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20-40-60 Etiquette: Don't fold to bad cloth napkin manners

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QUESTION: When I went out to lunch recently, it was a real treat to have a cloth napkin, as I have been using paper towels and paper napkins at home. I started thinking about rules for a cloth napkin. Are there any? Like, when do I unfold the napkin, and where do I put it when I am through with it?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: When you sit down, it is said to immediately put your napkin in your lap. If you need to get up for a moment and leave the table, leave it in your chair. When you’re finished with your meal, your napkin goes on the left side of the place setting.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: I think the rules for cloth or paper napkins are basically the same, but it has definitely been easy to let things slip and get more casual while we have been cooped up at home. But basically, put your napkin in your lap when you sit down. Be discreet as possible when you use it as needed to wipe your hands or face. Keep it off the table until you’re ready to leave for good, and then put it on the side of the plate. Basically, people don’t want to see your food or your dirty napkin, so use it if you need it, but do your best to keep it out of sight. How nice to be eating out again, carefully, with social distancing, at least distancing for now and being careful. I am also thankful for our servers wearing masks to keep us safe and know how much of a pain it is to do so.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Paper towels and paper napkins have been easy to use for the last couple of months "at home" and I just remembered I could have been using my lovely cloth ones at every meal. It will be enjoyable going to restaurants again and particularly, ones that use cloth napkins.

Take your cue from your host when unfolding your napkin. When they put it in their lap, it is time for the meal to begin. Large napkins can be folded in half and smaller napkins should cover the lap completely. Leave it there the entire time and place it loosely on the table at the left of the plate when the meal is over.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Patti Leeman, community volunteer: History says the use of cloth napkins began in China and became highly refined in the 1700s and continues today. The dos and don’ts vary through the years, but here are forever rules:

1. Place your napkin to cover your entire lap — not tucked in your waistband, or under your chin; do not unfold your napkin until the host has done so.

2. Do not drop your napkin on the floor, but if you do, call for another one. (Do not pick up the napkin.)

3. The napkin is used to dab at the lips, not to wash your face or blow your nose.

4. The napkin is placed to the left of the dinner plate, but if you leave the table temporarily, place it in the seat of the chair.

6. At the conclusion of the meal, the napkin is folded and replaced at the left of the plate. Never put it on the plate.

If you forget any of the above just remember: “The distinction between the gentleman and the boor is more clearly noted at table than anywhere else.” So stay calm and fake it.

Since 2009 Callie, Lillie-Beth and Helen have written this generational etiquette column. They also include guest responses from a wide range of ages each week. So many years later, Callie is 20-plus; Lillie-Beth, 40-plus and Helen, 60-plus.