Napkin in the Lapkin
Dear Etiquette Lady,
I’m a 30 year old account executive and I’ve been invited to a formal dinner sponsored by my company. I’ve asked my new girlfriend to join me and I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of her. I can never remember what to do with my napkin and if I’m suppose to help my girlfriend with her seat. I try to follow the others at my table, but half of them don’t know what to do either and I’m too embarrassed to ask the ones that do. Can you give me a few pointers on what to do?
Napkin Slob - Laguna Hills
Dear Mr. Slob:
Don’t be so hard on yourself. I commend you for wanting to learn the proper way to seat your date and use your napkin. These tips can be used for all types of dining experiences, from fast-food to formal for children and adults!
Here are some tips I learned from my old auntie Allie Mae and are called “Napkin in the Lapkin.”
The rules of seating yourself and others, and proper napkin etiquette:
- Always seat yourself from the right side of the chair and exit from the right as well.
- If you are with a female or there are unescorted females at your table, always seat them first by pulling out their chair, and helping them to scoot it in a bit. They can take it upon themselves to scoot in it further, if needed.
- If you are in a “hosted” dining experience, always wait for the host or hostess to pick up their napkin first, which signals the start of the meal. Otherwise, place your napkin on your lap when you first sit down.
- Pick up your napkin and place it on your lap, with the fold facing your middle. Never unfold your napkin like a cape flapping in the wind, quietly unfold it on your lap.
- Use the napkin to dab your mouth, never wipe.
- If leaving the table for a moment, exit from the right and place your napkin on the seat of your chair. *NOTE: No need to announce to the world your reason for leaving the table, simply say “excuse me” and quietly leave.
- In upscale restaurants, the waitstaff may refold your napkin and place it on the arm of the chair or to the left of your plate. Sometimes restaurants will replace your napkin with a fresh one.
- Your napkin stays on your lap until everyone is finished and ready to leave the table.
- When you are finished with your meal and leaving the table, place your napkin to the left of your plate and exit your chair from the right.
- Never put your napkin on your plate or push your plate forward when finished.
- Never stack your dishes. Leave everything in it’s place until your server removes them.
Whenever I’m teaching etiquette and manners, I’ll always share the “proper” way to do things, because that’s my job. But I also give clients permission to break the rules from time to time and use their own common sense. The key to proper etiquette is and always will be “respect”. Self-respect and respect for others. I hope these tips are helpful. Enjoy your event and always remember to be yourself.
Dear Etiquette Lady:
I am a 16-year old high school student. I love my cell phone, and I use it all the time. My mom told me it was bad manners to talk on the phone while I'm in public. Everybody does it. My mom doesn't get it. Can you print this letter so I can prove to my Mom that times have changed?
Millennium Girl, Aliso Viejo, CA
Dear Millennium Girl:
I’m pretty sure you won’t like my answer, but mom is correct. Talking on cell phones in public has become a nuisance and a wide-spread etiquette issue. Most cell phone users lack what I call “Netiquette”.
There are some basic rules of etiquette and manners to follow. I’d be happy to share some of them with you, and would appreciate if you would pass them along to your friends.
- Cell phones and PDA’s can be a lifesaver in an emergency. It can also be a real nuisance to the people around you. 58% of America’s youth have cell phone and 24% of those feel they have to answer a call no matter what. Please let me assure you that the simple ringing of your cell phone does not mean you must answer it!
- There are many places and occasions where it is simply inappropriate to take a call from anyone except a parent.
- In general, anytime your use of an electronic device is going to disturb other people, either turn it off or move to a place where it won’t disturb anyone.
- Always turn off your electronic devices when in public places so as not to disturb those around you (movie theatres, church, restaurants, school, the dinner table, waiting in line, etc.)
- If your cell rings and you must take the call, please ask the people you are with “do you mind if I take this call” and wait for their answer. . . maybe they “do” mind. You can always tell the caller that you will call them back later at a more appropriate time.
- Safety first! Never give a stranger your personal information, e-mail address, home address, cell number, etc.
- Follow the “rules of the house” that your parents have set for the use of electronic devices. They care about your safety and well-being. Don’t disappoint them!
Kim Maxwell is a graduate of The Protocol School of Washington® and is a certified Corporate Etiquette and international Protocol Consultant.