A Proper Afternoon Tea – Individual Place Settings

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by Ellen Easton


A properly set afternoon tea table should not be a daunting task. In fact, the setting of a proper table is easy. The reason being is that every item has a purpose for its place. Once one understands the “why”, the rest is not too difficult to remember. Apologies to those who are left handed but the original European dining etiquette was established to create order at the table. As the majority of people are right handed, to avoid chaos, the order is set to accommodate a right- handed setting.

Step by step, anyone can set a beautiful table.

 Step One: Place a pretty tablecloth or topper on the table.

Why? To protect the table from spills.

 Step Two: Place a small dessert or luncheon size plate in the center of the setting.

Why? To create the focus of your place setting. The smaller size plate is to oblige the smaller size tea foods.

Step Three: Place a small luncheon or salad size fork to the left of the plate.

Why? Because, originally, the dining fork was introduced in Europe and used with the left-hand.

Step Four: Place a small luncheon or butter knife to the right of the plate.

Why? Because, the dining knife was introduced in Europe and is used with the right- hand. Afternoon tea foods do not require cutting. The knife may be used to spread jam, Devon or clotted cream and to cut pastry.

Step Five: Place a teacup on a saucer to the right of the plate. The handle of the teacup should be facing to the right at the three to four o’clock position.

Why? All beverages are always served from the right side of the table for easy access to pick up without interfering with the other items on the table.

Step Six: Place a teaspoon either on the rim of the tea saucer, with the bowl facing upwards at the ten or eleven o’clock position and the handle facing upwards at the two or four o’clock position or place the teaspoon to the right of the knife.

Why? Because utensils are placed on the table in the order in which they are first used; as well as for easy access to pick up without interfering with the other items on the table.

 Step Seven: Place the napkin to the left of the fork. The fold is on the outside with the open corner facing the right into the plate.

Why? Because one should have easy access to pick up, open and place the napkin in one’s lap in one sweeping movement. The opening on the right avoids the napkin once fully opened from interfering with the internal place setting.

 Step Eight: If using a place card, set to the center at the top of the plate.

Why? To identify where a guest is to be seated without interfering with the rest of the place setting.

Step Nine: Place the pastry fork to the top center above the plate, and behind the place card, with the handle on the left and the prongs facing towards the right. Or place the pastry fork to the inside left of the luncheon.

Why? Because, the pastry fork is used for the last course.

Hand Decorated Sugar Cubes & Place Card By Reva Paul ©2014 All Rights Reserved

Step Ten: Place the tea strainer just above the teacup and saucer. Placing a sugar cube in the bowl of the strainer is optional for decorative purposes.

Why? The strainer should be in close proximity to the teacup for easy access when pouring the tea into the cup.

Step Seven: Place the teapot to the right and above or near the teacup and saucer with the spout facing to the right.

Why? The teapot should be in close proximity to the teacup for easy access when pouring the tea into the cup.

Step Twelve: Place the water glass to the right above the plate. Place the Champagne glass to the lower right of the water glass.

Why? All beverages are always served from the right side of the table.

Step Thirteen: Salt and pepper can be placed individually, as pictured, centered above the dessert plate and dessert fork, or may be placed in-between two place settings to be shared. The pepper is placed on the left and the salt on the right.

Why? Because the salt dish involves the use of a spoon and the spoon is placed on the right side.

Step Fourteen: Devon Cream or Clotted cream and preserves/jam should be placed on the left in proximity to the luncheon plate. The spoon or serving knife should be placed with the handle to the right. {Optional} Nut dishes are placed on the table to the left side of the plate.

Why? Because the enhancers are food items and all food items are always served from the left side.

Step Fifteen: Sugar, milk and sugar tongs are placed on a tray either at the center, above the plate, or the left side above the plate, in close proximity to the host or hostesses place setting. The sugar bowl is placed on the left side of the tray and the milk is placed on the right side of the tray with the handle to the right.

Why? Because, it is customary for the host or hostess to pour the first cup of tea. One would ask a guest before pouring if sugar or milk was desired.

Step Sixteen: {Optional} Floral arrangements are to enhance the setting. Place anywhere that does not interfere with the service or sightline of another guest.


A tea cozy, pictured, may be used to cover the teapot, but only after service has begun and the tea has been decanted. A tea cozy is not included in an initial place setting.

Ellen Easton ©2014-2018 All Rights Reserved

Photos by Ellen Easton©2014-2018 All Rights Reserved

Ellen Easton an afternoon tea, etiquette and lifestyle authority, in addition to her TEA TRAVELS™ writings as an author, columnist and guest lecturer, is a consultant to the hospitality, food, retail and special event industries, specializing in corporate training, Afternoon Tea, menu planning, recipe development and the design of related products, whose clients have included the Waldorf=Astoria, The Plaza and Bergdorf Goodman.


  • Ellen Easton

    Ellen Easton, author of Afternoon Tea~Tips, Terms and Traditions(RED WAGON PRESS), an afternoon tea authority, lifestyle and etiquette industry leader, keynote speaker and product spokesperson, is a hospitality, design, and retail consultant whose clients have included the Waldorf=Astoria, the Plaza and Bergdorf Goodman. Easton’s family traces their tea roots to the early 1800s, when ancestors first introduced tea plants from India and China to the Colony of Ceylon, thus building one of the largest and best cultivated teas estates on the island.

2 Responses

  1. Edna Kaufmann says:

    This was so enjoyable to read, as I had just had a Tea Party/Dress-Up afternoon at my home for two dear neighbor girls, ages 7 and 9 and two new neigbors, girl 8 and boy 5…I had made mini cupcakes,
    bought “Peeps” Gingerbreadmen, linzer and shorbread store cookies, plus mini brownies and lady fingers..and vanilla icecream with toppings of colorful sherbet….Teapot was filled with apple juice, and I had two centerpieces of small mini vases with flowers….I had made new beautiful flower-bedecked hats with feather and sparkle trims for each girl and had a silver sparkle top hat with blue sequin trim for the little boy…(they were a gift for them to take home plus some other small items).They played with my array of costumes I had made for years for a Theatre production trio on Long Island for about 15 years…The children mixed and matched boas, scarves, munchkin outfits, wigs, fur pieces,and all hand made or vintage hats, and posing with matching flower covered parasols. for more than two hours…with parents taking photos of all of them and me included…I just let them pick and choose for themselves…assisting once in a while to use a large safety pin here or there. They were delighful, creative and so very sweet…I had a wonderful experience just watching them pick and choose…and the adult women who brought the kids over had tea or coffee and the same goodies. I’ve been promised by all to be given copies of the photos they took. I hope to have another one soon for another dear friend with her two young granddaughters… who live in the city….
    All the years when my very young grandchildren and nieces and nephews lived locally , they would come and play dressup….and sometimes even when they were grown up….
    So Grandmas, Moms, Aunts, wherever you are….give a child’s tea party….they will be so thrilled and will remember you and these good times forever…..and the cost is so little….but there’s so much love and joy!!! Try it…you’ll like it!

  2. Ellen Easton says:

    Sounds like a fun time was had by all at your lovely tea party.

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