When I do business dining etiquette programs, people want to know what to do with their napkins. Do they put them in their laps right away? Where do they put them if they excuse themselves from the table during the meal? What about at the end of the meal? And what do you do with that gnarly piece of fat you have in your mouth — put it into the napkin?
Let’s start at the beginning. You take your seat at the table. Do you wait for your host to pick up his napkin? No. You should place your napkin in your lap right after you sit down. Some restaurants like to place napkins in places like a glass. They will block the view of anyone who is seated. Putting the napkin in your lap gets it out of the way.
At the start of the meal, your waiter may ask if you’d prefer a black napkin if you’re wearing black clothing. Some people worry a white napkin will leave white lint on black clothes. If it’s not offered and you want one, you can ask. But do so discreetly and understand that not all restaurants offer them.
If you need to excuse yourself during the meal, the best thing to do with your napkin is to loosely fold it so no food stains show and place it to the left of your place setting. I don’t like the alternative of placing it on your chair because food particles could get on the seat and then on your clothes when you sit down again. The left of the place setting is also the place you leave your napkin at the end of the meal.
Finally, don’t use your napkin as a place to put food you have removed from your mouth. You would not want that food to fall into your lap the next time you use your napkin. If you have something in your mouth that is simply too gross to put on the edge of your plate, the better alternative is to excuse yourself from the table and go to the restroom where you can dispose of it in a trash can.E-mail questions about business etiquette to firstname.lastname@example.org.