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Restaurants: Stop Telling Servers to Refold a Guest’s Napkin

Written By Scott Joseph On June 13, 2014

It’s become a common scene in all manner of restaurants, from fine dining establishments to casual eateries. At some point, mid meal, one of the diners at a table will excuse himself, stand up, remove his napkin from his lap and place it on the seat of his chair, as is proper, and go off to visit the restroom. And before he is even out of sight, one of the serving staff will whisk over to his empty chair, pick up the napkin and flourishingly refold it and replace it next to the plate.

I have two words to offer regarding this practice: Stop it.

There are a couple of reasons why this is inappropriate. Primarily, it was proper of the gentleman to place his napkin on the seat of his chair when he left the table. Whether it is paper or linen, a used napkin should never be placed back on the table while a meal is in progress. It is only at the end of the meal, after the dessert or the final coffee refill has been emptied and the check has been paid and all guests are ready to leave that one should place the napkin on the table while pushing the chair away. It is not necessary to refold it into the little hat shape it was in when you were first seated.

The other reason a server should not refold a soiled napkin is that it is indeed a soiled napkin. A guest has likely used it to wipe her mouth or even dry licked fingers. It may even have been used by some whose mothers never told them how inappropriate and downright disgusting it is to blow ones nose into it. Hand-to-mouth contamination is one of the most common ways to transport germs. Waiters should not be handling soiled napkins and then turning around to serve food without a good hand-washing.

I’m sure that restaurants instruct their serving staff to refold a guest’s napkin as a sign of good service. It isn’t. And I’m constantly amazed at how many restaurant do this deed while the serving staff makes numerous other service errors.

Central Florida should be the hospitality capital of the world. We’re not. Let’s concentrate on the serving standards that will get us to that point and leave unfolded napkins where they are.

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