The Plaza’s Palm Court Afternoon Tea Renaissance
by Ellen Easton
Afternoon tea is an occasion to celebrate the timeless tradition of civility, good manners and community. Afternoon Tea in the Plaza’s Palm Court is an attainable luxury. As tea has been a welcome sign of hospitality, The Plaza Hotel, a landmark New York City institution, welcomes all to the Palm Court.
When the Plaza, at age 98, closed its door in 2005, it was not the end of an era. It was, in fact, to become the renaissance of one of New York City’s most treasured institutions.
Under the management of the Fairmont Group, The Plaza, a Henry Janeway Hardenbergh Beaux Art masterpiece, created a new haven of luxury. No expense was spared to insure that every detail was of the highest quality, not only in the materials and décor, but in the personnel and service as well.
From the moment the doors opened in 1907, The Plaza became a venue of choice as a world destination point. The Plaza has hosted celebrated and prominent personalities, including the fictional and mischievous Eloise, George M. Cohan, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Leonard Bernstein and Truman Capote.
The Palm Court, the heartbeat of the Plaza, with the million dollar restoration of a 1,800 square foot stained glass lay-light not seen for over fifty years, returned the room to a grandeur worthy of its national Historic landmark status.
The Plaza, whose very name has come to represent the epitome of unparalleled luxury and unstinting hospitality, serves afternoon tea daily in the Palm Court from twelve noon to 4:30 PM.
Surrounded by the European splendor of the Palm Court courtyard, the afternoon tea caters to the different tastes of its sophisticated clientele. A blend of the best tea – time traditions with new and innovative ideas, creates a balance and flavorful combination to appeal to all guests.
Having been the afternoon tea consultant to the Plaza from 1997 – 2009, to be a part of such an endeavor was both an honor and a privilege. To have worked with such an outstanding group of professionals was a dream come true. After being “away” for ten years, I was pleased to see many of the original staff were still at the helm. The warm welcome I received on my return for afternoon tea made me feel at home. It was as if I had never left.
While not directly responsible for the latest incarnation, many of the traditional elements of my consultation remain a part of the new menu.
All the foods and sweets are artistically crafted to please the eye. The tea vendor has blended several private label teas exclusively for The Plaza’s Palm Court.
Creating an afternoon tea program can be a solitary endeavor, but more often than not it is a team effort. In order to produce a five -star serviced menu it takes more than a team, it takes an army of dedicated people.
There are many challenges when serving afternoon tea in a large venue. The Palm Court has once again reverted to the traditional English self-service, three-tier stand. Waiving the correct position of the foods presented with the scones on top, sandwiches in the middle, and pastries on the bottom, the management has decided to forgo tradition and showcase the delicate pastries on top, with the warm scones in the middle, and the sandwiches on the bottom. Regardless of the presentation, be mindful that the correct manner in which one consumes the foods remains sandwiches first, scones second, followed by the sweets.
As the Palm Court is a formal setting, formal table service is indeed appropriate. All premium quality loose leaf white, green, oolong, and black teas, herbal, and Rooibos infusions are served in a two-cup teapot, fully decanted. The decanting of the tea keeps the leaves from stewing in the pot. Your second cup should be as good as the first. As no detail is too small, milk for your tea may be served warm on request.
Whether it be in the kitchen making certain that every bread is fresh, every cookie crisp, every plate artistically arranged or the wait staff who seem to be in constant motion, all have shown great pride in what they do to make the guest’s experience perfect. They are trying their hardest to be the best.
Cheryl Benton, the head Tomato and I had a wonderful afternoon tea of sumptuous delicacies. The multiple menu offerings should leave no guest unsatisfied.
There is indeed a very special Eloise Menu for the little ones. After all, one never knows when Eloise may pop in for tea and say, “ Tea, tea, tea, charge it please!”
The Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, New York, NY
Menus, Times and Reservations: (212) 546- 5300/ (212) 759-3000 or theplazany.com
2019 ©Ellen Easton- All Rights Reserved
Ellen Easton, author of Afternoon Tea~Tips, Terms and Traditions (RED WAGON PRESS), an afternoon tea authority, lifestyle and etiquette industry leader, keynote speaker and product spokesperson, is a hospitality, design, and retail consultant whose clients have included the Waldorf=Astoria, the Plaza and Bergdorf Goodman. Easton’s family traces their tea roots to the early 1800s, when ancestors first introduced tea plants from India and China