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Afternoon Tea

Timing & Format


Afternoon Tea was inaugurated in 1840 by the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the UK. As dinner was usually served at 8.00 p.m. she found herself hungry around 4.00 p.m. and would have bread and butter with jam to alleviate these hunger pains. This she developed into a social function and would invite her friends to join her.


Afternoon Tea (or Low Tea) is usually served between 3 - 5 p.m., and if attending you should to arrive around 3 p.m. (no later than 3.15 p.m.) and must leave by 5 p.m. (5.15 p.m. at the very latest), unless these times have been varied by a prior invite for the occasion.

Afternoon Tea is not to be confused with High Tea which is served between 5 – 7 p.m. This is a light meal, served seated at a “high” table, and replaces the evening dinner.


Afternoon Tea is an informal occasion and held standing or seated in comfortable chairs around a “low” table. This is particularly true for small gatherings where it is relatively easy to spread the tea service over a small low table (e.g. a coffee table) and people gather round in armchairs and on couches. It is common with these smaller gatherings, but not essential and certainly not the rule, for the host to “play mum” and pour tea for everyone (or to designate someone else for the role).

For larger gatherings, the tea service can be spread over a dining table (linen covered) and a tea urn provided for people to help themselves (with a greater variety of teas available). People can mingle between several or more rooms (including outdoors when possible) allowing people to stand or sit as they wish.

Some provide Afternoon Tea as a more formal affair and have place settings around a “high” table. While this is not incorrect, Afternoon Tea is considered to be an informal function and we feel it is already made special by not sitting around a table, as most other repasts tend to be.

Another alternative is to hold Afternoon Tea outdoors either in a backyard/garden or a scenic location (e.g. river, hill etc.). Although there is an element of this becoming more like a garden party or picnic, any invite should ideally specify the location if being held outdoors (including important information like: "Bring swimwear for pool" or "Bring stout footwear to reach…" etc.). Again, while this is not incorrect. Afternoon Tea is a specific event in itself, with an established format, and venturing outdoors to include other activities should be carefully considered.

Dress Code

Dress code is an important aspect to the format of an Afternoon Tea Party. Unless it is a formal garden party (usually with high level dignitaries like ambassadors, presidents, royalty etc.) white or black tie is overly formal and not appropriate. The highest form of dress should be a lounge suit (e.g. formal business wear) and the lowest consisting of tailored trousers (minimum chino’s) with a tailored shirt (no tie necessary). This is an informal occasion so think smart casual but not too casual e.g. denim, shorts, t-shirt etc. are inappropriate.

If the dress code is different to this the host should determine the level of dress required and indicate this on invites accordingly (and maybe do this anyway).

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