Upon my recent internet scours, I came across a video that was created to instruct women on the appropriate method in which to set a tea table! It video is a glorious mix of cheesy film and fascinating information: ‘Joan’ learns all about the right and wrong things to do whilst hosting a tea party.

The life of the twenty first century young lady certainly differs from that of the previous century; materialistically now we pride ourselves on the home as a whole, with rare social interactions that require the etiquette expected of those in the 1940s. Personally if I expect company for a cup of tea, I make sure I buy milk, but the traditional ladies ‘Tea’ takes quite a bit more preparation. (I would also like to note in advance that the same amount of detail is applied to the food preparation and the invitations details regarding appropriate attire.)

The Table

“The arrangement of the table is how we present our curtesy, good taste and friendliness”. On a long oblong table, lay a freshly cleaned and pressed table cloth, ensuring that it is smoothed out neatly and hangs evenly over each side. This cloth should not be white linen, but instead something that shares the occasion, such as lace or one bearing an embroidered pattern.

Table Decorations

A floral centrepiece will provide not only an aesthetically pleasing touch, but also a gentle fragrance. This centrepiece would be low in stature as not to seem too imposing and also the floral arrangement should be tasteful, harmonising with any colours that appear on the table cloth.

Candlesticks/Candelabra are not just to look at; they should only appear on a tea table if they will be the main functional light in the room. If this is the case then one must ensure the candelabra is not too tall as to distract from the ambience, but also holds enough candles to provide sufficient illumination.

The Tea Set

Quite an important factor in any effective tea party, but this once more is not so simple. Tea may not be the only drink to be served; coffee or punch are also a traditional option. To keep a pleasing appearance a tea set may be placed on a tray at one end, and a coffee set at the other; this will allow for two pourers to be serving beverages at any one time.

The tea set on the table is not the main consideration; in fact the items on the tray hold a more important relevance. The teapot/tea urn should be placed to the right hand side, facilitating ease of use, with access to the cream and sugar to the left for those who desire these accompaniments.

After pondering which way I would find most comfortable to pour my tea I thought a practical experiment was due. I perused our large stock inventory and found a George VI tea set (C2197) to complement our Business Manager’s favourite tea cup. Unfortunately I felt it didn’t reflect my personal style and wondered how the ‘modern lady’ may have tea with a friend, and set up our mugs with a contemporary Design style service (W9194). Which do you prefer?

traditional teaset
contemporary teaset

Cups and Plates

There is a whole section on cups, after all these are of highest importance as all the guests in attendance will be catered for with a clean, unchipped, unmarked cup. The most logical place for these components is in front of the tea/coffee pot to allow for easy pouring.

Here are some quick rules for cups:

  • When picking up a cup for someone else, NEVER put your hand on the interior surface; use the handle or the exterior surface.
  • Do not stack cups as this may cause them to topple, stack them two high at a maximum “to avoid accidents and embarrassment”.

The plates should be placed by the tea tray so a guest may easily pick one up whilst receiving a hot beverage, yet not too far away from the array of food being offered.

Spoons and Napkins

There is an easy rule of thumb for this set, DO NOT STACK. Not only does stacking lead to accidents, it also can make it difficult to select one item, therefore both spoons and napkins should be staggered for ease and convenience (illustrated to the right with silver spoons).

A small array of tea napkins should preferably be in a matching style to that of the table cloth, and compliment the floral arrangement previously selected.

napkins and spoons

Consideration to Others

So the ‘basic’ (ha) table has been set, but there are some extra features to bear in mind:

  • Candles should be firmly placed in a vertical position to give a “warm and friendly tone”.
  • Food should be dainty or bite-sized in addition to being not only tasty but pleasing to look at.
  • Small dishes of nuts or sweets are a nice touch for any table.
  • Plates are to be filled with food, but not over filled. Keep spare food to one side to replenish serving plates if they are sparse.
  • Lemon wedges should be provided for those who may not require cream or sugar in their tea.

And once you believe everything is place there is a checklist for the layout, taking into consideration the grand rule of etiquette, considering to others:

  • Can your guest “with the greatest convenience and without interrupting her conversation”
    • Step to the table
    • Take up a napkin, plate and spoon
    • Accept a beverage from the pourer
    • Chat whilst she makes her away along the table helping herself to the food provided.
    • Appreciate the flowers and candles in addition to the fine cloth and napkins.
  • Is the layout exact and symmetrical? “Exactness in details gives the final impression of perfection”.
  • Does your table succeed in an appropriate balance of aesthetics and practicality?
  • Will your guests’ first impressions be your orderliness, simplicity and good taste?

Written by

Rachel O'Keefe-Coulson

Rachel O’Keefe-Coulson is also known as AC Silver’s ‘Silver Lady’. Rachel spends her days handling antique silverware and processing these items for display on the AC Silver website. Rachel will enlighten our readers with posts of a silver theme.