Afternoon Tea in a COVID World
As Tokyo has eased into its second phase of re-opening certain services have become available again. For me personally, one that I was hoping for was afternoon tea-even if it was at just one place. Y'all know it's a shared tradition for my daughter and I, and with her return to the U.S. quickly approaching my fingers were crossed for our favorite location to continue their beautiful service.
We lucked out! The Ritz Carlton resumed their afternoon tea on the 19th, and while we made our reservations right away they were very open about changes made in order to observe safety protocols for this 'new normal' we're all trying to navigate. Was I concerned how this would affect the tea? Honestly, no. I was curious, but if anything I thought it was the right thing to do: striking that balance between running a business and doing so in a safe, considerate way.
That balance was managed beautifully, just FYI.
Madeline and I were given our regular window seat, a sofa was offered as opposed to a table with four chairs, and then our afternoon began. The changes made were only a few, but they did make a difference in terms of limiting contact between people, and to me, this is what the goal should be for a business to re-open and re-open safely.
Spacing: The Riza Carlton's Lobby Lounge is already a massively spacious setting. With sweeping, high ceilings and a large, open floor this is already working in their favor-as is the distance between tables. Now there is even more space between sitting areas, but unless you've been often you'd never know it. They can still seat plenty without any concern of being close.
Masks: Anywhere you go in Tokyo you will find your servers wearing masks. The Ritz Carlton is no exception. I noted that there seemed to be fewer servers on the floor the day we took tea. It could have been the timing (we went for noon), it could have been because only 3 or 4 were needed, but it could also have been because they are being intentional in making sure not too many employees are in the same space at the same time. I'd be very curious to know!
Tea Service: This is where things began to change more noticably-but again, let me emphasize that these are minor changes that will not at all alter your enjoyment of tea time. What it does is limit the contact between people and food items, as well as you with your server. Super smart!
Ordering Tea: Before COVID, a beautiful black box filled with an array of small corked jars would be presented to your table.
Each jar held the looseleaf tea options and you were allowed to open and smell each before making your selection. Now your options come via an online menu provided by a QR code.
At The Ritz, the tradition before your tea is delivered is to choose a small plate of three items from a gurney of individual treats and preserves. It's a gorgeous wooden pushcart, beautifully appointed with open confection jars and five choices of preserves for your scones.
This is no longer an option. Instead you are served your clotted cream, a single treat, and preserve as chosen by someone in the kitchen where it's prepared.
This is the second change that limits the customer's contact with food going to multiple people. A small change but an important one. If you're curious, the preserve we were given was yuzu. Since the current afternoon tea is one celebrating the citrus and fruit flavors of the season, it was a delightful accompaniment to our scones.
The final change was the actual pouring of the tea. Normally your server would place the strainer above your cup and pour for you. It's an act that takes probably 20 seconds, but when pouring for multiple people it's obviously longer. Now they put the strainer and tea pot to the side so you can pour your own tea for the duration of your two hour visit.
It does take away just a smidge from the idea of a "full-service" tea, but really, it's not that big of a deal-especially when you think about the fact that once more, this limits your contact with another person. Again, a small change, but a smart one!
We enjoyed our time at The Ritz immensely. The changes were minor, but sensible, and our experience wasn't hampered in the least. I applaud businesses that are putting genuine care into limiting contact between people while making outings as safe as possible. It offers the promise of what things can be if we take a little time to be thoughtful in our choices and work together.
Thoughtful and fun! Thanks again Ritz Carlton, we will be back.