unobtrusively, to blot the mouth and wipe the fingertips. 

In formal settings one places a napkin on the lap – fully unfolded for the smaller napkins used in less formal meals, folded lengthwise for larger dinner napkins – once the hostess has done so. When the option is a paper napkin only, one must rely on the quality and size of the napkin to determine whether or not lap placement is even possible. One mustn’t ever tuck a napkin into one’s garments, but one edge of a paper napkin can be held in the crease of one’s lap for better security, especially when dining al fresco, when wind can cause napkins and other items on the table to take flight unexpectedly.

A gracious guest not only assures that nothing blotted by the napkin can mar other table linens, but that fellow diners will not see any marks left upon a napkin. The end of the meal is indicated by the hostess placing her napkin under her plate, at which time the guests should follow her cue.

What if I need to leave the table during the meal?

If one must excuse oneself during a meal, the napkin should be gently draped, with any used portions discreetly out of view, and tucked slightly under the left side of the plate. Never place your napkin on your chair seat.

Etta Kate is the nom de plume of a business consultant who maintains anonymity to protect her clients’ privacy. She is pleased to be part of the WFAEats family of contributors. If you have a question about food and dining etiquette, Etta Kate will be happy to help. You can post your messages in the comments section of this page.