The economy may be ploughing through choppy waters but it’s a storm in a tea cup for a sweet-toothed British institution.
Despite its dainty image, the formal afternoon tea is proving remarkably robust in the face of financial meltdown with demand for cucumber sandwiches, lemon drizzle cake and orange pekoe booming.
Midland hoteliers say patriotic fervour sparked by the Olympics and the Queen’s jubilee has sparked a gold rush for the cake stand as people turn to quintessential English comfort food to keep the recessionary blues at bay.
Stratford-upon-Avon is one of the region’s summer tourism hotspots and hotels and cafe owners would expect to do a decent trade. But at one of the town’s top hotels, The Arden, bosses have been taken aback by the demand for lavish teas.
Jason Adams, The Arden’s general manager, said: “The grand tradition of afternoon tea really seems to have come back into fashion and the demand at The Arden has gone through the roof.
“Stratford is a hotspot for visitors from all across the globe, many of whom come to experience the wonderful history and traditions of England and a full afternoon tea is definitely on their list when they stay at The Arden.”
The hotel’s £15 tea features a selection of finger sandwiches, including smoked salmon, cucumber, chicken, followed by a selection of homebaking including lemon cake and coffee and walnut cake, and, naturally, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
For an extra £10, guests can order a glass of Champagne to sip on the terrace alongside the River Avon or choose a shady spot in the Elizabethan knot garden where Shakespeare is thought to have scribbled.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, there were 12 bookings for tea, but the hotel ended up serving more than 40 customers for an afternoon blow-out. Mr Adams said: “With the Olympics and the Queen’s jubilee at the moment, I think it is very fitting to have afternoon tea. It is a very British thing to do with scones and cake. There is a bit of theatre about the experience. A lot of mums and daughters come in and a lot upgrade to a Champagne afternoon tea. Why not?”
Trade is also brisk at the Hyatt Regency in Birmingham, where traditional afternoon tea starts from £19 per person. In fact, the hours have been extended, with the service starting at midday, to satisfy the demand in the Aria Restaurant.
A typical spread might include finger sandwiches filled with oak smoked salmon, rare Scottish beef with horseradish, chicken and pesto and, of course, cucumber. There are plain and fruit scones, clotted cream, flavoured macaroons, mini fruit tarts, mini éclairs, mini banoffee tarts and chocolate delice. Like at The Arden, the Champagne afternoon tea (£28) is proving popular in the summer and there is also a decadent rosé Champagne afternoon tea (£30).
A Hyatt spokeswoman said: “Traditional afternoon tea at Hyatt Regency Birmingham has always been very popular but we haven’t known anything like the demand we are getting at the moment. We now serve our afternoon tea from noon to 5.30pm every day and we also have a festive afternoon tea offering in preparation for Christmas.
“The increase started with the Royal wedding in April 2011 and it has kept building through the Queen’s jubilee. People are proud to be British and when people get patriotic they turn to tea, cakes and cucumber sandwiches.
“It’s a very British thing to do.”