A-Z of British Etiquette
The word napkin comes from napery, meaning cloth, and kin meaning small. Napkins are placed on the lap during mealtimes. They have two purposes: to clean the mouth and to protect the clothes. They are never, heaven forefend, tucked into the shirt.
Napkins are made from linen, cotton or damask. Paper napkins are fine for cocktail napkins or children’s parties.
There are different sizes of napkins for different meals. Dinner napkins are the largest (as dinner is the biggest meal) around 22 to 26 inches square. Luncheon napkins are around 18 to 20 inches square. Tea napkins are 12 inches square. Cocktail napkins are 6 or 9 inches square. Who knew? Well, I did and now you do too!
Dinner napkins are to be folded in half and placed on the lap, the fold towards the diner. Lunch and tea napkins can be placed on the lap totally unfolded. Cocktail napkins are just for fingers they do not go on the lap.
When using the napkin to clean the mouth, dab the lips from left to right. Avoiding wiping it, it is not a facecloth!
When in restaurants, waiters should avoid theatrical flicks of the napkin when placing on guests’ laps. In private houses, guests are left to place their own napkins, even if there is staff.
At the end of a meal, pick the napkin up from the centre and place in a neat-ish heap to the left of the setting, on the table. This shows that you have finished and are not coming back. All guests should leave the table together, however.
William Hanson is the Etiquette and Protocol Consultant for The English Manner. He works with VIP households, diplomats, businessmen, schools and colleges and has advised multinational brands. He is regularly asked by global media to comment on modern manners and social mores