The Gentleman’s Guide To Napkin Etiquette

Last updated on April 17th, 2024 at 03:57 am

When it comes to table etiquette, many gentlemen may overlook the importance of dinner napkin etiquette and usage.

However, mastering dinner napkin usage is essential in presenting oneself as a polished and refined gentleman.

The simple act of unfolding a dinner napkin and placing it on one’s lap can convey respect for the dining experience and fellow diners.

From knowing the proper placement of the napkin to understanding how to use it throughout the meal, the gentleman who takes the time to learn these rules exhibits a sense of sophistication and manners.

This guide aims to enlighten gentlemen on the art of dinner napkin etiquette, ensuring that they make a lasting impression in any dining setting.

Recommended: Introduction to Gentleman’s Etiquette and Manners

Table of Contents

What is a Dinner Napkin?

A dinner napkin is a rectangular piece of cloth or paper used during meals to wipe hands, mouth, and occasionally to protect clothing from spills.

Measuring typically around 16×16 inches, it is larger than a standard napkin and is often made of soft and absorbent material.

Its purpose extends beyond mere functionality, as it also plays a crucial role in table etiquette, signifying sophistication and refinement.

Placed on the lap during a formal dining setting, the dinner napkin serves as an essential accessory, elevating the dining experience and reflecting the value placed on proper manners and presentation.

Related: Guides for Napkin Etiquette

Here is some other importance of the dinner napkin:

The Importance of Napkin Etiquette in Dining Settings

Napkin etiquette is important in dining settings as it sets the tone and reflects one’s manners and sophistication.

Here are the reasons why dinner napkin etiquette is important:

Hygiene: The primary purpose of a dinner napkin is to maintain cleanliness during a meal. Proper napkin usage helps prevent food and sauce from staining your clothes or leaving residue on your hands and face.

Respect for food: Dinner napkins symbolize respect for the food being served. They are used to wipe off excess grease, crumbs, or sauce while eating.

Related: Driving Etiquette Every Gentleman Should Know

Politeness: One of the fundamental aspects of dining etiquette is politeness. Proper napkin usage demonstrates respect towards fellow diners. It is considered impolite to wipe hands or mouth on one’s clothes or to leave traces of food on the table.

Etiquette guidelines: Following proper napkin usage is a sign of knowledge and adherence to social norms. It indicates that one is well-versed in dining etiquette and pays attention to details.

Professional image: In formal dining settings or professional settings, mastering dinner napkin usage can contribute to an individual’s professional image. It shows that they are refined, cultured, and have good table manners.

Understanding Napkin Placement

Dinner napkin for gentleman's napkin guidelines during meal

Napkin placement is an essential aspect of table etiquette, particularly for gentlemen.

It reflects their attention to detail and respect for the dining setting.

Here are some tips to consider:

1. Properly Unfolding and Placing the Napkin on the Lap

  • When you first sit down at the table, take the napkin from its placement, typically found either on the table or on top of the plate.
  • Unfold the napkin once, ensuring that it is fully opened but not overly stretched.
  • With your hands placed delicately on your lap, gently drape the napkin over your legs. The center of the napkin should align with the center of your torso, allowing an equal amount to hang on both sides.

2. When and How to Use the Napkin During the Meal

  • The napkin serves various purposes during a meal, primarily for personal hygiene and to handle any accidental spills or food remnants.
  • If you need to wipe your mouth or hands, discreetly use the napkin to do so. It is acceptable to gently dab or wipe, but avoid vigorous motions that may draw unnecessary attention.
  • Should you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself from the table and utilize a tissue or handkerchief, as blowing one’s nose using a napkin is considered impolite.

Also Read: Gentleman’s Guide to Chat Etiquette

3. Ensuring the Napkin Remains in the Lap When Not in Use

  • It is crucial to retain the napkin in your lap throughout the meal, except for specific instances when you excuse yourself from the table (e.g., using the restroom).
  • When temporarily leaving the table, neatly fold the napkin and place it on the seat of your chair to signify that you will return. This way, your company knows you are not finished with your meal.
  • If you have finished your meal, or at the end of the dining experience, fold the napkin discreetly to its original placement on the table or plate. Avoid crumpling or stuffing the napkin, as it may appear disheveled and inconsiderate.

Using the Dinner Napkin Politely

Dinner napkins ready to be used during meal

Using a dinner napkin politely is an essential part of good table manners for gentlemen.

Here is an explanation of how to use a napkin gracefully:

1. Use napkin to Blot Your Mouth Gracefully

When a gentleman needs to clean their mouth during a meal, it is important to do so with elegance and subtlety.

Instead of vigorously wiping the mouth, it is more appropriate to softly dab or blot the lips and corners of the mouth.

This manner of using the dinner napkin ensures that any food particles or stains are gently removed without drawing attention or creating a mess.

2. Avoiding Wiping or Scrubbing the Face with the Napkin

A gentleman should never wipe or scrub their entire face with a napkin.

Doing so not only appears impolite and uncouth but also increases the likelihood of smearing food or causing a mess.

The napkin’s purpose is primarily to maintain cleanliness and neatness at the table, not to serve as a substitute for a towel or handkerchief.

Thus, it is important to limit its usage to the mouth and surrounding areas only.

Related: Gentleman’s Guide to Social Media Etiquette

3. Keeping the Napkin Clean and Neat Throughout the Meal

Throughout the meal, it is important to keep the napkin clean and presentable.

A gentleman should avoid using a soiled part of the napkin to wipe their mouth.

Instead, discreetly refold or adjust the napkin to expose a fresh and clean section for subsequent use.

By doing so, the napkin serves its purpose of ensuring cleanliness without creating an unsightly appearance.

Maintaining proper dinner napkin etiquette showcases a gentleman’s refined manners and respect for others at the table.

It is an essential attribute of politeness, contributing to an overall pleasant dining experience for everyone involved.

Gentleman’s Napkin Etiquette During the Meal

When it comes to napkin etiquette, gentlemen should follow certain guidelines during a meal to demonstrate good manners and show respect for the dining experience.

Here are a few tips:

1. Placing the Napkin on the Chair when Leaving the Table Temporarily

If a gentleman needs to leave the table momentarily during the meal, it is polite to place the napkin on the chair rather than leave it on the table.

This signals to the waitstaff that he will be returning and helps maintain a clean and tidy table setting.

Placing the napkin neatly on the chair also ensures that it does not come into contact with any food particles or spills on the table.

Related: Gentleman’s Guide to Toast Etiquette

2. Using the Napkin to Discreetly Remove Food Particles from the Mouth

If a gentleman needs to remove any food particles from his mouth during the meal, it is appropriate to use the napkin in a discreet manner.

He should use the corner of the napkin to gently and subtly wipe his mouth, making sure not to make any noise or draw attention to the act.

It is considered impolite to use the napkin excessively or wipe one’s entire face with it, as this can be viewed as unrefined behavior.

3. Avoiding Placing Soiled Napkins on the Table at the End of the Meal

At the end of the meal, a gentleman should avoid placing the soiled napkin on the table, as this can be seen as unhygienic and improper.

Instead, he should loosely fold the napkin and leave it to the left of his plate or on the seat of his chair.

Placing the napkin in this manner shows respect and consideration for the dining setting and allows the waitstaff to easily identify and collect the used napkins.

Related: Walking Etiquette: How a Gentleman Should Walk

Responding to Accidents or Mishaps

When there is a spill or accident during a meal, here are steps to take with the dinner napkin:

1. Handling Spills or Mishaps with the Napkin Discreetly

When you accidentally spill or experience a mishap during a meal, you should immediately and discreetly use your napkin to address the situation.

You should calmly place the napkin over the spill to absorb any remaining liquid.

If the spill is small and easily removable, the napkin can be used to gently clean it up.

However, if the spill is larger or more difficult to handle, you should instead seek assistance from the servers to avoid causing further disruption.

Related: Shaking Hands the Gentleman Way

2. Seeking Assistance from Servers in Case of Major Spills

In the case of a major spill that cannot be conveniently managed by you, it is polite for you to discreetly catch the attention of a nearby server.

You can do so discreetly by subtly making eye contact or raising your hand slightly.

Once the server approaches, you should politely inform them about the spill and request their assistance in cleaning it up.

It is important for you to remain composed and avoid blaming or being rude to the server, as accidents can happen to anyone.

3. Reacting with Poise and Composure to Unexpected Incidents

As a true gentleman, you should react to unexpected incidents during a meal with poise and composure.

It is essential for you to avoid acting surprised or becoming flustered, as this could create tension and discomfort.

Instead, remain calm and promptly address the situation using the appropriate measures mentioned earlier.

By maintaining composure, you can help those around you feel more at ease and handle the incident gracefully without causing unnecessary attention or embarrassment.

Also Read: Wine Etiquette for Gentlemen


Mastering dinner napkin etiquette is a fundamental skill that every gentleman should aspire to possess.

Embracing and practicing this etiquette not only demonstrates refinement and respect but also enhances one’s overall dining etiquette.

The proper use of a napkin showcases an individual’s attention to detail and creates a lasting positive impression on others.

With each graceful and controlled gesture, a gentleman not only elevates his own dining experience but also sets an example for others to follow.

Moreover, by incorporating this small act of courtesy into our daily lives, you contribute to maintaining the traditions of fine dining.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the napkin etiquette for men?

Napkin etiquette for men typically involves placing the napkin on the lap upon sitting down and using it to dab the mouth during the meal. It should be left unfolded and placed neatly on the chair when leaving the table temporarily.

What is the etiquette for table napkin?

The etiquette for a table napkin includes placing it on the lap upon sitting down, using it to dab the mouth, and leaving it unfolded on the chair when temporarily leaving the table. It should be placed neatly to the left of the plate when finished.

What are the 3 rules in table napkin placement?

The three rules in table napkin placement are:

  • Place the napkin on the lap upon sitting down,
  • Leave it unfolded and neatly placed on the chair when temporarily leaving the table, and
  • Place it to the left of the plate when finished with the meal.


  1. Table Manners and Napkin Etiquette for Gentlemen