A plea from one of our readers:

Rude Diner

Please tell people to never, never, ever deposit a linen (cloth) napkin on a food plate to be taken away. I see this table manners mistake all the time and think it is extremely rude and inconsiderate, if not to say “disgusting”. Just think of the poor person  who has to fish the napkin out in the kitchen (they also get dirty themselves). I would hate to touch these and think of the poor personnel in the laundry who have to get these things clean again when they are soaked in sauces which often contain things like red wine, gravy, beet juice etc. (not to mention the extra cost for the restaurant). How rude! How déclassé! How gauche! How awful!



Dear Disgusted,

Thanks for sharing your feelings. I gather you don’t like this practice. Well, we don’t either. Just to let you know, we do mention this during our online dining training and in our live dining etiquette seminars.

This is a hot button with many people. For them, someone could have perfect table manners throughout the whole meal and totally blow it at the end by crumpling their napkin onto their dirty plate instead of folding the napkin and laying it to the side.

People in our seminars tell us in no uncertain terms how much they hate this practice and they use pretty strong terms to describe it. Gauche and déclassé are often the mildest. (Why is it we use foreign words to politely be impolite?) From there they escalate from ‘rude’, ‘uncouth’ to ‘boorish’. Ouch!

These are all terms you never want applied to you (especially where your career and social success are concerned). While we would never think these things about you, we might be tempted to politely suggest you take one of our dining etiquette training courses. After all we are the etiquette experts but we also have good manners.

Posted by Terry Pithers – the business dining etiquette expert and nice guy

About the author 

Terry Pithers

Canadian speaker, humorist and business etiquette expert. If you are interested in booking me for a presentation, keynote or workshop, contact me. Based in Calgary / Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.

  1. Thanks for sharing Edwin.
    You are a good friend for cutting your friend some slack. Unfortunately to other observers his behavior may be perceived as poor etiquette. \ You might mention that you came across a very interesting dining etiquette program:)

  2. This is late comment on similar subject, but I have a new friend who at restaurants places his napkin (only paper yet observed) on top of his plate, which usually has food remaining. The problem is compounded in that others are not yet finished, or he dislikes his food and apparently wants to make a statement. I believe this is an emotional issue rather than poor etiquette. I will not say anything being he can be very temperamental. I do wonder who taught him to do this.

  3. Thanks Jim,
    There’s nothing worse than a bone of contention and in the interest of family peace let’s get the definitive paper napkin etiquette rules on the table.
    Here at Style for Success we like to have logical reasons behind table manners rules as people in our seminars have an easier time remembering things that are logical.
    Paper napkins are usually meant to throw away so they are treated differently than cloth napkins. So yes you can crumple them up or lay them on top of the plate (though at someone’s home I still fold mine and lay it beside the plate).
    But that brings us to the ecological question. What if they recycle them? Some places recycle or compost paper napkins. So you can ask your server at the place that you frequent if they have some sort of recycling program. If they say no, you can ask them why not. Now that really gets us into a whole different bone of contention. So let’s stop while we are ahead on the paper table napkin etiquette rules.

  4. I was typing the above on a mobile device and noticed some errors right after posting and could not edit, so I’m posting this duplicate. So….I understand all of this (the above dirty napkin at the end of the meal). — and would never put a cloth napkin on a dirty plate. However, I don’t personally think the same applies to a disposable paper napkin. What do you think? For example, if at at restaurant or home, if someone is coming to clear to table, would it not be more sanitary, polite and simple if the other people place their PAPER (paper only, not cloth) on the plate so the server/waiter/busser would not have to touch it? They could then simply scrape off the plate along with food into the trash. Mind you, I would only put the napkin on the plate when it’s clear everyone else is done and the table is about to be/in the midst of being cleared. I would not just throw the paper napkin on the plate when I’m done if others were not and the table was not being cleared yet.. This is a major bone of contention in my household and would love to hear both the official etiquite answer as well as practical and other responses. PLEASE let me know what you think about this.

  5. You’re definitely not alone. Someone told me tossing a napkin onto a dirty plate reminded them of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) dining in the movie Scarface. Yikes! Here’s the link – WARNING not for the faint of heart – how to make a bad impression at a restaurant combining bad manners, profanity, booze and cocaine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yky4QtRX_DI

  6. Hi Terry,

    well put!!!! I am so glad it is not just me who hates this.


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