Monday, May 18, 2015

Etiquette and Early 20th C. Tea Rooms

Mrs. Mayme Lee Clinkscale, was the African-American proprietress of "The Ideal Tea Room," a beautifully appointed tea and dining establishment in Chicago. The advert above is from about 1925 ~  According to, "Tea rooms were enormously popular in the first half of the 20th century. Their history is nearly forgotten, but is a fascinating aspect of women's history. Most were owned or managed by women. Almost everyone, from schoolteachers to recent college graduates to homemakers, wanted to run one. Most tea room patrons were also women. In the 1920s, especially, tea rooms became the fashionable places for women to meet friends in small towns, big cities, and suburbs alike."

Traditional Tea Table
"Necessity is the mother of invention." Someone, probably having reflected upon the easy social character of the English five o'clock tea, solved the problem for the American hostess by instituting the afternoon reception, which, somewhere between the hours of four and six, summons a host of friends to cross one's threshold and meet informally, chatting for a while over a sociable cup of tea, each group giving place to others, none crowding, all at ease, every one the recipient of a gracious welcome from the hostess, who by the hospitality thus offered has tacitly placed each guest on her visiting list for the season." Agnes H. Morton

"In the early 20th century almost all tea rooms used paper napkins, often dainty ones imported from Japan or China. They also did away with tablecloths, leaving tabletops bare or using doilies or placemats.

Tea room proprietors were motivated not only by a wish to cut laundry expense but also because they were of a time and social class that believed it was more sanitary to rid interiors of the excessive furbelows of the Victorian age.

Reflecting this mentality, Alice Foote MacDougall remarked in a 1928 article titled 'Eating Aesthetically,' 'There is nothing particularly alluring about long rows of tables, standing like shrouded sepulchers in winding sheets of more or less unsanitary tablecloths.'

As the 20th century wore on most restaurants got rid of tablecloths making them something of a rarity, resulting in the term 'white-tablecloth restaurant' for more luxurious establishments." - From Jan Whitaker's, "Restaurant-ing through history" blog

Jan Whitaker

We eat in restaurants several times a week and yet know very little about their history. I plan to dip into my archive of research and images every so often to present a little tidbit that highlights aspects of our American restaurant culture. Let me know your thoughts- Restaurant-ing through history.

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Moderator for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia