July 29, 2009 in Features

Napkins: Know when to fold ‘em

Judith Martin

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Judith Martin writes for United Feature Syndicate. Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I learned that once the napkin is unfolded after one sits down at a table, it is not refolded. It is folded loosely and replaced back on the table when the meal is over and one is leaving the table. I have looked up various sources, and all agree on not refolding the napkin the way it originally was.

However, in two different restaurants, the waitstaff has come to the table while I had excused myself, refolded the napkin, and placed it back on the table. Upon returning to the table, my friends reported what had happened and said that maybe I should have refolded the napkin before leaving the table. When I disagreed, feeling uncomfortable, they said that is what waitstaff does in expensive restaurants.

I felt (and feel) like I was not there to get a lesson in etiquette and that the napkin is never refolded after one starts to use it. (By refolding I mean corner to corner, over and over, like a man’s handkerchief would be folded.) So now my brother is betting me he is right and that the waiter is supposed to come over and fold a customer’s napkin while they are away from the table.

GENTLE READER: Two bad sources for etiquette instruction: pretentious restaurants and friends who don’t mind embarrassing you in public.

Miss Manners assures you that you and your sources, who do not dine with you, are correct. That silly trends pass through expensive restaurants (remember when waiters were shaking out clean napkins at the beginning of the meal and placing them on the clients’ laps as if they were children?) does not make such practices correct. This one is as bad as blowing one’s nose into a handkerchief, and then re-folding and placing it in the breast pocket – both being actions that etiquette classifies under Eeeeew.

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