Despite the fact that there is still snow here in Alberta, the calendar does say that it is now Spring! And now that Spring is finally on its way…that means it’s time for a tea party to celebrate, right? I hosted a small party last week for my mom and sister and a friend and, since I’ve hosted quite a few tea parties over the years, I thought I’d share some of my tips for how to plan one for yourself. Whether you are planning for a large or small group, here are my tips for how to plan and host a tea party!
Choose an Occasion or Theme
While you can always host a party “just because”, it is also fun to host one for an occasion. Your occasion could be something simple, like mine in honour of Spring, or something much more elaborate and involved like an Anne of Green Gables themed tea, or a Hat and Glove or Victorian tea where guests dress up in appropriate attire. The benefit of choosing a theme or occasion is that it gives you something to work around, and will make your other decisions a little bit easier.
Outdoors or Indoors?
I love hosting outdoor events- there is nothing more photogenic than a tea table set out on the lawn. However, the most beautiful of table settings can quickly turn into the most disastrous when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Any outdoor event calls for two times the amount of planning: a Plan A for if the weather cooperates, and a Plan B in case it doesn’t. If you plan for an outdoor event, you have to consider rain, sun, heat, wind, bugs….the list goes on. Make sure that you’ve thought of how to deal with those things, and whether you can move the tea party indoors if the need arises. I’ve hosted two parties before where we had to go inside last minute because of rain.
Small and Cosy… or Large and Social
Once you’ve chosen the occasion and location for your party, it’s time to decide how large of a group you would like to host. Both large and small gatherings have their benefits, but they also have unique considerations.
If you are thinking of hosting a larger group (and by this I mean 20+ guests) take into account the size of the room or outdoor space you are planning to host in and how much seating the space will allow. How many chairs will you need? How many teacups and plates do you have? Will you be able to borrow, rent or buy more, if your group is quite large? Also, how much advance preparation and cleanup do you want to do? Will you be able to get someone to help you?
Large parties can be fun, because you have lots of opportunity to mingle and visit with people. When we have hosted larger parties for the ladies in my church, we’ve had between 20-30 ladies show up which is great for visiting with people I don’t know very well already. My family has a huge living room as well as outdoor space, to accommodate a lot of guests, but we did have to borrow tea cups since we didn’t have enough. There was also a lot of upheaval in the planning, baking, moving furniture around, and cleanup for this large of a group; and there were three of us sharing the workload. As well, in this day and age, people don’t always RSVP, so you have to account for surprise guests as well as guests not showing up (in which case you might have a lot of leftovers!)
If you choose to host a smaller group, many of these considerations will be negligible. A party of six can easily fit around most dining tables, or in your living room without having to bring extra chairs, and you’ll most likely have enough dishes to go around without borrowing extras. Another advantage of a small party is that you probably won’t break into smaller conversation groups, which gives you a chance to visit with all of your guests. However, you’ll want to make sure that you choose your guest list carefully so you don’t end up with a group of introverts who have no idea how to get a conversation going!
Invitations and RSVP’s
If you are having a smaller more informal gathering, you might be able to invite people on short notice, but if you are hosting a larger group, you really will need to give more time for people to schedule it in. You generally want to invite people several weeks before the event so they have time to check their schedules as well as allowing for time to RSVP. In my experience, most people won’t RSVP (so frustrating!) so you’ll probably have to follow up with them closer to the date as you begin to plan for food.
A real paper invitation is always an elegant touch and is also helpful for guests, so they don’t forget the date or time. In this day and age a real invitation stands out, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate; I usually print out invitations. But, of course, if you are planning only several days in advance, then texting or phoning is fine too. The most important thing is getting the information to the people you want to spend time with, of course!
Decorations & Centrepieces
Now for the fun part: figuring out how to decorate your table(s). For a larger group, you may want to have a buffet style serving, in which case you could add your decorations to the food and drinks tables instead of the tables you’ll sit at.
Since my tea party was to celebrate the arrival of Spring, I chose a bouquet of tulips- my favourite Spring flower! Unfortunately the pink tulips didn’t last long, and you can see how they are bending downwards. I had them in a shorter vase, but they were touching the table top, so I had to change out the vase for taller one…which meant I couldn’t actually keep them in the centre of the table during the party. You should always keep your centrepieces either low or high so as not to obstruct the guests’ view across the table. Since this vase was tall it meant that the tulips were right at eye level, so once we sat down at the table I removed the flowers so we could easily pass the food around and converse.
As for setting the table, the fun part is pulling out the pretty dishes and linens! I took cues from my flowers and chose a pink and white colour scheme for the dishes. I didn’t have a tablecloth the right size for this table in white, so I used a runner and two doilies as placemats, and I quite like how it turned out!
Always try out your table setting in advance of the party, so you can see if you need to change your plan. I was originally going to use a different Battenberg lace runner and two placemats, but I couldn’t find the second placemat! After looking everywhere for it (except where it was, obviously…) I had to change my plan to these doilies instead. Of course, I did later find the other placemat, but I decided to use this arrangement since it was already set up to go.
If you’re hosting a themed event, this is time to bring that theme to life with your decor. For example, at the aforementioned Anne of Green Gables tea, how about using vintage books and a slate with a quote written on it as your centrepiece?
Plan Your Menu
Of course, there will be tea, at a Tea Party… but what do you want to serve alongside it? A themed tea can definitely guide your menu- for example- at the Anne of Green Gables Tea serving ice cream, raspberry cordial and carrot cake would be a perfect fit. But if you don’t have a theme, you can also do a variety of foods of your own choosing.
I usually do sweets at tea parties, but if you are planning a high tea (so named because you sit at a “high” table, not with occasional tables) you might want to serve a variety of sweet and savoury. This time, I chose lemon squares because they seem to capture the essence of Spring; something about citrus always tastes like Spring to me. If you’d like to try my recipe, you can get it here.
It is also a good idea to ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions you can reasonably accommodate. And if you won’t be able to bake something for everyone, you can serve fruit on the side. Fruit makes a nice palette cleanser as well as being something almost every guest can eat. Toasted nuts are also a good choice.
As well as choosing food, what varieties of tea will you serve? I love black Orange Pekoe, and drink it every day, but for a tea party it’s nice to offer some other blends, as well as having a variety of caffeinated and non caffeinated versions. I usually make a pot of one tea blend- this time we chose Lavender Earl Grey- and sit other options on the side that guests can choose to make single cup of if they’d prefer.
Prepare What You Can in Advance
Finally, this is my best advice: prep everything you possibly can before the day of the party. And if you are a list person, like me, you should definitely write a list of everything that needs to be done- right down to the smallest task. That way you can make sure that everything that can be prepared in advance is done beforehand. It’s fine to do some things last moment, but you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen trying to finish cutting up squares as guests are arriving. I like to have the table all set and ready, the desserts baked, and maybe even cut and plated, the day before. It really takes a lot of stress off to have as many things finished in advance as you possibly can. You don’t want to be running around like mad at the last moment, with curlers in your hair and flinging dirty dishes into the dishwasher as guests are coming up the driveway (yes I have done that!)
I love hosting tea parties, and while elaborate plans can be fun, remember that the most important thing is spending time with friends. With a bit of planning, hosting isn’t difficult at all, and even if something goes awry, it’s not the end of the world. I hope that these tips inspire you to start hosting your own tea parties…writing this post has definitely inspired me to start having them more often!
Have you ever hosted or attended a tea party? What theme would you choose if you were hosting? And is it feeling like Spring where you live?