Tea Party Etiquette

Following tea party etiquette rules will help your tea party to run smoothly and ensure that everyone enjoys themselves. It's not an up-tight thing, just a few simple guidelines.

In the modern day, there are few rules really, for afternoon tea. But one remains crucial. Afternoon tea is a time for social chat, light-hearted conversation and a break from work and any serious topic of conversation. Politics are out!

Afternoon tea is a chance to truly relax and take some time to re-charge your batteries. It's a time to be with friends or family and to enjoy each other's company.

Setting the scene helps people to instinctively understand this without giving them a set of rules at the door!

Tea Party Etiquette for the Hostess

As a hostess, you should greet your guests at the door and take their coats to hang.

Show them into the room where you are entertaining and introduce them to any guests that have already arrived.

Offer your guests a seat, or invite them to mingle.

Offer your guest a drink.

Tea party etiquette is less formal for a larger gathering. You can simply supply black tea in a pot, coffee, and a choice of herbal tea. Make sure you have plenty of hot water available. You can either pour the tea yourself, or simply show the table to your guest and ask them to help themselves.

In this case, the tea and coffee should be made before everyone arrives.

Make sure you provide a spoon for each guest for stirring their sugar (should they take it), as well as a spoon in the sugar bowl.

In the same vein, you should ensure that there is a butter knife if serving butter, as well as a knife for each person for spreading.

Make sure that you supply napkins. Ideally, these should be cloth, but it will not spoil your party if they are paper. I often use paper for convenience and because of the choice of colour available.

Serve butter, jam and cream in bowls. Do not put the butter packet or the jam jar on the table. It spoils the look of your table.

Make sure that there is a spoon in each bowl.

Make sure that all the food is set out on the table before your guests arrive. I cover the plates with clingfilm and remove this literally just before they are due.

I fill the kettle (although I don't boil it) before my guests arrive and I have the pot ready and the milk already poured in a jug.

I make sure that the kitchen is clear of pots and pans and that the place we are sitting is clean and tidy.

The tea party can take place in different places, but I rarely sit round the dining room table for afternoon tea. I sometimes use the dining room table for a buffet afternoon tea for more people.

In the winter, for casual and intimate visitors, we often sit at the kitchen table or when it's very cold, we snuggle by the fire.

In the summer, I prefer to serve tea outside unless it's raining.

So my tea is nearly always served in an informal way, and I think this encourages people to relax and feel comfortable.

There are many books written about tea party etiquette and how one should behave. Personally I think there are very few rules that really matter. The very best hosts make their visitors feel good. It’s as simple as that.

Tea Party Etiquette for Guests

Make sure you are on time. Do not arrive early. If you are early, wait in your car or somewhere nearby. Most certainly, do not be late without very good reason.

If you are going to be late, contact your host to let them know if at all possible.

Smile at your host when you arrive and make sure you smile at the other guests. Make an effort to try to remember their names.

Never discuss politics. If you discuss work, you should do so in the most light-hearted way. Never start an argument, nor join in if someone else is rude enough to do so.

If you take sugar, use the spoon in the bowl to serve the sugar, but a separate spoon to stir it in.

When stirring in the sugar, you should gently move the spoon backwards and forwards, trying not to clink the sides of the cup. Put the spoon on the saucer tucked behind your cup when you have finished.

If you are served scones, you should break scones in half. The knife is for spreading the butter, not cutting the scones. Scones should break easily in half without cutting.

You should use the spoons provided to put some jam and cream onto your plates. You should then use your own knife to spread it on the scone.

You should use your napkin to protect your knees. Don't tuck it under your chin, and don't use a linen napkin to dab your lipstick.

Take no more than three items of food for your plate. You can have as many helpings as you like, but piling your plate high is rude.

It is good tea party etiquette to take small mouthfuls. Afternoon tea is all about being sociable. You can't talk easily with your mouth full!

Remember to say please and thank you.

If something is missing from the table, such as serving spoons or napkins, don't embarrass your host. Follow her lead. If she has forgotten napkins and doesn't notice, then manage without.

If you know your host well, it is acceptable to discreetly get a butter knife yourself, for example, without drawing it to anyone's attention.

Remember that the most important function of afternoon tea is to socialise with friends, to relax and to enjoy a nice cup of tea and some food.

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