This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The art of folding napkins is the most valuable accomplishment a waiter can acquire. There are some who contend that a waiter cannot be considered completely equipped for his profession without knowledge of several languages; still it must be owned this knowledge of various tongues is only useful in the city restaurants frequented by strangers to the country while a waiter may spend his life in good hotels where linguistic accomplishments are never c ailed into play. Not so however, with the art of folding napkins. It is needed everywhere. There is nothing a waiter can do that is at once so interesting and so quickly proves him to be what he says he is, a man who understands his business. There is nothing he can do, if a stranger in a strange place that will so quickly give him introductions and acquaintance as to take a dozen sheets of stiff white paper and with them instead of napkins execute the finer patterns shown in this book and set them up for display. They attract attention at once and prove better than a letter of introduction for a young man seeking employment, and, fortunately, this useful art is far easier to learn than a foreign language.
In our talk about waiters it is several times mentioned that there are w hat are called good tables to which the best or most deserving waiters are allotted. In the case of a Paris cafe it is shown that these best tables are only reached by 6low promotions and delinquent or absentee waiters are invariably placed at the bottom or worst tables when they return to work and have to progress to the better places slowly. The meaning of good tables is that they are occupied by guests who pay their waiter well; the worst tables are those frequented by, let us say, "dead-heads," or by some sort of customers of whom little or nothing is to be expected. It is precisely the same in our hotels and perhaps most markedly the case in pleasure resorts where families take up their summer or winter residence, occupy the same tables through the season and pay their waiter well. The headwaiter gives such tables as favors to the waiters he likes the best, and if he does not like a waiter he can keep him down to a table where he cannot make a dollar.
The best way a waiter can help himself and make it so the headwaiter cannot afford to keep him down is to learn to be a boss napkin folder; if he is the best folder in the dining room he has a big advantage; he will be always needed, and needed at the best tables. Perhaps the reason of this is not plain to all, it is because the best guests expect all sorts of elegant little attentions and must not see the next table to them faring better than they. The waiter brings in various things upon folded napkins and if he could not produce ornamental effects that way he could not be in such a position. When, for example, he brings in the various cut cakes, macaroons and bonbons, he provides himself with, say, the "Chestnut Pocket" on page 8 or the "Heraldic Rose" and cross, page 14, not caring for the cross but opening up the pockets and filling them with the handsomest and most delicate confections he can obtain at the pantry or fruit room. The cheese and crackers he brings in another patter.n; the table he has already furnished with such a pattern at each plate as the "Flower Basket." page 20, or what not, while his rival at the next table may be trying himself to do something still better These attentions are practiced by the waiters because it pays them to do so; the people at the good tables appreciate them, and moreover, they expect them and the head waiter is obliged to find waiters who can meet these expectations.
Some of the handsomest folds are cabable of many changes; the "Heraldic Rose" when opened up is known as the "Boston Fold," the "Flower Basket" with the points up is known as the "Saratago Fold," but several of these might as well be called the "Tip Catcher," the "Remember Me," the "Christmas Gift Collector," etc.