Etiquette for Guests
At the Tea Table

Etiquette for guests at the tea table is something a lot of us wish was taught more in depth in this day and age of "kick back, relax and come as you are". The tips for proper manners at the table will help give you confidence in what to do, say, and how to use everything properly.

So, read on, brush up on your table manners and silverware etiquette and attend your tea party(or any other formal occasion) with confidence!

What to do at the Tea Table and a Tea Buffet:

  • If you haven't already, remove your gloves before coming to the tea table. Gloves are always removed completely before doing anything with food or drinks.

  • Blot lipstick off onto a tissue if there are linen or another type of cloth napkins.

  • When you first sit down, place your napkin into your lap.

  • The hostess or servers will serve tea, and then the hostess will begin passing trays and other dishes. When the table is small enough, you may be able to reach everything to serve yourself, but make sure to never reach over or in front of someone else.

  • When preparing your tea, if it's not done for you, pour the tea first, then add any milk, sugar or lemon.

  • If the hostess indicates for everyone to help themselves, take what is in front of you, help yourself, and then pass items to the right. Remember, tea parties are lighter affairs ~ take only one or two of each item. By no means should you load up your plate as full as you can.

  • If you are attending a buffet, wait your turn in line. At a large event, the hostess will usually indicate to each table when to get in line, but she may only do this for the 'dignitaries' table, then a general rule is each table in succession.

  • A tea service will be at one end of the table, and if coffee is offered, it will be at the opposite end. The ladies serving tea and coffee will ask you as you approach their respective ends if you would like some, then ask you about cream for coffee, milk for tea, sugar, and/or lemon.(don't add milk with lemon, your milk may curdle)

  • Don't wish to have tea? It's not obligatory, so don't feel bad about saying 'no thank you' as you pass through the line. A cold beverage is also usually provided.

  • After you receive your coffee or tea, help yourself to everything on the buffet.

  • Back at your table, make sure to set your tea cup and plate down first before sitting down. Pull your chair out far enough so you don't bump the person next to you.

  • Seconds ~ If you are at an afternoon tea or low tea, and are not being served by wait staff, the hostess will usually pass things a second time, but, if not, it is acceptable to ask for something to be passed again, unless it has been removed from the table.

  • If it has been removed by the wait staff from the tea table, especially at a high tea where there will be several courses, do not ask for seconds.

  • Silverware and Place Setting Etiquette at the Tea Table

    Usage of the place setting at a tea table is the same as a normal formal setting, except for tea, the tea cup is placed to the right of the spoons, and at other formal events, it is placed to the right of the other drink ware above the knives and spoons.

    As with all place settings at a formal table, if there are multiple courses, there will be multiple forks, spoons and/or knives depending on what is being served.

    The first utensil on the outside edge will be the first you will use. If it requires a fork, use the first one on the far left. If it requires a spoon, use the first one on the far right. The knives are used in the same manner ~ the first from the outside edge moving in closer to your plate as the meal progresses. See also, Table Setting Etiquette, for a more in depth description of the items used at a formal tea table.

    On a side note, don't let someone confuse you with American and Continental silverware etiquette. The main difference is: for American style, you have your fork in your left hand, tines up,and the knife in the right. When you are done cutting your food, you lay the knife down and put your fork back in your right hand.

    For Continental style, you keep your fork in your left hand the whole time, tines down, and your knife in your right hand. The knife is used to cut food, of course, but is also used to maneuver the food onto your fork.

  • Stirring your tea ~ try to gently stir your tea so as not to 'clink' your spoon on the cup. A swishing motion back and forth is good. Never swirl your cup, especially if it is full ~ it may end up in your lap or on your neighbor's sleeve!

  • Avoid tapping your spoon on the side of your tea cup ~ you may chip it. Instead, remove your spoon and lay it in the saucer next to your cup, not back on the table cloth.

    NB ~ No used silverware should be placed on a table cloth. Place it on the edge of your plate, saucer, or a knife rest.

  • Lifting your tea cup and saucer together is only done if you are away from a dining table. Lift saucer with your left hand, and the cup with your right hand to about chest hight. Then lift the cup the rest of the way and drink. This method will catch any drips that may occur. Return the cup to the saucer, and then both to your lap or a small side tea table.

  • At the end of the meal, when you are finished, lay your silverware across your plate from the right.

  • If you need to leave the table during the meal, rise and then lay your napkin in your seat, not on the table, but if your napkin is soiled, lay it loosely to the left of your place setting.

  • Watch for the hostess to signal the end of the meal by taking her napkin from her lap and loosely laying it to the left of her plate. Everyone else should follow suit, and then rise from the table after she does so.
  • Additional Information:
    Return to Tea Party Etiquette from Tea Table Etiquette
    Visit Table Setting Etiquette
    Return to Tea Party Guide

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