Black Napkins: In the Lap of Luxury?

black-napkin1A 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.


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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
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6 Responses to Black Napkins: In the Lap of Luxury?

  1. thank you for your black napkin tolerance. i have heard of this before and was impressed enough to remember the story of a friend who was given (without request) a black napkin to match her little black dress. i am all for bringing them outta the closet.

  2. I have not seen these yet in my town, but would love them. Despite the non-linty-claims of white linen napkins, I hate the damned things because they do in fact shed lint, or some kind of very fine dusty fuzz.

    Now that I know there is such a thing as a black napkin, I will start asking for them. Perhaps I’ll start a trend up here.

  3. Dani says:

    but what is your father’s position on the black napkin?

  4. michaelprocopio says:

    LMS– Oh, don’t thank me. Thank their apparent usefulness. I would start offering them at my restaurant, but the ones we use are already madeof space-age, non-linty material.

    David– By all means, start the trend. I have decided to start demaning napkins in whatever color I happen to be wearing at the time.

    Dani– I would venture to guess that he prefers them red, white, or blue.

  5. Marge says:

    Down here in Dallas, a good host or captain will switch out for black based on the guest’s attire. It’s been this way as long as I have lived here (5 years).

    In both Boston and DC, I have asked for black napkins at four-star places (not just to be a pain in the ass, either… in DC I was actually wearing black velvet), and been told that there were none in the house. Haven’t tried in LA or NY.

    In fact, in Boston, the captain (who was French) had the gall to ask me if this was something that had just recently been written up in a magazine. When I looked askance, he said, “Well, lots of people have been asking for black napkins this week. Mostly men. So I figured it was some trendy thing that had been written in the paper.”


    Good white napkins really do leave linty fuzz. Still, I don’t ask for black unless I’m in a particularly lint-attracting fabric, because I feel pretentious. And/or bourgeois, thanks to a tacky waiter in Cambridge.

  6. Pingback: The black napkin “experience” | Plane & Jane

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