You’ve decided to host a tea party! Perhaps it’s your very first and you’re not sure where to start. (You’re in the right place) Or, you might be an ‘old hand’ at running such events, but just want to find out if there’s anything you can do a bit differently for this occasion.
We think there is little that is quite like gathering together with friends over a pot of tea, some delicious scones, and dainty tea sandwiches. It is likely to be a delightful occasion purely because of the togetherness and choice of menu! However, there are a few special tips and tricks you can use to add an extra touch of elegance to the table and refine the experience just a bit more.
Whatever your reason for visiting today – Welcome! We have eight terrific tips for you to check off as you organize your event.
With our tips up your sleeve, your guests will be begging you to organize events like this more often!
Table settings for a formal tea party
If you’re planning an event that involves a sit-down meal or light refreshment, rather than a buffet, you’ll need to consider the table setting to ensure everything works comfortably and easily for both you and your guests. About the most important arrangement to keep in mind is the place-setting for each guest. Unlike a buffet, where guests can help themselves then often sit wherever they please, each guest will have their own place-setting at a sit-down tea party.
Whether it be a high tea, afternoon tea party, or a luncheon, a bit of forethought and careful planning to arrange each setting to suit will help make sure it’s a success. From plates and cutlery to tea cups and glasses and seating arrangements, there are several elements to consider when it comes to the place-setting for a sit-down tea party. There is so much fun to be had with table settings!
I recently had the pleasure of attending a beautifully organized baby shower. It was held as a sit-down tea party – in honor of a first-time mother-to-be. I was surprised, as tea parties aren’t the norm in our culture, but it turned out to be a resounding success. This set up could equally be applied to a bridal shower as a baby shower. It would also make for a fantastic birthday celebration for a special lady. It just goes to show that a tea party is always a good idea! Why not plan to host a high tea just to have a get together with special friends?
In this article, we’ll explore what you need to know to create an elegant and functional place-setting that will ensure your guests feel special and make your tea party a memorable one.
Here’s how to create your perfect tea party table setting:
Tip 1 – Perfect Plate Size
A tea party is a lovely tradition that revolves around a light refreshment and pretty table setting. So, when it comes to selecting the best plates to use, we recommend choosing a luncheon plate or salad plates. These will be just the right size to hold the small food servings, such as tea sandwiches, scones you’re likely to serve. Not only will these plates provide the perfect portion size, but their slightly smaller diameter also makes the set table look a little daintier – so adding an elegant touch. Such a lovely visual will make your guests feel like they’re being treated like royalty.
How pretty are these fine porcelain china plates from Amazon?
Tip 2 – Placement of the Teacup
When you lay the table for a tea party it is important to pay attention to the correct orientation of the teacup. As a general rule, the teacup should be placed to the right of the place setting, above the knife and spoon, as shown below.
Imagine having a 97th birthday celebration (or any other number birthday, for that matter) with a lovely sit-down tea party!
Tip 3 – Attention to Small Details
For a special occasion, paying attention to small details can make a big difference.
One of these details is the positioning of the teacup handle. By convention (or, perhaps because more people are right handed than left handed) the teacup handle should be turned outwards – i.e. pointed to the right. Another important detail is the positioning of the knife. The blade of the knife should face inwards, pointing towards the plate.
We recommend making sure every place setting is arranged exactly the same, else it might look untidy otherwise!
Serving sugar cubes with sugar tongs is another touch I like to add to my tea party table setting. It’s a little unexpected these days, as a bowl of suger (or indeed a sachet) is much more usual. So using sugar cubes and tongs is a charming detail that your guests will enjoy – perhaps even without realizing at the time they are enjoying them! Anything we place our hands on we tend to notice, so make these details lovely!
Whilst it will depent upon the ‘look’ or ‘story’ you are intending with you tea party theme, a detail that will create impact is to use a tablecloth and/or matching or coordinated placemats to protect the table surface and create a beautifully setting. This is the time to bring out grandma’s table linen. Using vintage or antique linens will give your event a very special sense of occasion. And I am absolutely sure our ancestors would love to think that we use their thoughtfully handed down linen for our tea parties!
Tip 4 – Tea Party Table Decor
A centerpiece of a vase of flowers always looks lovely on a set table. You can also use other decorative items, such as small tea lights or candles to add to the loveliness of the party table setting.
However, there is one rule to emphasise here. Be sure to use only non-scented candles and lightly-perfumed flowers. Let the smells come from the food and tea! Overpowering smells are never a good idea, because you don’t know what everyone’s preferences, or allergies are. (I once knew a lady who taught, in succession, my children. She had a ‘perfume allergy’ and we had to often be reminded not to wear fragrances when entering the classroom or going on excursions with her and the class).
You could get tricky and use flameless LED type color changing candles, available on Amazon. But whatever you choose, we’ve fallen in love with these really pretty Gold or Silver and Crystal Tea Light Candle Holders:
Tip 5 – Napkins for Place Settings
Paper napkins are convenient, but not elegant, I’m afraid. For the best experience for your guests, it’s important to use fabric napkins. Try and find luncheon-sized (around nine-inch square) instead of dinner-sized (twelve-inch square) napkins.
There are a few options for the placement of napkins. You can use a napkin ring to hold the folded or rolled napkin, or fold the napkin in a decorative shape. Either way, the napkin is then placed on the left side of the place setting. So, the plate will be in the middle, fork(s) to the left of the plate, then napkin to the left of the forks.
Alternatively, the napkin can be placed on the plate. It’s usual to fold the napkin decortively or otherwise beautifully if it is going to be placed in the middle of the plate.
I remember as a child learning a few clever napkin folding techniques and setting the dinner table with my masterpieces when my mother and father invited people over for a meal! There are books available to learn such techniques from, such as this one on Amazon:
But of course, YouTube is probably the best go-to resource for this kind of ‘how to’ these days! Perhaps you could email us a photo of your creations? Send to email@example.com !
We found these 9-inch square, crisp, European linen napkins as an elegant option:
Tip 6 – A Clever Touch
If you use standard sized butter knives, instead of smaller butter spreaders, you might like to consider using knife rests. Knife rests are lovely addition to a tea party table, because they can be dainty and elegant – and one of those ‘finer details’ we spoke about in Tip 3. In most households, they’re not something you use or even see every day! That’s what makes using knife rests special, and add to the tea party occasion and experience.
In fact, conventional butter knives are likely to be a little large for a luncheon or salad plate as we’ve recommended to use, so that pretty much makes using knife rests a necessary! Your guests will find it difficult to rest the larger knives on the smaller plates. And if they’re anything like me, they feel bad if they bump the knife off the plate, depositing jam all over the white table linen… or is that just me?
Of course, most knife rests could double as chopstick rests (and chopstick rests could double as knife rests!) So decide on the tone your tea party decorations are going to take (e.g. formal & elegant; rustic & “country-cottagey”; modern) and select a style accordingly. Being just a wee bit old fashioned and a lover of prettiness and elegance, I love these gorgeous crystal knife rests from Godinger on Amazon
Tip 7 – Standard Table Settings Apply
We recommend using only the necessary silverware (cutlery) because it’s not the full sit-down evening dinner experience. For tea party table settings use the traditional place settings convention. That is: forks go on the left of the plate and spoons go on the right side of the plate – and then the knives go to the right of the spoon. If you are using knife rests, they are not used when the table is initially set.
We recommend providing water for your guests, and the water glass sits to the right of center, just above the knife. Traditionally speaking and in a formal high tea setting, the water glass is placed to the right of the tea cup.
If you are limited for space on your table, I’m sure it’s fine to ‘juggle’ these settings a little to fit everything on conveniently and attractively. Unless you have an etiquette expert as a guest, nobody is likely to comment (or even notice)!
Tip 8 – The Most Special of Tea Party Details
A Place Card for each of your place settings is a truly lovely and helpful touch. A place card doesn’t just indicate to your guest where they are to sit. It is highly personalised and shows you as the hostess are considering them as an individual and not just blindly and mindlesslly catering for every person as a group (even if that’s how it feels to you at the time)!
Of course, this means you can strategically and thoughtfully place guests together to enhance their experience and similarly separate guests who you feel may not ‘hit it off’ so well. Unless, of course, individuals decide to move themselves, which is wont to happen. Well behaved guests are unlikely to do this, however! If it does happen, unless the rearrangement spells certain disaster, it is likely to “let it be”, so it doesn’t turn into a big fuss – which will detract from the lovely atmosphere you are working hard to create.
Decision time for the party table
You can use a place card on its own, or put it in a holder. Whilst a holder does mean an extra item on the table and an extra item to purchase, you can decide if place card holders are necessary based on the space you have on the table and the look or effect you are going for.
There are two ways you can go with a place card holder style, if you’re not going to simply put a folded card style on the table. (And, there’s nothing wrong with this, by the way!) The options are low set or high set. High looks lovely and elegant, but has a greater chance of getting in the way and perhaps being accidentally knocked over! Sooo many decisions! But don’t stress and don’t overthink it – whatever your heart tells you will be right for your guests.
Here is a simple, classic and versatile option available on Amazon. I would call this low set.
Planning and laying out the tea party setting is my favorite part of preparing for a tea-themed event. I love to see all the pretty elements come together. Have fun with it and send us a photo!
I suggest these articles for further inspiration:
Tea Party Girl Asks: What one thing can you add to your home to help you set a pretty tea table?