ADVICE: The mistakes you make with afternoon tea


The boom of afternoon tea has opened up new revenue streams for hoteliers, but as the market gets even more competitive, the need to diversify and bring new ideas to the fore is vital to stay ahead. Eileen Donaghey, the afternoon tea expert, explains the key mistakes that hotels can make when it comes to afternoon tea and how to avoid them.

Every good food and beverage manager worth their salt understands the importance of filling the quiet period between lunch and dinner. Afternoon tea has provided hotels with additional footfall when the clock strikes four. While it is an opportunity for revenue, not all hotels maximize their potential with a lot falling short and having disappointing cover numbers.

How does it look? The wonderful themed afternoon tea. You’ve spent hours crafting the idea, spent money on the props and have had several trials of how it could look. Now that it has been launched to the customers, the reviews are dismal and the enthusiasm has wavered. The biggest mistake when it comes to the themed afternoon tea is style over substance. I tried a very beautiful pastry selection from a hotel last year which was totally exquisite looking. Unfortunately that’s where my compliments ended for that particular plate. No one wants to sample a dry scone or tasteless sandwiches. While there is a growing trend towards ‘Instagrammable’ Afternoon Tea offerings what you may forget it is afternoon tea is normally a special occasion so it’s not just the millennial generation who book it. Often older members of the family attend and while they are pleased for it to look nice they will not be overly enamoured if it doesn’t taste good especially as they are left with the bill.

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What about the small print? While we are talking about themed afternoon teas, it seems obvious to say to check what you can and can’t call your new offering. A London hotel had to remove a themed afternoon tea as it used the same name as a well-known cartoon. Imagine the months of preparation for it to be shut down because of a legal detail. While there are popular themes in circulation it could pay off to think outside the box. Not all of the big crowd pleasers have been related to current trends but play into the hotels own history or locality which can sometimes work a lot better.

Are you being served? In my opinion, when it comes to service I believe the ethos of “I don’t remember what you said but I remember how you made me feel.” 80% of the recommendations I receive via Instagram are for a birthday or anniversary. People want to be made a fuss of and have high expectations when it comes to the grandeur and pomp surrounding afternoon tea.  Some of the obvious things that the waiting staff should do includes the following:

• The waiting staff should take the tea order and be able to advise guests about specific pairings for each course.

• Explain if you offer refills and how the food will be presented, e.g. if scones arrive after

• The food should be explained when it is presented to the table.

• They should avoid offering to take a photograph immediately. I’ve been in a few hotels which place the cake stand down and asked me if I wanted a photograph straight away. Let people settle first.

• What I like to call “the chat” ask them if it is a special occasion and make some conversation. People want to feel special so talk to them and ask them how their day is. If it is special occasion have you priced how much it is to write ‘Happy Birthday’ on a plate along with some chocolates? It’s the small touches like this that make the difference.

These sound obvious but you’d be surprised at the number of places who don’t do this. Plus the first four points don’t cost you anything to implement!

It’s all the name I have stopped being surprised at the number of hotels who cannot brew a cup of English Breakfast tea properly. It seems like a given that by going for Afternoon Tea that the tea you would drink wouldn’t be your average builders brew. Over brewed tea, under brewed tea, hot milk, lemon slices – all of the things that you wouldn’t want to have in a cup of fine bone English china. A lot of the tea companies provide in-house training (sometimes for free) on how to brew all of the teas you buy including how much to use. Remember by wasting expensive tea by not knowing how to brew it properly will cost you money at the end of the day. If two people are having black tea then invest in a larger tea pot which will save you money in the long run.

So there you have it. 

A short snap shot of some of the things that I repeatedly see which holds hotels back from their full earning potential when it comes to afternoon tea. From my perspective, it’s not just one department that is responsible for the success of an afternoon tea. It’s the marketing department to sell the experience, the kitchen to provide the food and the waiting staff to oversee the enjoyment of the guests.

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Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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