- Wait for the host or hostess to take the napkin from the table and place it on his or her lap. An exception to this rule is at buffet-style meals, where you should unfold your napkin when you start eating.
- Unfold your napkin in one smooth motion without “snapping” or “shaking” it open. The size determines how you unfold a napkin in your lap. The large napkins provided at more formal dinners are unfolded halfway. Smaller napkins are unfolded completely and cover the lap fully.
- Don’t tuck a napkin into your collar, between the buttons of your shirt, or into your belt. When messy finger food is served, before tucking the napkin under the chin or tying it around the neck, follow the lead of the host.
- Use your napkin frequently during the meal to blot or pat (not wipe) your lips. Blot your lips before taking a drink of your beverage—especially if you’re a woman wearing lipstick.
- After positioning your napkin, place the napkin ring (if there is one) to the top-left of the setting. At the end of the meal, grasp the napkin in the center, pull it through the ring, and lay it on the table with the point facing the center of the table.
- When leaving the table temporarily, put your napkin on your chair. If the chair is upholstered, place the napkin soiled side up.
- The napkin is loosely folded at the end of the meal. If there is a plate in the center of your setting, then when you leave the table, lay the napkin to the left of the plate. If the center of your place setting is empty, the napkin is laid in the middle. In either case, leave the napkin in loose folds to keep the soiled parts hidden.
- If after-dinner coffee is served at the table, the napkin remains in the lap.
Passing food to other diners
- Food should be passed to the right—but the crucial point is really that it moves in only one direction.
- Either hold the dish as the next diner takes some food, or hand the dish to the next person, who then serves himself or herself.
- Any heavy or awkward dishes are placed on the table after being passed.
- Cream pitchers and other dishes with handles should be passed with the handle toward the person receiving them.
- If a platter for sharing is present, it is passed around the table, with each diner holding it as the next person serves himself or herself using only the serving utensils provided.
Pass salt and pepper
- In America, always pass the salt and pepper together. If a person asks for just one, pass both anyway. In France, if you are asked for the salt, you simply pass the salt.
- Some hosts prefer to use saltcellars, which saltshakers have largely replaced.
- If there is no spoon in the saltcellar, use the tip of a clean knife to take some salt.
- If the saltcellar is for you alone, you may either use the tip of your knife or take a pinch with your fingers.
- If a saltcellar is to be shared with others, never use your fingers or a knife that is not clean.
- Salt that you have taken from the saltcellar should be placed on the bread-and-butter plate or on the rim of whatever plate is before you.
Bread and butter etiquette
Bread is most often placed in a shared basket on the table.
- If the bread is placed in front of you, feel free to pick up the basket and offer it to the person on your right.
- If the loaf is uncut, cut off a few slices, offer them to the person to your left, and then pass the basket to your right.
- Do not touch the loaf with your fingers; instead,use the cloth in the breadbasket as a buffer for steadying the bread as you slice it.
- Place the bread and butter on your butter plate (yours is on your left), and break off a bite-sized piece of bread, put a little butter on it, and eat it.
- Don’t butter the whole piece of bread and then take bites from it.
- Don’t hold your bread in one hand and a drink in the other.
- Don’t take the last piece of bread without first offering it to others.
- If olive oil is served with bread, dip bite-sized pieces of bread into the oil and eat.