Folding napkins is not a new art, in fact, I've heard it mentioned in many volumes written during the 19th century. Below is an excerpt about Folding napkins for waiters in fine restaurants and hotels. Many of the napkin arrangements can be found at How to Fold Napkins also known as Serviettes.
From The Steward's Handbook ©1889
NAPKIN FOLDING TO MAKE MONEY.
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 slow 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 pattern; 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.
NAPKIN FOLDING FOR EFFECT.
Napkins there must be at every dinner in every hotel of the least pretensions to elegance and it is a waste of a grand advantage not to make use of them for ornamental effects by employing the more imposing forms of folding them for setting on the table in readiness for the dinner. The use of the napkin to hold the dinner roll or piece of bread is a fashion of private table-setting and for caterers for private parties, but the piece of bread to each plate is not a hotel custom, it is not suitable. The flat folds of napkins instead are used as above named to bring pretty things to table in and to hold buttonhole boquets or the menu. Where the napkin and the art of folding shows up the grandest is in the hotel dining room with its fifty tables, its hundreds of plates, its long white rows of Pyramids, Hamburg Drums, Tulips, Palm Leaves , Double Fans; Columns, Crowns, Mitres, any of them, the taller the better, all alike, of course, on each day but changed in form every day. That indeed is a sight that is pleasing alike to hotel man and guest and for good reason; it is a scene of real beauty and symmetry of forms and distances, pleasing by its whiteness and intimation of cleanlines and purity. It is something much too ornamental and satisfactory to be lost to a dining room for want of a knowledge how to fold napkins.
THE WAY TO LEARN.
Learn the folds by using good stiff white paper, the size is of but little consequence. The apparent difficulty of following the diagrams . 1 and directions vanishes after one trial, and when the folds CS (A have been carried out with a sheet of paper a stiff napkin VI yi can be tried with a better chance of immediate success. Duji Some of the forms which require a hot iron for every fold are hardly practicable for use in hotels except for special Y*# party occasions, but there are plenty of easy forms that do Y not consume much time and some of them produce as good