Your Guide to Table Setting Etiquette
For Afternoon and High Tea

tea table silhouette, tea party buffet

Looking to gain confidence in your knowledge of table setting etiquette? We will help you know what is necessary when serving Afternoon or High Tea.(Any Tea really!)

Setting the tea table beautifully is one of the main things that will make your tea party fabulous.

Don't worry! It doesn't mean expensive! You can use the worlds best china and silver right on down to regular run of the mill tea cups and teapots. What you are looking for are things that are pleasing to the eye. Quality by all means has it's place, but it doesn't mean you need to max out the credit card to hostess a memorable tea party.

Don't have something you need? Borrow it!

Don't have enough tea cups? Hostess a 'Bring your favorite tea cup party'. (Make sure to at least have a few on hand for those who may forget theirs)

Keep an eye out at yard sales, consignment shops and online sales sites for wonderful items that will add beauty to your table. I recently purchased a 48 pc. china set for under $20 at our local Goodwill store, and lovely lace table cloths and runners at yard sales for .25 - $2 each.

Also keep in mind when setting the tea table, not everything has to match. Similar color schemes or similar styles,(flowers, Japanese, plain) can all be mixed and matched. Keep in mind that the table setting etiquette presented here will help you to blend beauty, symmetry, and over all appeal to the eye.

Table and Silverware Etiquette

Let's have a look at the table setting etiquette for a sit-down tea party. This is ideal for smaller groups although it is also done for larger groups when a tea buffet is not desired.

NB: All items described below won't necessarily be needed for your menu, but I will describe positions and uses anyway for proper table setting etiquette.

By the way, decide which type of tea party you will have, then, how extensive it will be. Want to have a simple cream tea or afternoon tea with out a lot of fuss? Or an elaborate high tea with several courses?

Keep in mind, if you are serving only things that are eaten using your fingers,(tea sandwiches, tea cakes...)you do not need to provide any other flatware other than a spoon for the tea.

A cream tea will require at least a knife for butter/cream, and a spoon for jam for the scones.

An afternoon tea will require the same for a cream tea, if you are serving scones, plus silverware for anything else that may require a utensil.

A high tea, because it is a dinner, will require possibly multiples of plates, forks, knives and spoons, again depending on what is served.

As with all formal table settings, a tea party setting is no different except that the tea/coffee cup is placed to the right of the spoons instead of up to the right of the other glasses.

Lower Level

  • luncheon sized plates,(centered)
  • cloth napkins,(left of plate)
  • fork(s)(left of plate, either on napkin or to the right of it.)
  • knife(right of plate, sharp side toward plate)
  • butter knife(right of knife, facing same way)
  • spoon(right of knives)
  • tea spoon(right of spoon, can also be placed on the saucer of the tea cup)
  • tea cup and saucer(right of spoons)

  • Upper Level:
  • waste bowl(far left, above napkin-for tea leaves,lemon)
  • bread plate(right of waste bowl-butter knife can be laid across the top right of plate)
  • dessert bowl and/or plate(directly above the main plate,centered-for extra special dessert that may be served separate from normal tea sweets i.e. birthday cake,ice cream...)
  • dessert fork and/or spoon(directly under dessert plate horizontally, pointing in opposite directions)
  • water glass-above the knife
  • other glasses if needed will go to the right of the water glass.

  • Keep in mind the more items you serve that require a utensil or a plate, the more of course you need to place on the table.


  • sharp knives, if a meat is served at a high tea
  • salad fork, if a salad or other course is served that requires an extra one
  • knife rest, purely optional, but a fun, fancy touch
  • finger bowl, if something sticky or messy like cocktail shrimp is served
  • juice or wine glass-right of water glass,above spoon
  • With practice, your table setting etiquette will become second nature!
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