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Feb 5, 2012 08:34 AM

What to expect at a "Tea"

I am on a fundraising committee that is considering doing a "Tea" as part of the campaign. I wanted to hear from American Chowhounds about their expectations.

My opinion is a little biased because my grandparents were from France. Growing up, we had tea, (we called it just that, "Tea") that was a late afternoon snack and then later, we had supper. My husband is European and this is what they do, as well, in his native country (often just for the kids). I always enjoy the "Tea" that his sister puts out for us every day when we are there visiting. I do know the different terms for Tea for English-speaking countries and what is served at them.

We have one group wanting to call it "High Tea" because it SOUNDS more refined. We have one group wanting to call it "Afternoon Tea" because it is more accurate. There will be only light snacking foods served, and it will be in the early afternoon.

I don't care, I'd be fine just calling it a "Tea"... I just think we should make sure our contributors know what is being served. This is a fundraiser, so the other side of it is that we don't want people upset if they expected substantial food then were served meager fair because they were misled by the terminology. We need these people for future endeavors. I thought I'd get the Chowhound's opinions on this.

So, all of that to ask...

Do you think Americans know the difference between High and Afternoon Tea and does it make a difference what you serve? If we call it High Tea and don't serve food of substance, do you think that is misleading or it doesn't really matter?

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  1. I used to do fund-raising for a biggie charity, and as a staffer, I'd be truly scared to charge $50-ish for a ticket and then serve plainish tea and a few bites. For anywhere near that price, I'd expect a good tea selection with upscale tea-table acoutrements and at least tea sandwiches and a variety of fruits or cookies/biscuits. As you said, you can't afford to tick off your contributors for any future events.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pine time

      I shouldn't have included a price in my post and I edited it out. We have not decided how much to put on the tickets. It was just a number I pulled out of the air and it really has nothing to do with the question we are trying to get an answer to. The question is what is expected based on using the term "Afternoon Tea" vs. "High Tea". Sorry about that.

    2. I've always associated "High Tea" with a more formal event, with plates and plates of scones and double cream and pastries sandwiches and edibles and a large selection of teas brought to your table with tuxedo-clad servers in white gloves. I associate "Afternoon Tea" with a more casual garden party event, with open trays of sandwiches and small snacks, with people strolling around and socializing, helping themselves.
      I would be careful about the cost related to what you offer. If you are doing "High Tea" and having full table service and wonderful pastries and teas and its clear this is a formal event, then the cost would be fairly close. But $50 for an Afternoon Tea very well may lead to disappointment.

      4 Replies
      1. re: freia

        High tea doesn't refer to "high society," it is a hearty, sit down meal. It does not imply a formal event, if one uses the definition properly.

        1. re: wyogal

          Just google Images for High Tea. You'll understand where I'm coming from.
          I think this image is pretty common. I didn't say it was accurate, I was merely responding to the question which is in essence "what comes to mind when I say High Tea", not what is the googled accurate definition of High Tea.
          My point is this: if you call it a High Tea and the average American has a view of what a High Tea is and shows up and gets something different, you can pull out your iPad and say NO YOU'RE WRONG LOOK IT UP, but still have unhappy people. You'll be right, but you'll have a whole bunch of unhappy charity event attenders and this may color your future events.
          It is the perception of what it is, which is what I was answering.

          1. re: wyogal

            That is exactly how I associate the term "High Tea," as it is/was something for the "common folk," thought that is NOT bad. Much will depend on the country, and in the US, the term "High Tea" has a certain connotation, regardless of what the term means/meant in the UK.

            We have "misused" the term, but with some reason, in the USA. Then, we have done some Champagnes (we are into wines, so a few really good Champagnes is not a bad idea), to go with the more traditional finger sandwiches.


          2. re: freia

            I agree that "High Tea" sounds fancy, while "Afternoon Tea" sounds more like something held in a garden. I understand it's not accurate, but that's my first thought when I hear the terms (not being someone who "teas"). I'd look it up if I were to actually go to one because otherwise I wouldn't know what to wear or what to expect for food, but that's my first impression, too.

          3. What to expect for a 50 dollar a ticket tea? Depends if there is also some sort of entertainment or speaker and the tea itself is an afterthought....

            1 Reply
            1. re: PotatoPuff

              See, then it becomes more of a "you are invited to a light lunch and entertainment" or "come and enjoy our speaker on X, Light lunch is included" vs a "tea", I think.

            2. Please see my post above about the dollar amount. I don't want that to cloud the actual question I'm asking here. Sorry to have put it there in the first place to cause confusion. Forget the price. The question is what to call the event.

              Thank you Freia for your response.

              2 Replies
              1. re: gardencook

                Sure, I understand about the price thing, but I'm doubting that most Americans really understand the variances in tea traditions. Most of us have heard of high teas and -- rightly or wrongly -- expect elegance, variety of teas, and a healthy selection of foods. Use of any " ___ tea" term, I guess, would conjure those expectations. You don't want to put off donors, especially if you want to keep them giving! Just my 2 pennies.

                1. re: pine time

                  That is a good point. The actual names might not be, traditionally, what they seem. However, in the USA, exactly how traditional, must one be?

                  We hosted a "tea," prior to a family wedding. The hosting hotel DID call it "High Tea," and my wife, who knows better, just went along. In the end, the even was great, and we served some spectacular Champagnes, not on the normal "High Tea" list. We refused to get hung up on semantics, and went with the flow.

                  When hosting in the UK, we are much more attentive (anal?) about the terms used.


              2. There is a difference, depending on what is served.
                According to the book, "Tea & Etiquette" (Dorothea Johnson), calling an afternoon tea, "high tea," would be inappropriate and incorrect. They further state that people do so out of ignorance and wanting to be posh.
                High tea is a "hearty sit down meal" after a long day of work in the mines or fields. That's how it originated.
                So, your inclination to call it "Tea" or "Afternoon Tea" would be correct if you are serving dainty sandwiches, light fare. Calling it "High Tea" would be misleading to those that know the difference.
                Having an elegant "tea" with fine service and a variety of light, elegantly presented nibbles, for charity, in the afternoon, would be worthy of $30-$50 for charity. IMO.

                4 Replies
                1. re: wyogal

                  Exactly, wyogal. I grew up knowing the difference and the occasional misinterpretation of it in the US which is why the subject came up in the first place. We just don't know how many people realize that "High Tea" is a misnomer and would be upset if they didn't get meat pies, potatoes, and hearty bread. A good portion of the committee is saying, "Ah, Americans don't know what High Tea really is, anyway. They'll think that "High" means refined." Others think, "Nah, Americans are informed." I'm leaning kind of toward the middle saying, "Call it "Tea" and tell them what is being served." But I'm willing to have my opinion changed based on the thoughts of Chowhounds. :-)

                  1. re: gardencook

                    I'd still stay away from calling it "high tea," and would bring a reference to the next meeting to inform those on the committee that don't know any better. Calling it a "Tea" (or add "afternoon") avoids that confusion.

                    1. re: gardencook

                      Yes, many would know the difference, but then, would this group of participants know?

                      Tough call.


                    2. re: wyogal

                      That is also my understanding, and especially in the UK. However, in the USA, things are viewed differently. If one's guest list is only USA residents, then there are other things to consider. The PR aspects, for a charity event, might point in a different direction - it just depends.