Table Setting Etiquette: Napkin Placement

Cloth napkins are appropriate for informal and formal settings.
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Table setting etiquette can be perplexing if you've never thrown a formal event or dinner party. Between the different pieces of cutlery and drinking glasses, each place setting gets crowded pretty quickly. The napkin placement for each place setting is among the easiest pieces of the puzzle, especially because you have some discretion.

1 Informal Setting

An informal place setting applies for meals up to three courses. Occasions that call for an informal place setting include a small dinner party or a holiday dinner with family. When you're using an informal place setting, the napkin can go in several different places. The napkin may be folded and placed in the center of the dinner plate, or to the left of the forks. Alternatively, you may place a folded napkin underneath the forks. A napkin ring may be used but is optional.

2 Formal Setting

Formal settings are used for larger events or dinner that is served from the kitchen. When serving a formal dinner, the napkin may go in one of two places. If the meal makes use of a charger, which is a large plate that goes under the plates serving the food, the napkin is folded and placed on the charger. If no charger is used, the napkin is folded and placed in the open space where the first course plate will be served.

3 Consistency

While a napkin can be folded with the crease towards or away from the plate, each napkin at the table should be consistent. Likewise, while an informal setting allows for your discretion in napkin placement, the napkin at each place setting should be in the same spot.

4 In Use

While a napkin is in use, the proper placement is across your lap. The proper etiquette is for guests to wait until the host or hostess has placed a napkin in his or her own lap before unfolding their own napkins. If you leave your chair during the meal, your napkin should be placed on your chair, and when the meal is finished you may leave your napkin on the left side of the plate.

Lara Webster has been writing professionally since 2009. Her work has been featured on Relationships in the Raw, The Nursery Book, Spark Trust and several travel-related websites. Webster holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in mass communication and media studies, both from San Diego State University.