Hello SOTGC community,
As professional women, we are always looking for ways to improve ourselves and our relationships in the world of business. Many things arise that challenge our position and disposition. Being able to diffuse difficult situations with grace, maintain respect and earned authority, salvage delicate relationships, and not leave money on the table when negotiating are all skills that are fine-tuned over the course of one’s career. Along the way, we develop skills and strategies that help navigate the nuances of our professional lives. One of the most powerful skills to develop is the ability to simultaneously show respect toward others while quietly demanding it for yourself. In my love for tea and all things etiquette, I discovered a power move that allowed me to do just that – serving tea!
I admit that drawing attention to tea and etiquette as being synonymous is a bit of a cliché (one that I typically try to avoid), but sometimes it has its place. Hosting a “power tea,” as it is sometimes called, is a savvy business move, and it can elevate your professional image and garner more respect from others. Hosting a tea is especially powerful when wheeling and dealing or having a difficult conversation with a contentious colleague. It makes a statement of control, refinement, and intelligence. The elegance of the event itself sets a tone for the meeting with expectations of mutual respect and diplomacy.
Some years ago, I took on a client, a new small-business owner, who proved to be difficult and quiet demanding. After several months of personal attention and providing work well out of my scope (and losing other business because of it), I was ready to fire my client! I extended an invitation to tea as a matter of strategy to discuss this difficult matter. Leaving the office atmosphere was the first step in dialing down the probability of any displayed hostility. This person was known for becoming agitated and loudly expressive when confronted. The act of me serving (pouring) the tea and special treats held much symbolism, as it suggested a level of respect for my guest and a willingness to discuss matters in a civilized manner. Charmed by my hospitality (or maybe it was the yummy treats), my concerns were heard and well received. We left with a revised agreement that was mutually acceptable. I tend to agree with Basque philosopher Bernard-Paul Heroux who said, “There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.”
Taking tea for business is a powerful tool when done right. Meeting over tea with a business colleague or client is a smart, cost-effective alternative to other meal-time meetings. And it’s special. It provides an excellent break from the office without having to commit to the time and expense of a business dinner or having to rush a lunch meeting.
Allow me to share some basics to help you host the perfect tea.
You should know that tea service with petit fours (small cakes or cookies) is not called “high tea” – more on that in a moment. The proper term is simply afternoon tea, which may include finger sandwiches, savories, scones, and pastries. This is known as a full tea. A royal tea is a step up that includes all of these items with the addition of a glass of champagne or sherry. However, you do not have to be as elaborate as either of these.
Afternoon tea takes place between the hours of three and five. An invitation should be extended a week in advance, though as little as two days may be acceptable. Plan to meet in the lobby or at a reserved table of a hotel. You may also select a restaurant that offers a quiet spot at that time of day. Be familiar with the location – leave nothing to surprise. Visit the site and introduce yourself to the captain or maître d’. Review menu options. Select your table and seating where it is most comfortable and private, away from restrooms, the kitchen, or front door. Reconfirm your reservation the morning of with both your guest and the venue. Arrive 15 minutes early to pre-pay and request that the ticket be held at the captain’s desk. You can slip away to sign the ticket near the end of the meal. This is always very impressive. As with all meetings, have an agenda, but don’t forget to engage in light conversation first.
Whether you are the host or guest, here are a few faux pas to avoid:
- Calling the service “high tea.” Afternoon tea is very different from high tea. The latter is an informal meal of meats (usually sausage), breads, and other hearty items served family style later in the day at supper time.
- Sipping tea with your pinky finger out. This is incorrect and quite unrefined. Keep your pinkies down.
- Draining tea bags. Never attempt to drain a tea bag by mashing it against the inside of your cup, squeezing it between your fingers, or winding it around your spoon. Simply discard it on a separate saucer provided for this purpose.
- Making clanging sounds. Hold the noise. Spoons should be used to stir sugar or other additions with a slight swirl, not by loudly clanging against the sides of the teacup. And never tap your spoon on the side of the cup after stirring.
- Asking for cream. Cream is meant for coffee. The “cream” served with tea is actually milk. And while milk and lemons may be offered, they are never added together; tea is taken with one or the other to avoid the acid from the lemon causing the milk to curdle.
- Leaving stains. Used flatware should never be returned to the table linen; put them on a plate or saucer. Avoid spills of jam or other items by bringing the serving dish close to your plate before serving yourself. Ladies, be sure to blot your lips before taking a sip of tea so as not to leave an unsightly lipstick stain on the rim of the cup. And never reapply lipstick in public; excuse yourself to the restroom.
Don’t forget etiquette basics – no slurping, smacking, or licking fingers.
Try hosting an afternoon tea for your next team meeting – right there in the office. You already meet on a weekly or monthly basis. Why not make the next time just a little bit special? Although there is no need to break out the bone china and delicate lace, you should opt for real dishes (no plastics or Styrofoam, please). You can rent dishes and teapots from the caterer and order a few choices of tea and desserts. Bring elegance to your next meeting and step up your game. This is a power move not soon to be forgotten!
Well ladies, you ready to host an amazing tea experience? Please Tweet, Pin, or share this on LinkedIn if you’re inspired and want to help others.