By Karl Mansfield
THE song lyrics “tea for two” may not be a sign of days gone by as fondant fancies in the afternoon become more popular.
Office promotion rumours, trend-setting critiques and fashion planning are more likely to take place while taking tea and cakes rather than martinis in cocktail lounges, according to new figures.
The tastier option of high tea has risen since 2002 and a survey by the Tea Guild reveals that more than 80 per cent of its 18 members in London had noticed a “significant increase” in demand.
Nationally there are 80 members of the guild, which is a division of The Tea Council and aims to recognise and identify places that produce the highest quality and standards of preparing and serving tea in the UK.
The Guild says that tea sales at Claridge’s Hotel have also increased by 50 per cent since 2002 and take around 100 bookings each day for tea and The Ritz has added an extra sitting to cater for the rise in demand.
In 2001 The Randolph Hotel in Oxford changed its afternoon tea rooms to a function and meeting room due to a decline in demand. But in 2003 the room was changed back to a lounge, which caters for around 40 customers, due to an increase in interest. Afternoon tea sales increased by 19 per cent from October to September 2004 compared to the same period in 2003.
Stephanie Hocking, general manager at the hotel, said: “We have seen afternoon tea get a lot busier here in the last two years. Four years ago we had a very traditional afternoon tea lounge but the room was not being used to its full potential. Afternoon tea has become more accessible and popular.”
Yorkshire-based Bettys, which has six tea rooms including one in Harrogate, York and Ilkely, has seen afternoon tea sales rise in two years by 6,000 to 26,000.
Bettys boasts a selection of more than 300 breads, cakes and chocolates as well as 50 different teas and coffees.
Paula Kaye, who is the Catering and Retail Manager for Bettys and Taylors Ltd, has worked for the company for 20 years.
She said: “There has definitely been a noticeable rise in demand for high tea and more young people are coming along to enjoy it. One factor for the increased interest is a wider choice of teas and customers are more willing to try different blends. Bettys have always been quite popular but they are renown for the high quality and choice.”
More venues where you can take tea have also opened this year to meet the increase in demand.
Tara Calcraft, founder of the Tea Palace which opened in Notting Hill, London, in May, said: “Afternoon tea is incredibly fashionable at the moment with celebrities having tea parties rather than cocktail parties.
“This is due to three main reasons. Firstly, it is more accessible. You can have afternoon tea in a range of locations where as before it was just in 5-star hotels to tea shops in coastal resorts.
“Secondly, it has become cheaper compared with hotels and you do not have to book an appointment to take tea. It has become more informal with no set dress code. People are starting to realise that it doesn’t have to be reserved for special occasions.
“Thirdly, afternoon tea is all about taking time, sitting down and social interaction.”
However, for those tea drinkers who need guidance there is no need to panic. Next month sees the release of the new edition of the AA Britain’s Best Afternoon Tea guide, priced around £9.99.
Bill Gorman, Executive Director of The Tea Council said: “Tea Guild members have revealed that demand for tea is on the up. In a recent survey of our London Tea Guild members over 80 per cent said they had noticed a significant increase in demand for afternoon tea. Interestingly the customers taking tea have also changed radically. Many families are now enjoying afternoon tea where as before there used to be a lot of interest from tourists.”
The Tea Guild run an annual award scheme which recognises the best place to take tea in the country. This year The Conservatory at The Lanesborough Hotel won the Top London Tea Place Award and the Ollerton Watermill Teashop, based in Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, won the Top Tea Place of the Year Award. Last year The Ritz won the Top London Tea Place Award. Judges mark venues on a range of factors including hygeine and décor, crockery – stainless steel milk and water jugs are not favoured – variety of tea offered and efficiency.