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Linen Napkins and How to Use Them


If you want to make a good impression at dinner or to show off your table manners over lunch, you need to know how to properly use linen napkins. Whilst this might seem a case of simply dabbing at your mouth and not slurping your spaghetti, there is actually some skill involved in developing appealing table manners.

Here's how to use your linen napkins like a domestic goddess or impeccably mannered sophisticate. And it's way easier than it sounds.

choosing linen napkins

Choose linen napkins, not paper serviettes

Firstly, the choice of napkins is important. If you're setting the table for a  more formal occasion or want to create a polished, pulled-together vibe, go for cloth or linen napkins. Paper napkins are normally used for less formal meals or picnics and won't bring much to the ambience of a meal. They are also a less sustainable option than washable napkins.

Linen napkins are popular with stylish homeowners and Instagram influencers alike, and are available in several sizes, each tailored to a specific use.

how to choose linen napkins

Linen napkins have been used for centuries as an important part of a home's table linen. And for good reason: they absorb moisture instantly, are soft and pleasing to touch, they are easy to care for and come in a huge array of colors and patterns. Adding a matching linen tablecloth will transform your dining experience, whether you're setting a lazy weekend brunch for two or hosting a dinner party for friends. 

What size and fabric is best?

The simple rule to choosing your napkin size is this: the more food is going to be served, the larger the napkin. So, a drinks napkin is smaller than a luncheon napkin, which is in turn smaller than a dinner napkin. In terms of fabric, when choosing your cloth napkin a high-thread-count, white, off-white, linen or linen-cotton mix damask napkin is traditionally considered the most elegant and luxurious.

table etiquette rules

Linen Napkins - Some simple etiquette rules

Whatever napkin you're using, make sure you create the right impression by following these simple rules:

  • Wait for your host to unfold their napkin before doing the same with yours, and then placing it on your lap.
  • It's not necessary to fully open a large napkin; just fold it in half.
  • The napkin should stay on your lap throughout the entire meal.
  • When you wipe your mouth, do this gently – just dab your lips.
  • If you need to leave the table, place your loosely folded linen napkin on your seat or to the left of your plate.
  • NEVER tuck your napkin into your shirt collar! Its place is on your lap!
  • When the host puts their napkin on a table it‘s a sign for you to do the same – the meal time is over. Leave your napkin on the table, or help clear away.

linen napkins table manners

Understanding good table etiquette gives you more confidence in different dining situations, whether it's dinner at a fancy restaurant, job interviews over a meal or lunch at a friend's home. It will also help meals go smoothly and with no embarrassing faux-pas. 

For tips on washing linen napkins go here.

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I'm Inga and this is a space where I celebrate simple, slow living. It's a place to be curious and creative, to share ideas on how to live and work sustainably and mindfully. Being the creative force behind I also write about my love for linen and natural fabrics. Linenbeauty weaves inspiring stories of slow living with interior style features, travel and cookery tips and outfit ideas. Thanks so much for stopping by.