Ten Teatime Etiquette Tips from Lisa Richey

A table set for afternoon tea features gold-and-white china and a sweet scone ready for tasting.

  1. How do I know which glass is mine? Where do I place my teacup?

The acronym “BMW,” which means “bread, meal, water,” can serve as a helpful reminder for this. If you move from left to right with that acronym in mind, you’ll remember that your bread plate goes at your left, your meal in the center, and your water to the right. If someone at the table mixes up this order, and it brings things out of sync so that you’re left without a bread plate or glass, don’t call attention to it—simply ask the waitstaff in a discreet manner to bring you a replacement. Beverages should always stay at the upper right-hand side of your plate, even after you’ve begun to use them. This includes your teacup! When it comes time to drink, you’ll raise your cup and lean forward partially, meeting in the middle to take a sip.

  1. Which utensils will be needed? Is it polite to eat with my hands?

It’s common for a fork, spoon, and knife to be used for certain dishes at afternoon tea. However, the finger sandwiches are called such for a reason, and it is absolutely appropriate for those to be eaten with one’s hands. If the portion size is too large, one can cut the sandwich in half before eating it this way, if desired.

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