Afternoon Tea


The old English tradition of taking afternoon tea at 4 o’clock is slowly dying out and in its place the trend is towards ‘tea and pastries’ only.  The venue changing from the hotel lounge to the coffee bars and tea gardens. This trend is due to two main factors, the first being the problem of the staffing of the afternoon period between lunch and dinner, and the second being a simple case of economics in that in order to make the service of afternoon tea pay the hotelier would have to charge a price unacceptable to the public.

However afternoon tea is still served in many establishments and in a variety of forms which may be classified into three main types:

  1. Full afternoon tea served in a first class hotel;
  2. High tea as served in a popular price restaurant of cafè;
  3. The reception or buffet tea

Full afternoon tea

This is usually served in the hotel lounge by the lounge waiters or by a small brigade drawn from the restaurant on a rota basis. The lounge tables will be used and are covered with an afternoon tea cloth which may be white or coloured. A buffet table may be set up in one corner of the lounge, preferably with immediate access to the still-room and service area. It would be set up as a sideboard with all the necessary equipment for serving and relaying the afternoon tea.

The menu will usually consist of some or all of the following items which are served in the order in which they are listed.


  • Hot buttered toast or toasted tea cake or crumpets
  • Assorted afternoon tea sandwiches – smoked salmon, cucumber, tomato, sardine, egg, gentleman’s relish
  • Buttered scones, brown and white bread and butter, fruit bread and butter, raspberry or strawberry jams
  • Gâteaux and pastries

With reference to the menu below:

  1. Toast, tea cakes and crumpets are obtained from the stillroom as ordered and are served in a soup plate or welled dish with a silver cover on an saucer. An alternative to this would be the use of a muffin dish which is a covered silver dish with an inner lining and with hot water in the lower par of the container. It is essential that all these items are served hot. When serving hot uttered toast for afternoon tea, the crusts from three sides only are removed, and the toast is then cut into ‘fingers’ with part of the crust remaining attached to each ‘finger’.
  2. The sandwiches are sent from the larder already dressed on silver flats, and these are set out on the buffet prior to service.
  3. The scones and assorted buttered breads are obtained from the still-room, and are dressed on doilies on silver flats and are also set out on the buffet. Preserves are also obtained from the still-room, either in individual pots or in preserve dishes, both of which are served on a doily on an saucer and with a preserve spoon.
  4. Gâteaux and pastries are collected already dressed up on doilies on silver flats or salvers from the chef pâtissier. An alternative to this would be the use of a pastry trolley.

Cover for afternoon tea

  1. Side plate
  2. Paper serviette
  3. Side or tea knife
  4. Pastry fork
  5. Tea cup and saucer and a teaspoon
  6. Slop basin and tea strainer
  7. Sugar basin and tongs
  8. Tea pot and hot water jug stands or saucer
  9. Jug of cold milk
  10. Preserve dish on a doily on an saucer with a preserve spoon

Items 9 and 10 may be brought to the table only when the guests are seated and are not part of the basic mise-en-place.

Service of afternoon tea

As soon as the order has been taken, the top copy of the check is sent to the still-room for the beverage and any toasted items that may be required. While these are being prepared, items 9 and 10, of the cover listed above are set on the table.

The beverage will be served first making sure that the teapot, hot water jug and milk jug are placed to the right of the hostess of the party and with the handles correctly positioned for easy pouring. The toasted items are served next and are followed in turn by the other savoury items and then the assorted buttered breads with the appropriate preserve.

The side-plate will then be changed before serving the pastries. There are three alternative methods for the actual service of the food, this depending on the type of establishment and style of service employed, and also the number of staff available. These are as follows:

  • A Silver service direct from the various silver flats.
  • B As for A but with all the flats on a trolley which is wheeled from table to table.
  • The waiter plates up the food at the buffet with the appropriate portions and the plates are all set on the table. This method has obvious disadvantages in that it is time wasting and uneconomical.

Checking system

Double checking is normally used for the service of afternoon tea, the top copy of the check going to the still-room and the bottom copy being the bill, against which the waiter/ress will collect payment, in the case of chance customers. In the case of hotel guests, it will be signed by them, and then have the appropriate room number entered on it and will be sent to the bill office at the end of service. Afternoon tea may be either table d’hôtel or à la carte.

Service of high tea

In department stores and popular price restaurants a high tea may be available in addition to the full afternoon tea. It is usually in a modified à la carte form and the menu will offer, in addition to the normal full afternoon tea menu, such items as grills, toasted snacks, fish and meat dishes, salads, cold sweets and ices. The meat dishes normally consist in the main of pies and pastries, whereas the fish dishes are usually fried or grilled.

Cover for high tea

  1. Serviette
  2. Joint knife and fork
  3. Side-plate
  4. Side-knife
  5. Cruet; salt, pepper, mustard and mustard spoon
  6. Tea cup, saucer and teaspoon
  7. Sugar basin and tongs
  8. Slop basin and tea strainer
  9. Tea pot and hot water jug stands or saucers
  10. Jug of cold milk
  11. Preserve on a doily on a saucer and with a preserve spoon
  12. Ashtray

As for the afternoon tea cover the jug of cold milk and the preserve on a doily on a saucer will only be brought to the table when the guests are seated and are not part of the mise-en-place. Any other items of tableware that may be required are brought to the table as for à la carte service.

In the case of a high tea, bread and butter is a normal accompaniment. Because of the hot snacks offered on a high tea menu there should be available on the waiter’s sideboard a good variety of proprietary sauces such as, Tomato Ketchup, HP sauces, Worcestershire sauce and AI sauce. In the case of both afternoon tea service and high tea there will normally be a choice of Indian, Ceylon, China, Russian or iced tea available. For methods of infusion and service reference must be made to the section on beverages.

Checking system

Double checking is again the system of control used for the service of high tea. Sections of the top copy going to the still-room for the beverage, and to the kitchen for he hot snack ordered. The bottom copy is the bill against which the waitress will collect payment. An alternative method of payment is for the bill to be presented to the guest, who in turn pays the cashier on leaving the restaurant, the cashier having receipted the ill and returned any change necessary. The charge for high tea is generally à la carte.


For the service of a high tea the beverage would again be served first, followed by the hot snack ordered with ist accompaniment of read and butter. When this has been consumed and cleared the service then follows that of a full afternoon tea.

Reception or buffet tea

These are offered at special functions and private parties only, and as the name implies the food and beverage are served from a buffet table and not at individual tables. The buffet should be set up in a prominent position in the room making sure that there is ample space on the buffet for display and presentation and for the guest to make their choice. As well as being in a prominent position the buffet should be within easy access of the still-room and wash-up so that replenishment of the buffet and the clearing of dirties may be carried out without disturbing the guests. Another important factor when setting up the buffet is to ensure there is ample space for customer circulation and that a number of occasional tables and chairs should be placed round the room. These occasional tables should be covered with clean, well starched linen cloths and have a small vase of flowers and an ashtray on them.

Setting up the buffet

The buffet will be covered with suitable cloths making sure the ‘drop’ of the cloth is to within 1,25 cm (1/2 inch) of the ground all the way round the buffet. If more than one cloth is used the creases should also be lined up and where the cloths overlap one another the overlap should be facing away from the entrance to the room. The ends of the buffet will be ‘box’ pleated with the aid of drawing pins which must be used under the folds of the cloth so that they do not show thereby giving a better overall presentation of the buffet.

The normal afternoon tea tableware, china and serviettes are then laid along the front of the buffet in groups with the tea cups, saucers and teaspoons concentrated in one or more tea service points as required. Sugar basis and tongs may be placed on the buffet or not the occasional tables that are spread round the room. The tea would be served at the separate tea service points along the buffet from silver urns which would be kept hot with methylated spirit burners. Milk would be served separately from silver milk jugs.

A raised floral centrepiece should be the focal point around which the dishes of food would be placed. Cake stands may also be used for presentation and display purposes.


During the reception some of the staff will be positioned behind the buffet for service and replenishment of the dishes of food and the beverage. Others will circulate round the room with the food and also clear away the dirties as they accumulate. As the dishes on the buffet become depleted they should be quickly replenished or cleared away so that the buffet looks neat and tidy at all times.


At this type of function no checking system will be needed, but a bill will be made out afterwards and sent to the host, the price having being quoted beforehand when the function was booked.