How to Design & Host a Classic English Garden Party

March 19, 2020
By: Marquee Event Rentals

Sipping tea in the garden while enjoying sweets and savories is an English tradition, and for good reason. An outdoor tea party event brings people of all ages together to enjoy beautiful spring weather and each others’ company.

Marquee’s event experts share their tips and ideas for a garden tea party in the classic English style. Read on to learn British tea party etiquette and pick up ideas for your decor and snacks.

English Tea Party Essentials

What is an English tea party?
Traditionally, tea is served in the late afternoon, between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm. Tea is a social occasion, so, if guests are not already acquainted, prepare some topics of conversation such as: things you can and cannot do in front of the Queen, or the history of afternoon tea in Britain.

Black tea is customary, but Earl Grey, peppermint, and green tea are acceptable alternatives for guests who don’t care for black tea. If you’d like to serve a bit of the harder stuff, our experts suggest Pimm’s cup.

At an intimate gathering, the host(ess) should serve and replenish the tea, never allowing the pots to go empty. For a larger affair, create a tea station where guests can choose their tea. Include a printed card in front of each pot explaining a bit about the tea such as its origins, or tasting profile.

Tea Cups and Teapots - Always Use China
Choosing the right cup matters for your “‘cuppa.” According to British scientists, china makes tea taste better. Use only bone or porcelain china for an authentic experience. Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess Grantham would expect nothing less!

Each table should have milk, sugar, and lemon. If you offer a milk alternative, oat milk is thicker and preferable to almond, soy, or rice milk.

Scones, Sandwiches, and Other Nibbles

You can’t call it a tea party without scones, clotted cream, and jam (strawberry jam is the queen’s favorite). You’ll need one three-tiered cake stand for every two guests, with scones placed on the middle tier. 

On the bottom level, offer crustless finger sandwiches filled with egg salad and watercress, or cucumber and cream cheese. On the top, serve an assortment of biscuits (cookies), mini Victoria sponge cakes, or small slices of spice cake. 

English Tea Party Attire and Etiquette

Food should be enjoyed slowly. Eating with your fingers is allowed, but it must be done delicately. Break scones and biscuits into small pieces, and never dunk them into the tea.

Here are some key rules for drinking tea the proper way:

  • Never extend or crook the pinky finger while holding your cup
  • If drinking tea while standing, hold both the saucer and the teacup
  • When stirring tea, never allow the spoon to touch the sides of the cup
  • After stirring, the spoon goes in the saucer, never leave it in the cup

Modern tea party attire is daytime formal - trousers and jackets for men and office-appropriate attire for women. Historically, ladies wore hats to tea -  and a hat contest adds an element of fun to your event!

Garden Tea Party Design and Decor Ideas

If your tea party is a seated affair, choose padded chairs (we love gold Chiavari chairs) and round tables with lace tablecloths and off-white or pastel linens. Each place setting should have a teacup, saucer, small plate, napkin teaspoon, and any other silverware guests may need. Choose low-profile centerpieces as tall floral displays inhibit conversation - what a good tea party is all about!

You can create a more relaxed atmosphere with freeform seating such as outdoor sofas and umbrella tables. Maintain the tea party ambiance by decorating with flower bouquets in antique teapots.

For additional decor ideas, contact us for a complimentary consultation. We’re happy to set up a sample table so you can see how different design elements work together. Our event experts in Chicago, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Austin, Dallas, or San Antonio are committed to bringing your event vision to life.