Napkin Etiquette | Napkin Etiquette

Are you hosting Easter or Passover?  I’d love to have family close enough to host for Easter but it’s not happening this year. Hosting a festive dinner is a lot of work but oh, so worth it.

The food is a crucial part of a dinner, of course, but almost as important is the presentation. I freely admit I have a thing for table linens bordering on an obsession. I’ve lost count of the number of sets of cloth napkins I have. Most of mine are a standard dinner size and I use them for all different occasions but there is actually a whole set of rules governing sizes and uses of napkins. I’ve done some research so let’s just have a little review shall we? Keep in mind though, like all rules, they are made to be broken.

Sizes: There are six size categories;

  1. Formal – 22 to 26 inches square
  2. Buffet – 18 to 24 inches
  3. Informal dinner – 18 to 20 inches
  4. Luncheon – 14 to 16 inches
  5. Tea – 12 inches
  6. Cocktail – 6 to 9 inches

Stack of napkins

Fabric: The only requirement for fabrics is that the napkins be absorbant. There is nothing more disconcerting than a napkin made from fabric that is chosen for looks alone and isn’t practical at all. That being said, the sky is the limit on fabrics, napkins are used to set a mood or a tone and to enhance the decor. The most formal of settings will most likely use a crisp linen in a damask or solid colour.

White linen napkin

Placement: In a very formal dinner the napkin should be folded and placed in the centre of the place setting even if using a charger. The other usual option is to place the napkin to the left of the forks or under the forks. Other than the most formal of dinners the placement is up to you, just make sure that it is consistent in placement for every guest.

Rings vs no rings: Originally rings were used so that the napkins could be reused. They are now used as another decor element and a way of adding personality. The most formal are silver but virtually any other materials can be used. There is no limit. When using rings, traditionally the napkin is drawn through to a point and the point is placed towards the diner. Guests should place the ring to the top left of the place setting when dining.

Damask napkin in ring

A few more points:  When dining your napkin should be folded in half and placed in your lap, traditionally as soon as the hostess has placed hers. If you leave the table during dinner your napkin should be placed on your chair. After dinner when leaving the table place your napkin to the left of the place setting, never ball it up or leave it on the plate.

These last points don’t only apply to formal dinners they apply every day, every time, paper or linen, at a diner or at home. At least that’s what I keep telling my son.