Through EtiKids, I recently taught an etiquette class to a Brownie Troop in Bergen County, NJ, in which the subject of napkins came up. The question had been posed to the girls, “how do you know when to put your napkin on your lap?” The vivacious group of 22 looked pensive for a (brief) moment but quickly figured out the answer. “You wait for someone else to do it!”

That was a great idea, and according to some sources, correct! It is believed that one should wait until the host/hostess unfolds his/her napkin. The situation changes when not at a dinner party: in a restaurant, if the napkin is on the plate, the diner should immediately stick the napkin on the lap. As some restaurants start pouring drinks immediately upon being seated, it is a great way to prevent accidental outfit “water-staining.”

At a less formal dining establishment: as soon as ANY food is served would be an appropriate time to put the napkin on the lap. Since the napkin is often placed underneath the fork, it should be placed on top the lap as soon as the fork is lifted.

When getting up from the table, make sure to put the napkin on the left side of the plate (gently folded). As napkins are to be used for the purpose of wiping food away from one’s mouth, they should not be on the chair, where dirty bottoms are often placed.

Finally, one should not tuck napkins into the top of their shirts (resembling a bib). Using proper table manners (elbows off the table, no licking fingers, asking people to pass, chewing with lips closed) will prevent food from winding up down the front of one's shirt. As bibs are typically used for those who cannot feed themselves, it is inappropriate for a person to tie a napkin around their neck solely for the sake of preserving an outfit (unless eating lobster). When in doubt, don’t wear white. Meaning, don’t go to a restaurant that serves tomato sauce-rich foods, wearing light colors that will get stained.

These simple techniques for appropriate napkin use will help children and grownups alike in the present and future. As etiquette is meant to prevent uncomfortable situations by teaching people how to behave in social situations, teaching children these skills at a young age will ensure that they will have the knowledge of how to behave as adults.

Those Brownies were so excited to know an actual time as to when they should put their napkin on their lap and couldn’t wait to go home and teach their grownups. Watch out parents! The word is spreading…

Do you remember that scene in Pretty Woman, when Vivian (aka Julia Roberts) asks Barney (aka Hector Elizando) to teach her how to behave at a fancy business dinner? She learns many things, such as the napkin on the lap, and count the tines on the fork in order to know which one to use (I myself prefer to remember that as each course is served, forks are used from the left, going inwards). I am sure countless numbers of people referred to that scene in Pretty Woman in order to determine proper dining etiquette; however, there was always a part missing for me...

Sitting at a round table with more than 2 people used to be intimidating, as I always felt there were endless amounts of cups and plates (bread plates). Never knowing which one to use, I would either wait to see which water glass my neighbor chose or would just start drinking a water, praying that I did not take someone else's drink (after all, the whole point of a place setting is that utensils don't have to be shared!). I then discovered a trick that saved me countless hours of embarrassment in front of others...

While you are reading this (please) make two circles with your pointer finger and thumb by having them touch. Stick the remaining 3 fingers straight up. As this is done on both the left and right side, you should notice a lowercase b and d. The b, on the left, is for the bread plate, while the d, on the right, is for the drink. Pretty fancy, right?! It took me a little bit of getting used to, and perhaps some definite letter formations under the table. I managed to learn that if I can tell my left from my right, I can decipher which glass is mine!

So, go spread the word; teach them well and teach them young.  EtiKids can help!