8 Napkin Etiquette Rules & Tips

Napkin Etiquette
Napkin etiquette dictates basic manners that you should adhere to when dining. Place it on your lap when seated, on the left side of your plate after completing the meal and use it blot. Avoid crumpling your napkin into a ball or using it as a tissue.

1. Pick napkin once seated

Proper table manners suggest that you pick up your napkin and place it on your lap once after sitting at a dining table. This should be done before you begin eating or drinking anything. If the napkin is large and folded, you should unfold it halfway. If the napkin is small, unfold it fully to cover your lap.

If there is a host, wait for your host to pick the napkin first. It’s poor dining etiquette to act first before your host, whether it’s eating or picking your napkin.

2. Napkin remains on lap

When dining in a formal setting, it is good etiquette to place your napkin on your lap after being seated and to leave it there until the end of the meal.

3. Don’t use it to clean silverware

Using a napkin to clean the plate
Don’t use napkin to clean the plate

Using a napkin to clean silverware is inappropriate table etiquette and can be seen as unsanitary. The napkin may contain food particles or germs that can transfer to the silverware.

4. Don’t wipe your lips or face

Blot or dab your mouth rather than wipe vigorously when using your napkin. Ladies, be careful not to dab your lipstick on the napkin.

5. Place it on chair for restroom breaks

Proper etiquette dictates that you should place your napkin on the chair when visiting the restroom. This indicates that you are coming back. The server will know that you are not done eating. If the chair is upholstered, ensure the soiled side of your dinner napkin is up to avoid staining the chair.

6. Place it on left side of plate after eating

Placing the napkin on the left side of your plate signals to the server that you have finished your meal. You may need to fold it neatly before placing it on the table.

7. Don’t use it as a prop

Using the napkin as a prop can distract other diners and may be disrespectful to the host or guests. Additionally, it may create an unsanitary environment as the napkin is meant for personal hygiene and should not be touched or handled excessively.

8. Don’t tuck in your shirt

Napkins are meant to be on your lap and not tucked in your shirt. If you are served messy foods like lobster and feel that you may mess up your clothes, then it is advisable to ask for a bib.

Tissue vs. Napkin: When to use what?

While paper napkins are gaining popularity, here’s how to use a napkin and paper tissue:


  • They are commonly used at meal times, such as when dining at a restaurant or at home. 
  • Napkins are used to dab corners of the mouth before sipping beverages.
  • They are used to protect your clothes


  • They are commonly used for personal hygiene.
  • Use a tissue to blow your nose and dry tears.
  • Clean up small spills or messes while dining.

How to use Napkins with a ring?

After sitting down, take the napkin and remove the ring.  Place the napkin ring on the left side of the table setting. Then place the napkin on your lap.

When you finish your meal, take the napkin by the center and pull it through the ring. Place the napkin on the table with the point towards the center.

What should you do if you spill something on your napkin?

If you spill something on your napkin during dinner at a restaurant, simply ask your server for a new cloth napkin. They will likely bring you a fresh one without any fuss.

If the spill is small, you can try to use the clean parts of the napkin to blot and clean the area. Just make sure you don’t spread the spill further onto your clothes.

Napkin Etiquette: Private vs. Restaurant Dining


  • If you’re a guest, wait for your host to pick up their napkin before taking yours.
  • Place your napkin on your lap, with the folded side facing your waist.
  • Place your napkin on your chair if you need to leave the table temporarily.
  • Wait for the host to end the meal before placing your napkin on the dinner table.


  • The waiter or waitress will usually bring a napkin with the utensils or set it on the table before the guests arrive. A server may place the napkin on your lap if it’s an upscale restaurant.
  • Once seated, unfold the napkin and place it on your lap.
  • The napkin should stay on your lap until you’re done eating.
  • After eating, place your napkin on the table to the left of your plate.
  • If you accidentally spill something on yourself, ask for assistance or excuse yourself to the restroom to clean up.

Do’s and Dont’s

Do’s ✅Don’ts ❌
Once seated, place the napkin on your lap.Tuck the napkin into your collar or use it as a bib.
Use it to blot your mouth gently if necessary.Use it to wipe your nose or face.
Fold it neatly and place it on the left side of your plate when you finish your meal.Crumple it up or leave it in a disheveled pile on the table.
Unfold a smaller napkin completely to cover your lap.Place it on your plate when you leave the table.


Tabitha is a curious and enthusiastic writer who believes in the power of words and the importance of good manners. Etiquette is her passion, and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family.

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