Time for tea?

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Afternoon tea, Tea, Tea guild

The afternoon tea is seeing a surge in popularity recently
The afternoon tea is seeing a surge in popularity recently
Emma Eversham finds that with little effort and time, but plenty of ideas and enthusiasm, putting afternoon tea on the menu can help boost profits

You don’t have to operate a quaint little tea room to make a profit from afternoon tea. Emma Eversham finds that with little effort and time, but with plenty of ideas and enthusiasm, putting afternoon tea on the menu can help boost profits at any establishment.

The practice of taking afternoon tea may seem like the preserve of days gone by, but it has been experiencing a rise in popularity among a wide range of customers, particularly female ones. From older couples celebrating wedding anniversaries, to hen parties and even business executives, these social groups are increasingly considering afternoon tea as worthy a meal to centre their occasion around as lunch or dinner.

The Tea Guild​, an obvious advocate of tea, notes a rise in interest from all generations, but particularly from younger customers who are meeting socially over an increasing number of speciality teas, homemade cakes and other delicacies. And with the government and the health lobby continually advising us to cut our alcohol consumption, there will no doubt be individuals who will be swapping their pint of beer or glass of wine for a cup of Lapsang Souchong or Earl Grey in the near future.

“Many young people are drinking copious amounts of tea both in their workplace and in their leisure time, meeting up with friends and family to enjoy the enjoy the social aspect of afternoon tea. Young women are very aware of the health and hydration aspects of tea and I have seen this within my own family and their friends. Lots of young women regularly fill smart city or country hotels or town and village tearooms in addition to couples and family groups,” says Irene Gorman Head of the Tea Guild.

The appeal of afternoon tea doesn’t solely rest with those in a social situation, professionals like it too because it provides the right environment for formal and informal business meetings.

“Leaving the office mid afternoon to meet business colleagues can often be far less disruptive than going for lunch or dinner – you have all morning to work and your evening will be free. Champagne can be enjoyed or not,” explains Gorman.

Not convinced?

There is certainly a captive market for afternoon tea, but if you own, or manage a hotel, restaurant, cafe or pub that so far hasn’t opened between lunch and dinner, you may remain to be convinced that selling a few pots of tea or coffee, some scones and the odd glass of Champagne will be profitable.

However, as Marco Arrigo, Head of Quality at coffee supplier Illy told visitors to this year’s Caffe Culture show in London, businesses that are already open during the day for lunch barely need to increase overheads to open during the afternoon. “You’re paying your rent for 24 hours and everything’s switched on, so it’s silly if you’re not selling something at every moment of the day,” he says, “In pubs for example, you see them open, the staff are there and the coffee machine’s on, but they don’t push hot drinks.”

In the last three years the Lowry Hotel in Manchester has seen a 300 per cent rise in bookings for afternoon tea and is now having to limit the number it takes at popular times of the year, such as Mothers Day, because demand is so high.

“It’s been a real winner for us. We started serving it within our bar but such is its popularity we have now moved it to the restaurant as we can take more bookings and it’s perfect as the traditional time of serving (3pm to 5pm) is when the restaurant is traditionally closed,” says Restaurant Manager Marc Whitley.

Whitley says it was “easy” to start offering afternoon tea, “We had the venue that was not being used, we had the staff on site that can easily adapt to preparing the tea,” although he advises businesses to take bookings where possible so the kitchen can prepare the right amount of food.

“All items in our afternoon tea are handmade in our kitchens so it is time consuming but worth it in terms of customer satisfaction,” he adds.

Read more about the Lowry`s afternoon tea

At The Swan Hotel in Lavenham, Suffolk, afternoon tea is as important a meal as lunch or dinner. It helps that the 15th Century inn is situated in a picturesque village, but the hotel has made a name for itself with locals as well as tourists for providing a traditional high tea complete with its trademark Choux pastry in the shape of a swan. According to General Manager, Michael Burns, customers even return for afternoon tea on the same day they’ve had lunch when they see the menu.

“We have a following of people who come regularly for tea and a lot of visitors from elsewhere. A lot of the time you can’t find anywhere that does a traditional cream tea, so I think we fulfil that demand.”

Read more about the Swan`s afternoon tea

While The Lowry and The Swan Hotel arguably both operate in areas with captive audiences, there are other establishments in less likely areas that have boosted their income by opening for afternoon tea.

Restaurateur Michele Butterworth, owner of Shelly`s Restaurant in Warrington, put afternoon tea on her menu when she first opened four years ago, and believes it is helping her business stay afloat during the current financial climate.

She says: “With this credit crunch people are going out less, – my takings are down 50 per cent – but customers are still coming in for afternoon tea. It is a little bit more affordable than going out for an evening meal and people like to be waited on, so it’s a great way to still get people through the door.”

Butterworth is confident that afternoon tea will soon become an integral part of our lives as we search for antidotes to the stress of modern living.

“People are beginning to realise that all this rushing about isn’t good for them and are starting to take time out for themselves. Afternoon tea gives them the chance to stop for a couple of hours and have some me-time. I think tea-time is definitely going to make a comeback.”

Read more about Shelly`s afternoon tea


If the idea of serving afternoon tea appeals, here are some tips to serve the perfect afternoon tea and ensure your customers return.

The Tea Guild’s tips for buying and storing tea:


  • Use a good quality Tea Supplier
  • Always taste your own teas because if you like the blend your customers are likely to
  • Store tea in a cool, dry place
  • Avoid placing it next to strongly flavoured or perfumed foods
  • Do not over buy tea


The Tea Guild also advises businesses serving a variety of teas enrol their staff in tea training: “it is vital that staff understand about the different varieties of tea, how to brew and how to serve,” says Gorman.

Newby of London’s tips for serving tea:


  • Serve a high-quality loose leaf tea for flavour.
  • Use soft or filtered water with a low mineral content to bring out the natural colour and character of the tea
  • Use fresh water – never re-boiled water and check the temperature – some teas require slightly cooler water as boiling water can adversely affect the tea leaves.


Top tips from other businesses:

Uniqueness and quality:
​Michael Burns, General Manager of the Swan at Lavenham in Suffolk says: “You need to create something slightly different. If you’re a modern restaurant, have a modern style tea that suits your business and have a unique twist. We have the swan cakes that add that bit of uniqueness. Keep true to what you have on your menu, because the quality of the menu needs to be good no matter what you are offering.”

Variety and frequent menu reviews:
​Marc Whitley, Restaurant Manager at The Lowry in Manchester says: “We have offered a full range of teas and infusions rather than just offering one or two which customers enjoy so much so we are now introducing a tea sommelier, who is trained in the different styles and flavours of the teas and we constantly change our cakes and pastries so that our repeat customers still enjoy it. “

Jon Wild Sales & Marketing Director at tea supplier Newby of London​ agrees: “As interest in the market starts to revive, it is important that outlets look for ways to maximise their sales in this area. As we have seen in the coffee sector, having a great variety to your menu attracts customers and can encourage a trade up to a higher spend per serving.”

​Michele Butterworth, of Shelly’s Restaurant in Warrington says: “Do your own marketing. When people come in for breakfast or lunch, I tell them about our afternoon tea and market it as a real treat. Buying someone afternoon tea is a great way to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. I say, “Wouldn’t your friend much rather sit with you for an hour over some gorgeous cakes than be given some new cosmetics?” and they agree.”

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