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afternoon tea etiquette

By on May 26th, 2022

How to eat afternoon tea like the Queen: the do’s and don’ts of afternoon tea etiquette

We’ve all been there. It’s the weekend and the family’s going out for some traditional afternoon tea to commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. But now you’re panicking because all those little formalities and complex protocols seem daunting. Do you hold your tea cup with your little finger sticking up? Which goes on the scone first, jam or cream? And how do you even cut open a scone anyway?

If these worries play out in your head every time someone suggests going out for afternoon tea, then fear not, because we have all the answers for you! 


Afternoon Tea Etiquette

What do you do with the napkin?

The napkin (NOT called serviette) is an essential part of afternoon tea, although many people forget about it. The first thing you should do with the napkin is to unfold it from whatever fancy way it is set out and then fold it again, but this time in half. Then, you should lay it gently on your lap with the crease pointing towards you and the loose ends pointing towards the table. 

DO NOT tuck it into your shirt! This makes you look like a baby with a bib.

How do you stir the tea?

Many people make the mistake of stirring their tea in a circular motion. “Well, of course,” you may say, “that’s how those posh people do it on TV.” But they’re wrong!

You should NEVER stir sugar into your tea in a circle. Not, at least, in public. This is because, if you are dining at a hotel, they will most likely provide you with sugar cubes, as this is an afternoon tea tradition. If you were to stir it round and round the cup, the sugar would just get caught into a sort-of vortex and fall to the bottom.

The correct way to stir your tea is in a back and forth motion, because this helps the sugar to dissolve. Do it gently so as not to splash any tea over the side of the cup.

Do you pick up the cup with the saucer?

YES! This is the proper way of drinking tea on formal occasions. Traditionally, this would allow those enjoying afternoon tea at a derby or a polo match to have their tea while walking around.

Jubilee Afternoon tea at the Inn on the Lake


How do you hold a teacup?

One of the biggest myths around drinking tea in a posh china cup is about whether you raise your pinkie finger or not. Many of us may occasionally do this as a joke to pretend to be posh, but it is NOT correct etiquette. 

How you should actually hold your teacup is by placing the handle between your thumb and index finger (with the thumb on top), and using your middle, ring and little fingers to support the handle from underneath. 

Do you use a knife to cut the scone?

Okay, so this one’s a bit unusual and probably isn’t the answer you’re expecting, but no, you DO NOT cut open a scone with a knife!

This may sound unusual, but the proper way is to break it open with your hands. Scones tend to have an indent around their middles so that you can easily tear them apart. Of course, do this gently and carefully. You don’t want a crumbled scone!

(Side note: it’s pronounced sk-ohn, not sk-oan)

Can I put the jam and cream straight on the scone?

Absolutely not! That’s as bad as double-dipping.

The polite way of taking some jam and cream for your scone is to scoop them out of the pots with a knife or spoon and then put them onto the side of your plate. From here, you can apply them to the two halves of the scone.

This way, you’re not getting jam in the cream pot or vice-versa. It’s all about thinking of other people. 


Jubilee Afternoon Tea at the Borrowdale Hotel


Which goes first, jam or cream?

This is probably the most controversial topic concerning afternoon tea. In most cases, it doesn’t really matter. You can choose as you like. But if you’re from Cornwall or Devon, or just simply visiting, it really does matter.

In Cornwall, the accepted method is to apply the jam first and then spread the slotted cream on top. Devonians, however, argue that the cream goes on first, followed by the jam. But, if you’re wanting to eat afternoon tea like the Queen, then you should go jam first. Her Majesty knows best, after all!

(Tip: either way you apply the jam and cream, you should spread them out neatly and gently. Please don’t dollop them on and swirl them around!)

Should I put the scones back together once the jam and cream has been applied?

*sigh* No. 

This one seems self-explanatory, but people still make this mistake. You should NEVER (ever, ever) sandwich the two halves of the scone together. This should be made a crime! 

Please just be a normal human being and eat the scone halves separately. Please?

How should I clean my face with my napkin?

When you spill food on your clothes, do you smudge it around with a cloth? No! You dab, dab, dab it. It’s the same principle for using a napkin. Just dab gently around your mouth, or even press it to your face if you’ve made a proper mess… but DON’T wipe!

afternoon tea etiquette

Jubilee Afternoon Tea at the Inn on the Lake


How do you eat the finger sandwiches?

One at a time, please! DO NOT take several sandwiches at once and stuff them into your face. We’re not animals! I know they look small enough to fit into your mouth, but the polite way is to pick one from the plate and take normal sized bites from it. 

Do you eat the cakes with a knife and fork?

Yes, absolutely! Again, the cakes at afternoon tea are generally small and bite-sized, but occasionally you may get tarts or slices of Victoria sponge and these should be eaten with a knife and fork.

Cut up the cake into smaller pieces and use your fork to lift each one into your mouth. 

Should do you drink Prosecco?

It seems only appropriate to order a glass of fizz to enjoy alongside your afternoon tea, however if you do, then it’s best to take it in small sips. This is the sophisticated way and allows you to enjoy the taste of the wine. 

It’s never a good idea to get drunk at a nice, quiet afternoon tea with your friends and family, so try to slow down on the bubbly!

Jubilee Afternoon Tea in the Lake District

Now that you know all there is to know about afternoon tea etiquette, you can go forth and conquer the world of afternoon tea with these exciting Jubilee Afternoon Teas available in the Lake District throughout the month of June.

  1. Jubilee Afternoon Tea at the Borrowdale Hotel

The traditional Borrowdale Hotel is running a patriotic Jubilee-inspired afternoon tea throughout the month of June to commemorate the occasion. What’s more, on Saturday 4th June an exclusive Afternoon Tea event will take place where guests can enjoy a sumptuous spread of cakes and sandwiches all whilst enjoying live music from vintage style vocalist, Miss Pearl.

Tickets cost £31 per person
Tables are available at 12pm OR 1:30pm

This exclusive afternoon tea is available all other days for £27.95 without the live entertainment.

Please call 017687 77224 to book a table

2. Jubilee Afternoon Tea at the Inn on the Lake

There is nowhere finer to partake in a spot of afternoon tea than the picturesque Inn on the Lake. Tuck into an array of carefully made cakes and delicately prepared sandwiches all whilst enjoying views of Ullswater Lake. FYI, the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge even visited the hotel for afternoon tea back in 2019 so it gets the royal seal of approval!

Available every day from 2:30pm-5pm
£28.95 per person

Please call 017684 82444 to book a table

3. Jubilee Afternoon Tea at the Lodore Falls Hotel & Spa

Throughout the month of June, the Lodore Falls‘ Afternoon Tea has gotten a patriotic makeover to pay homage to Her Majesty. Take your seat an enjoy an afternoon tea that is truly fit for royalty as we present you with miniature Pimm’s & Pavlova Trifle, Smoked Salmon & Cucumber finger sandwiches, Strawberries & Cream plus more.

Available every day from 12pm-5pm
£28.95 per person

Please call 017687 77285 to book a table


Get in touch

Reservations: 0330 0564 880
Email: reservations@lakedistricthotels.net

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