Afternoon tea is a uniquely British tradition. Although it was created by and for British high-society in the 1800s, it is available to everyone today. However, it’s always helpful to know the correct etiquette, and for this guide, we have Brew Smartly’s Alex Ion to explain some of the do’s and don’ts.
The timing for this guide to afternoon tea etiquette couldn’t be more perfect as it is currently Afternoon Tea Week here in the UK. It is a brilliant opportunity to treat close friends and family members to a classic combination of tea and cake. If you’re not sure where to experience the very best, we recently produced a guide which you can read here.
Afternoon Tea Etiquette:
1. Dress Appropriately
Afternoon Tea is a formal occasion, and unless stated otherwise, the standard dress code for Afternoon Tea is ‘semi-formal’ or ‘smart casual’. What this means is instead of sportswear and trainers, opt for trousers/smart jeans or a dress.
2. What Do I Eat First?
Afternoon Tea is usually served on a three-tiered cake stand, providing sandwiches, scones, and a selection of cakes with tea. The question remains – What do I eat first?
Top to Bottom: A good rule of thumb is top to bottom. The top tier of sandwiches should be approached first, followed by the scones below and then lastly, the selection of cakes or pastries.
Cream first or Jam? – The eternal debate for scones is the order in which to apply the toppings. In this case, it is entirely up to the consumer. The Devon way is cream first, and then jam; however, the Cornish way is jam spread first with cream on top.
Milk first or Tea? – Another widespread debate amongst Brits is the order in which to make the perfect cup of tea. When pouring for the table, tea takes precedence so that present company can add milk to their preferred taste.
3. Cutlery & Crockery Do’s & Don’ts
Although the standard food served is to be eaten without cutlery. The etiquette surrounding cutlery and crockery is another rule to take note of.
Used cutlery – Once you have used a knife or spoon, they must not return to the table but to a plate.
Stirring spoon – Your spoon must not be put into your mouth after stirring.
Cup & Saucers – When you are ready to drink your tea, your saucer must remain on the table and not be moved towards your face with the cup.
In the comfort of your own home, dunking a biscuit or two is acceptable. However, the etiquette of an Afternoon Tea dictates that you must never dunk.
5. Keep Mobile Phones Out of Sight
Nowadays, going for an Afternoon Tea is an event where many will take pictures for social media or to remember the occasion.
Although once you have taken your pictures, it is recommended that you put your phone away and do not leave it out on the table. It is one of the most basic rules of table etiquette to be in the moment and not ignore your company.
Bonus Tip: Splitting the Bill
The preferred method is to split the bill evenly between those partaking in the Afternoon Tea. However, if this is not the case, it is proper etiquette to decide ahead of time how the bill is to be paid to avoid confusion and potential embarrassment at the end of your experience.
Many thanks to Alex Ion and the team at BrewSmartly.com for compiling this guide to afternoon tea etiquette.
As mentioned earlier in this etiquette guide, it’s currently Afternoon Tea Week in the UK which will run until the 15th of August. The hospitality industry has gone through a torrid time during the past 16 months. You’ll not only be treating friends and family by partaking in an afternoon tea, but you’ll also be helping support people working in the industry.