Etiquette for Dinner Napkins

Simon Bremner/Lifesize/Getty Images

It would be nice if dinner could always be a mess-free affair -- especially formal dinners -- but dinner napkins are a must for dabbing away drips and catching minor spills. As with other table manners, rules apply when using dinner napkins.

Before Dinner

In a formal table setting, dinner napkins are placed on the plate or directly to the left of it, but in more casual events the napkins can be placed almost anywhere: above the plate, next to the water glass or even in your wine glass. Napkins may be folded neatly into rectangles or they may be arranged in whimsical shapes. If the napkin is placed in a napkin ring -- which are usually only used during casual events, according to Berry College -- the point of the napkin should be facing the edge of the table.

During Dinner

Etiquette for formal dinner parties states that guests must wait to touch the napkins until the host lifts her napkin and places it in his or her lap. This is the signal for the guests to follow suit. In a restaurant, it is acceptable to either place the napkin on your lap immediately after being seated or wait for the waiter to do it for you. Napkins should be pulled from the top of the napkin rings if they are in use, and should never be snapped open. Once on your lap, the napkin should remain there and not be used to wipe your mouth -- although it is acceptable to blot it. One thing that is never acceptable, however, is to wipe or blow your nose with a dinner napkin.

After Dinner

One the formal dinner is finished, follow the lead of your host: Only remove your napkin from your lap after he or she does. If the dinner is not formal, or if you are dining at a restaurant, go ahead and remove your napkin from your lap when you are finished eating and are ready to leave the table. Do not leave the napkin on your chair, but rather to the left of the plate or in the space where your plant was sitting, if it has been removed. Never try to refold a napkin or crumple it up, and never place your napkin in the center of a used plate.