A Proper Afternoon Individual Tea Setting

Tea Travels!™… A Proper Afternoon Individual Tea Setting

by Ellen Easton ©2014 – All Rights Reserved


A properly set afternoon tea table setting should not be a daunting task.  In fact, the tea 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” of the tea setting, 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.

Afternoon Tea Setting
Photos By Ellen Easton 2014 – All Rights Reserved. Hand Decorated Sugar Cubes and Place Card By Reva Paul 2014 – All Rights Reserved


Check out more of Ellen Easton’s Tea Travels™ articles and recipes.

Learn about the History of English High Tea and more delicious Afternoon Tea Recipes.



Step by step, anyone can set a beautiful table for a tea setting:


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.


Afternoon Tea


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

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 sight line of another guest.

A tea cozy, not 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.



Proper afternoon tea setting TEA TRAVELS™ – Wishing You Happy TEA TRAVELS!™  Tea is the luxury everyone can afford!™ and Good $ense for $uccess are the trademarked property of Ellen Easton/ RED WAGON PRESS

Ellen Easton, author of Afternoon Tea~Tips, Terms and Traditions (RED WAGON PRESS), a lifestyle and etiquette industry leader, keynote speaker and product spokesperson, is a hospitality, design, and retail consultant whose clients have included The Waldorf=Astoria and Plaza Hotels.  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.

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72 pages of how to’s, 27 photos, history, etiquette and FAQ about afternoon tea, serving styles and more. “Tea is the luxury everyone can afford!™”

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Comments and Reviews

13 Responses to “A Proper Afternoon Individual Tea Setting”

  1. drgnldy

    Wonderful information. Thank you for sharing. One note, step eleven is not in agreement with your photos. The spout is to the left, as it should be, not the right.

    • Whats Cooking America

      Thank you so much for pointing this out. Per Ellen Easton’s response: “The comment about step 11 is a good one. Spout should be facing left, not right. Step eleven has been corrected. Thank you for catching my mistake!” – Ellen Easton

  2. Susan Canterberry

    Thank you for the info. I’m doing my first tea party for grandbaby girls!

  3. Betty Jo Boram

    I always get confused on who is correct. I was just in London at a tea school and was given different information on setting up for a proper tea. I s there anyway the experts could get together and sort this out. I am going to go by your information.

    • Linda Stradley

      This article was written by Ellen Easton of New York. She is considered a tea expert. I also always go by her information.

  4. Nina Martin

    How do you prepare hot tea in advance for approx. eight persons in order to have refills? I will be using two teapots
    of about four cups each?

    • Whats Cooking America

      Response from our afternoon tea expert Ellen Easton: I do not recommend preparing hot tea in advance because to do so ruins the tea. If prepared in advance, allowed to cool down and reheated- the water loses its oxygen and becomes flat. If water is left on a low boil over an extended period of time this too removes the oxygen from the water and causes it to become flat when steeping. Best to ask a friend to help you in the kitchen and simply excuse yourself to prepare fresh pots of tea. I hope this helps.

  5. Anna

    THANK YOU for knowing the difference between a lovely afternoon tea and a high tea, which is what servants have in the kitchen. Drives me crazy to see people online calling a lovely tea a “high” tea. Much less the notion of “throwing” a tea party.

    You did it right!

  6. Bougie

    “High tea” is not “what servants have in the kitchen,” it’s what people have after work and includes hearty savory dishes like roast chicken, pasties or rashers of bacon with chips. Welcome to the 21st Century. High tea was named “high” because it was served at the dining table, which is higher than the low side tables in a living or drawing room where housewives and other people who didn’t work during the day served a cream tea – which is a tea with cakes and cream – to friends visiting in the afternoon, and sometimes called afternoon or low tea.

  7. mercedes Serralles

    It is like painting! A composition of shapes and colours to harmonize and please all five senses! Magnifique Not so easy to find these days… not so perfect! Bravo Ellen tea is an Art💖👏

  8. Lisa

    Is it proper to use plate chargers as part of the table setting for a tea?

  9. Lia

    Wonderful! Quick question, though: what does the setting look like if it’s for two people? Does each guest have their own teapot and cream & sugar?

  10. Desiree

    This is more of the same question I would like to see a picture of a tea set for two set up correctly


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