The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the word ‘napkin’ as follows:

a square piece of cloth or paper used at a meal to wipe the fingers or lips and to protect garments.

The most important word here is the verb ‘wipe’. When one wipes something, one intends to clean that very thing. In order to achieve this objective, the napkin itself must be free of detritus. If a napkin has been soiled prior to its intended use, then it would perform the task of wiping very poorly indeed.

For quite some time, I have been observing what I consider to be utter nonsense in cafés. Observe an example below.

The brownie looks delicious and has been presented beautifully. The napkin, on the other hand, has been placed underneath the brownie, thereby soiling the napkin. The reason for this is unclear; a wooden board has already been used to support the brownie, so why must a napkin be placed beneath it? Surely the napkin could have been folded and placed neatly to the side instead. Would that have been so offensive?

Whenever I’m confronted by this super-first-world predicament, I have no choice but to use the soiled napkin, which compromises its ability to clean my fingers. In addition, attempting to unfold the napkin to use its cleaner (inner) surface area presents other problems, such as the spilling of crumbs off the edge of the board or plate.

Furthermore, I could request or find another napkin, however this would lead to the unnecessary waste of additional napkins over time.

Don’t even get me started on the idea of protecting one’s garments with such a napkin, as is suggested in the definition. Would you put this napkin on your lap? I think not.

I implore café owners to reconsider their presentation of napkins with food, so that we all may use them as they were designed to be used.

Thank you.

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