Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Afternoon Tea at Royalton Suites

August 24, 2012 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

Tried a new “afternoon tea” in Boston this past week, at the Royalton Suites, thanks to a GroupOn that a friend had bought. The Groupon was $35 for a (regularly) $70 Tea for Two.

The Royalton Suites is a ten-room boutique hotel inside a Newbury Street brownstone, right in the heart of the snazziness that is Newbury Street. So I think they’re trying to project an upscale atmosphere. And what does that better than afternoon tea?

Well, as “upscale atmosphere” goes, this tea was not it. It was a what I would consider the minimum level of quality and service for afternoon tea, worth perhaps $20 a person, certainly not the $35 that was its touted value. To begin with, we arrived at 2pm, when our reservation was for. Tea service is slated for 2-6pm. When we arrived they were already seating one party (also with a Groupon) of four ahead of us. Then we were seated, and the menu explained. However, I could barely hear the explanation because they were blasting reggaeton music. I don’t know about you, but reggaeton doesn’t exactly project an image of “upscale atmosphere.” Especially when it’s so loud you can’t hear the waitress.

I’m fairly sure the music was what the crew was playing while setting up the room, but they forgot to turn it off before letting us in. This would be the equivalent of the backstage crew still moving props on the stage while the audience takes their seats before a play. It’s a gaffe that says “not ready for prime time.” They did cut the music off a few minutes later, and then a few minutes after that switch it to something more tea-room like.

They are clearly trying. The china the tea was served on was beautiful and the spread was fairly nice. The chef seems to really know scones: the cinnamon scone was the perfect texture. It was also one of the tastiest cucumber sandwiches I’ve tasted. As with many tea services, they only bring an assortment and you can ask for more if you want more. However we found it sort of weird that “one of each” didn’t mean one of each PER PERSON when it came to the sandwiches. They brought literally one single triangle of egg salad, chicken salad, cucumber, ham & cheese, and cheese. That meant my friend and I had to cut the triangles in half in order to try each so we knew which things to ask for more of! It seemed skimpy and cheap to give us two of everything else (scones, tarts, mini eclairs, etc) and then skimp on the sandwiches.

Another thing they do that seems cheap is they don’t give each person a pot of tea. They give you one pot to share between you (Tea for Two). Yes, you get as many refills of hot water as you want, but that means you have to agree on what kind of tea you get with your friend. They have what appears to be an outstanding-looking tea selection, but I only tried one kind (the Victorian rose) as a result. The tea, even if bought at retail prices, has to be the least expensive part of the meal, so this also seems cheap and unnecessary.

On top of that, they didn’t even fill the pot all the way. So, let me get his straight. I’m supposedly paying $70 for this pot of hot water with leaves in and you don’t even fill it all the way? It was about 2/3 full. The only rationale I can think of for that was that the waitresses aren’t trained well enough to carry the full pot without spilling it. Or someone just wasn’t paying attention when they filled it. Either way, points off.

The Victorian Rose was a very good rendition of the classic rose tea. It was served by packing it into a mesh tea ball that was rolling around the bottom of the pot. To get full flavor out of it I had to circulate the water a bit with a spoon.

There are only six tables in the tea room, each can hold four people, and by 2:30 they were all full. There were two women working table service. WIth only three tables for each of them, we expected the service to be a little more attentive. Given that everyone was there for the same thing (it appeared everyone was there by Groupon), it shouldn’t have been difficult to remember each table’s order. When the table that sat down before us ordered their two flavors of tea, the waitress couldn’t have also picked up our one flavor on her way back to the kitchen? No, she had to go and come back to take our order. Then throughout the meal we had to flag her down by waving to get more hot water, more sandwiches, etc. When you have to flag down your waitress by waving, when the tea room is only the size of a small living room, well, that’s another thing that doesn’t really say “upscale atmosphere.”

Another thing that added to my impression that these folks are not fully trained in hospitality. One of the waitresses was in a very cute but sleeveless dress. Most establishments prohibit anyone in food service from wearing tank tops or sleeveless anything. I’ve never known if there was an actual sanitary reason why people’s armpits shouldn’t be exposed around food or if it’s purely a public appearance thing, but it’s one of those things that if you’ve worked food service just looks WRONG.

I’ve had afternoon tea at a lot of places in Boston. The old Ritz Carlton, the Park Plaza, the Mandarin Oriental, and the Boston Harbor Hotel, to name a few. I’ve also had it in many cities around the world, London, Toronto, San Francisco, New York. So it’s not like this was my first experience with this meal or that I had outsized expectations. If I had outsized expectations, actually, they were probably based on the whopping $70 price. The best tea service in Boston, as far as I’m concerned, is at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Rowes Wharf. (http://www.roweswharfseagrille.com/seagrilltea.html) There, the full tea service, which includes a pot for each person and full selection of sandwiches for each person, is $24. For $32 you get it with champagne also and a course of strawberries in devonshire cream. It is something special.

The tea at the Royalton Suites is not something special. It’s pleasant enough if you work near there and can get the half-price Groupon, but I wouldn’t say it’s even close to worth the full price or worth a special trip. They only opened in April of this year, five months ago, so they have some time to improve, perhaps? But the impression I am left with is of a hospitality company that has undertrained its workers and is not delivering close to the level of service that the price should warrant. The food was very nice, but the overall experience would have been a complete ripoff at $70.

Leave a Reply