Afternoon tea: it’s a treat, isn’t it? A civilised delight enjoying a renaissance across the UK, with customers choosing to socialise over fairy-light cakes, morsels of savouries and a traditional cuppa, rather than over a boozy lunch or dinner. You would probably consider it one of the better value-for-money options when it comes to dining out. Well, according to the latest Which? survey, you’d be completely wrong. In fact, afternoon tea is looking like it might be one of the biggest rip-offs around.
First, the evidence: A quick scout round some of the top choices for afternoon tea in London shows that prices range from just over £20pp at The Hilton Mayfair to around the £40 mark at places like The Savoy, Claridges and The Ritz and Fortnum’s, right up to a heart-stopping £85 at The Lanesborough (which does includes a glass of vintage Krug, to be fair, but just the one). Even outside London, prices remain somewhat staggering. Betty’s Tea-Rooms in Northallerton in Yorkshire come in at over £30pp, The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath is over £20pp, whereas Harvey Nichols in Manchester offers a very reasonable-sounding £14.50pp.
It seems the higher the price tag, the less you might get for your money. The Savoy, for example, asks you to pay extra for savouries. So your £40 gets you some cake and some tea. Sounds a little sparse, no? You might not even get a refill, although some places are more than generous in this respect. But let’s face it, you’re paying through the nose for some nice cake and a cuppa. Oh, and the ambience. In some of the swankier hotels, afternoon tea can be a real show-stopper, although the allure of days gone by when you might bump into the great and the good seems to have palled a little. In some instances, you’ll be lucky not to have a too-low table in a corridor, watching waiters rushing past and the slam of the kitchen doors for conversational punctuation. This is all presuming, of course, you can even get through the door. Despite many places offering multiple sittings in the day, you’ll be lucky to get a reservation within a month.
Surely this kind of expenditure is beyond most of us. Does it even make financial sense? Many of us have come to our senses somewhat and with some apparently artfully mismatched china (or mugs), a flowery tablecloth and an eye on a Mary Berry cookbook, your friends will be queuing at the door. And let’s face it, you don’t even have to share; you could just make yourself a tray of brownies and a pot of builder’s and eat tout seul in front of Deal or No Deal – it’s still afternoon tea, innit? Afternoon tea pop-ups are popping up all over the place, offering a darn sight more for your pennies. Don’t forget about the – shock, horror – actual tearooms dotting our land, either? When did they fall out of fashion?
What’s your experience? Is it better in posh hotels or in a friendly tea room? Do you prefer the choice and luxury of the former or the honesty and lower prices of the latter? Or is it just another restaurant-designed scam to part us from our pennies?