Tea Party Etiquette


What is the proper tea party etiquette?
Proper tea party etiquette is not all that much different from the propriety required in other social situations such as dinner parties. The one major difference is in the table setup since there will not be the need for different meal courses.

Cathleen Hanson, who is one of the owners and founders of the International School of Protocol, which teaches proper etiquette to children, adults, educators, and businesses,, says that tea parties are very popular for neighborhood socializing. New neighbors are often invited to a "Welcome to the Neighborhood" tea party. Cathleen offers these tips on proper etiquette for planning a tea party: "You can send out invitations if you'd like. Tea time is always late afternoon around four o'clock. You will want to have a tea table or any table with a large tray at each end. One will be for coffee, and one will be for teacups and saucers. You will also need tea plates, which are small plates for finger foods. There will be napkins and forks as needed for the foods. The foods can include things like tea sandwiches or pastries." Menu ideas include cool delicate sandwiches such as watercress or cream cheese during the spring and summer. You may want to opt for hot appetizers such as cheese or crab puffs during the fall and winter. A variety of sweets, cookies, and cakes should always be made available for the guests no matter what the season.

The table that you choose to use should be covered with a fine linen tablecloth. If you have a silver or porcelain tray to set the finger foods on and a pretty tea service set, there is no need for further decorations except perhaps a few bouquets of flowers spread cheerfully around the room.

As far as the tea party itself is concerned, Cathleen says, "This is where it gets interesting. The host asks the guest of honor or a good friend to pour the tea. There should be one pot of very strong tea, and one pot of hot water at each pouring area. You ask the guest how they would like their tea - strong, medium, or weak. Then you mix the water with the tea to get the right solution. You should have milk, sugar, and lemon available at either side. The host or the guest may add these to the teacup."

With a larger tea party, proper etiquette dictates that two guests of the hostess's choosing pour the tea to begin and are then relieved by two others after an hour or so. For a less formal party you could also set out little containers filled with packets of flavored or herbal tea for those who prefer a different variety.

Cathleen adds, "Usually, at a tea party, you are not going to be seated. You may be seated in a living room, but some people are going to sit and others are going to stand." So, make sure to have ample table space or trays around the room for guests to sit down their cups, saucers, and food plates.