Cotton napkins: how to use them on the table
Functional and aesthetic, the cotton napkin is an essential element in any meal. Of equal importance are that they fulfil their practical function (that each diner can clean their hands and lips discretely) and the choice and presentation of the cotton napkin [...]
Functional and aesthetic, the cotton napkin is an essential element in any meal. Of equal importance are that they fulfil their practical function (that each diner can clean their hands and lips discretely) and the choice and presentation of the cotton napkin matching the circumstances of each meal.
Planning the meal, enjoying it or finishing it, at all times the hosts and guests must be aware of how the cotton napkin is a symbol of etiquette and savoir-faire.
How to choose the size of the cotton napkins
Although you may think that the only decision when buying a cotton napkin is choosing its design (pattern, colours, finishes…), beforehand the hosts must choose the size of the cotton napkins they are going to need.
There are currently a large variety of cotton napkins, of very different sizes, and choosing one or another is not only a question of personal preference but also that the size of the cotton napkin is determined by protocol. There are basically two factors that have a bearing on this:
- What type of meal it is (more or less formal, wedding banquets…)
- How we are going to eat (seated at the table, standing as in an aperitif…)
Generally, the more formal meals, where the diners are seated around a table, require larger cotton napkins.. In contrast the meals in which the diners are standing (aperitifs, cocktails, snacks …) are usually accompanied by smaller and easier to use cotton napkins.
Therefore, according to the type of meal and degree of formality, you should choose the size and pattern of the cotton napkins. Here we show you some examples:
- Cocktails in an elegant and sophisticated setting: cotton napkins of 11×11 cm with a formal design
- Breakfasts or afternoon teas with an adult public, for example a professional gathering: cotton napkins of 20×20 cm with a formal design
- Meals for special occasions: cotton napkins of 32×32 cm with a formal design
- Breakfasts or children’s teas: cotton napkins of 16×16 cm with a colourful and fun design
You can also use the cotton napkins from a basic collection, with a large variety of plain colours to choose from and combine them just as you want. In this case, depending on the formality of the meal you should choose one or other size of napkin and prioritise soberer colours or bolder and more fun-like combinations.
Looking beyond the napkins, in this post we explain to you how to choose the best placemats for each occasion.
How to use the cotton napkins on the table… correctly!
Table etiquette has a special role when organising a formal meal, but the fact is that in all types of events we recommend taking into account the minimum rules of etiquette and table manners.
If you are a host you should know that:
- The cotton napkins are placed beside or on the plate, but it is not recommended to present them inside the glass.
- If the cotton napkins have a logotype or drawing, they are folded and presented so that this can be clearly seen.
- In a formal meal you should fold the napkins in an elegant way (in a rectangular, triangular or square shape). Making more artistic figures with the cotton napkins should be reserved for special occasions (Christmas, thematic meals, family occasions …).
If you are a guest you should know that:
- The hosts decide when the meal starts. The moment they pick up the cotton napkin from the table is when the other diners can do the same with theirs.
- Once seated at the table, we should pick up the cotton napkin, unfold it and place it on our lap. We can unfold it with a small shake, but never open it out in fully and wave it about energetically in front of our co-diners.
- If the cotton napkins are very big, we can fold them in half and place them on our lap.
- Tying the cotton napkin around the neck with a knot, like a bib, can only be done with children or people with special needs.
- If during the meal we have to get up from the table, the most appropriate thing to do is leave the napkin, slightly crumpled, to the right of the plate (it is not good manners to leave it perfectly folded, as if it had never been used).
- The cotton napkins must be used to clean the lips before and after drinking (thus avoiding staining the glass). We should do it with a discrete and natural movement, making small touches over the mouth, without rubbing.
- The cotton napkins are also used to clean our hands if they have become dirtied with some food.
- The napkins should not be used as a flannel or handkerchief.. It seems obvious to remember that it is not designed to wipe off sweat, or to clean glasses.
- It is bad manners to dampen the napkin in the water glass to clean fingers or to clean any part of the crockery and cutlery. If we do it to clean a small child, we should then change the glass.
- Olive stones, fish bones, etc. should never be placed over the cotton napkins.
- The cotton napkins are for individual use, if they are used we cannot pass them to another diner or share them.
- When the meal is over, the cotton napkins must be left on the right of the plate and slightly crumpled.
- If they are very stained, the best thing to do is fold them so that the most stained part is on the inside.