The Queen Mary Tea Room: High Tea Fit for Royalty

SEATTLE, Wash.

A Seattle institution, The Queen Mary Tea Room ranks up alongside other Emerald City must-see attractions like The Space Needle and Pike Place Market. Set on the slope of a steep hill in the Ravenna neighborhood, this English style teahouse is affectionately described as an “adult-sized dollhouse,” by owner Mary Greengo.

Tourists and Seattle regulars flock to the overstuffed space that caters to those with a hankering for an authentic English tea replete with bone china teacups, and antique silver. One can consume an afternoon tea with all the trimmings: finger sandwiches, scones, cakes, crumpets, and the like.

Greengo started pouring tea and making scones in 1988 and from day one zeroed in on her niche – a sliver of people made up of predominantly women and young girls. “I focus on that population and treat them well,” she says. A destination spot for bridal and baby showers as well as high-tea birthday parties, Greengo recognizes “it’s not for everyone.”

“The food and tea have to be amazing,” Greengo says. “It has to be fabulous and the service has to be friendly and inviting.” She has labored to create a magical experience for her customers and her efforts have paid her back in spades. A consistently full house with weekends booked two months out and a 10,000- person mailing list is proof of her loyal following.

The Numbers

Greengo purchased the building that affords her about 1400-square feet, and 40 seats for tea lovers. The intimate entryway is efficiently packed floor to ceiling with tea paraphernalia, 80 tinned loose leaf teas carrying the Queen Mary logo, a full dessert case and stacks of teaware from bone china to Bodum.

Interior DecorA $30 per person charge for afternoon tea means an average Queen Mary ticket is substantial. The high ticket contributes to the roughly 75 percent  sales for tea service and 25 percent  spent on loose leaf tea and merchandise. Cross-merchandising is artfully integrated into high tea, with three tea samples provided to each table. Queen Mary customers will find wait staff aprons for sale along with other tea-related merchandise as they make their way to the bathrooms located near the back of the shop. Customers who didn’t get their fill of sweet treats can take something home from the dessert case.

The Queen Mary enterprise reaches beyond the maritime city with a bustling Internet trade and a wholesale restaurant line. Greengo developed a QM line for restaurants, an A-Z checklist for a tea service that includes display box, custom tea choices and staff training. She consults with close to 200 restaurants and plans to expand that area of the business in the coming years.

It’s All in the Details

It’s an understatement to say that Greengo is a detail person. Her business philosophy is informed by her keen attention to all facets of the business: “Know your labor costs, know how much to mark up, know how to shop for merchandise, and know what sells and what doesn’t,” she recommends. “ And know your numbers. I know within $5 what should be in the till at the close of business.”

To best pay attention to the details, you have to be here, says Greengo. “An absentee owner will be chewed alive,” she warns. She might be in her St. John’s designer outfit one minute to personally greet guests, and at day’s end in her grubs fixing the men’s toilet.

TinsIn her 24 years at the helm of the Queen Mary, Greengo has watched sales increase each year. “I don’t believe in losing money on anything,” she declares. A loyal staff of 15-17 , has been with her for many years. Pooling tips encourages support and teamwork among employees who, via gentle peer pressure, work together to keep the show running smoothly and profitably. “I aim to keep labor costs at 22-23 percent, and certainly don’t go over 30 percent,” she says.

Not one to rest on her laurels, or rest period, Greengo keeps things fresh at Queen Mary by changing out the menu seasonally. She offers a varied selection of sweets and savories for tea service, in addition to a full breakfast and lunch menu that, in addition to British-inspired pasties, shepherd’s and steak and kidney pies, includes egg dishes, quiches, hearty sandwiches and pasta dishes. The menu isn’t the only thing that gets a refresh. Her elaborately decorated tearoom gets a redux every few weeks with greenery, tea sets and other tea accoutrements arranged just so.

Customers are consistently and politely courted at Queen Mary. Customers fill out surveys to all customers who provide feedback that Greengo and staff discuss (and incorporate) weekly at staff meetings. A monthly newsletter keeps English tea aficionados up on the latest merchandise and tea offerings and a birthday club gifts members with special discounts to celebrate their big day.

At Queen Mary, everyone gets a chance to be queen for a day.