Black Napkin A few months back, I was buzzing around my restaurant, busy as usual, when I was stopped by one of my managers.

“Hey, I need you to get me a black napkin for Angie,” was all he said.

“A what?”

“A blaaaack naaaapkinnnn.” He had slowed he speech down as though speaking to one of his small children. “We’ve got some downstairs with the rest of the linen.”

In the eight years I’d worked at the restaurant, I’d neither seen nor heard tell of such a thing. Why on earth would Angie want a black napkin? To match her outfit? She never wears black. And it is highly doubtful that she was engaging in any sort of bizarre culinary mourning ritual. My thoughts were that, if one of the owners of this restaurant wants a damned black napkin, I’ll get her a black napkin. Besides, she’s one of the nicest, least demanding people I’ve ever worked for, so I’m happy to indulge this rare little whim of hers. Indulging people is what I do for a living.

When the pace of the evening’s work had slowed down enough to engage in real conversation, I decided to bugged my manager about them. “What’s with those napkins?” I asked.

“She likes them because they don’t get lint all over her outfit.” I was about to argue that our normal, cream-colored linen is made out of the same if-you-burn-them-they-will-melt unnatural fibers as the black and both are equally incapable of shedding lint, but I decided to let it drop and go home. I satisfied myself with the thought that perhaps the true upshot to using a black napkin is their ability to hide lipstick stains. Or wine stains.

Owing to what I saw as an over-supply of these dark squares of polyester versus the one-woman demand for them, the wait staff took to using them for wine service– using one black serviette to catch the drips from each pour of red wine made much more eco-sense, in both the -nomic and -logical meaning. The practice has worked so well and saved our restaurant so much money on linen-laundering, that it is now required of us to use them.

But more and more people are asking for them. The other day, an ostensibly straight man (My assumption, since he was talking, with food in his mouth, about his wife) requested one for his dark blue worsted suit. It surprised me that a man who doesn’t know which fork to use and chews with his mouth open would request such a thing. But he did and he got it.

Based solely on the unscientific fact that straight guys have started asking for black napkins, and straight guys are typically about two years behind women and gay men in terms of trend-setting, I concluded that this was some arcane little fashion that I had somehow missed.

I was wondering aloud to a co-worker the other day about this napkin mini-trend. “I think it’s an L.A. thing. Lots of restaurants in L.A. have them,” was all she said.

It’s been a while since I’ve dined or waited tables in Los Angeles. I don’t think that city has contributed anything as meaningful to our cultural landscape since Botox. When I left, the biggest restaurant trend was for having everything on the side, not in one’s lap, though the idea of dropping hot food items in that general area was a constant temptation.

Have these dining accessories been spotted elsewhere in the area? I would very much like to know if this is happening in other restaurants where the effete meet to eat. I’d also love to hear some pro- and anti- black napkin feedback because I feel that this issue could serve as the tinder which ignites the greatest Culture War of our time. Personally, I don’t agree with them, but I acknowledge their right to an equal and dignified life alongside other, more culturally approved of napkins and, therefore, will fight for them. Perhaps you’ll see me at the black napkin rally this Saturday.


Black Napkins: In the Lap of Luxury? 14 November,2008Michael Procopio

  • YES, there are restaurants that do this, and YES it is much appreciated! A black napkin almost automatically guarantees an uptick in the tip I give a server, all other things being equal.

    (I know that is kind of lame because it has nothing to do w/the server, and everything to do with management. But hey, I never said it was right or fair. It’s just what I do.)

  • FJK

    I wear black often.
    I eat out often.
    I’ve only been offered a black napkin once, in a steak house in Las Vegas. It was a revelation — I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to delint my skirt or pants after a meal out.
    I didn’t know to ask, the hostess just brought one to me. Now, if I’m wearing black, I’ll ask, but no more black napkin magic has appeared.

  • I use navy blue napkins at home – they don’t show up the black cat hairs from my cats that seem to always come out of the washing machine.

    Also, dark napkins are more accessible for my friends who are not accustomed to cloth – they worry about white napkins “getting dirty” and feel better about using dark napkins.

    I’ve never noticed a lint problem with napkins anywhere I have dined in my entire life. And that’s a lot of places. What kind of pants or skirts are these people wearing? Usually napkins are made from lint-free material (and washed and pressed so thoroughly that there aren’t any bits of lint to come off!)

  • SZ

    My husband and I went to dinner in Walnut Creek. We were both wearing dark clothes. He was given a white napkin, and I was given a black one. It made no sense to me.

  • Leilani

    I travel extensively across the US for business, and have found nicer restaurants all over the country offer the black napkin option. I have found this to be much appreciated, as the white napkins do shed lint on dark suits about 1/2 the time.


Michael Procopio

I am terribly fond of martinis, Edward Gorey, and sleeping with many pillows.
You are more than welcome to follow me on Twitter: @procopster

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