Well-dressed ladies gossiping and giggling, and pretty waitresses with French-maid style frilly aprons and bonnets rushing to attend to them. The first Bettys Café Tea Rooms opened nearly 100 years ago in Harrogate in 1919, and today there are six across Yorkshire.
With such an aristocratic air about the quintessentially Yorkshire brand, what better time to pay a visit to Bettys than on Bettys 90th Birthday. That’s Queen Betty of course. Also known as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who turns 90 on April 21, and one would expect her to be celebrating with a fair few Royal Doulton cups of the stuff.
So, with Yorkshire being arguably the UK’s number one tea drinking county in the UK (Welcome to Yorkshire has just launched a Yorkshire Tea trail), I had the genius idea of embarking on the Battle of the Bettys on Bettys Birthday.
To visit each and every Bettys Café Tea Room, trial their tea (English of course) and eventually award the crown (jewels) for best Bettys in the land…
I’ve never in my 36 years stepped across the threshold of a Bettys Café Tea Room, so visiting six of them in 14 days has been pretty hard going; especially for someone who tries to avoid the carbs. It’s been very much against my nature to scoff scone after scone covered generously in cream and jam. I have quite literally turned into that Bettys signature bake; the Fat Rascal. Which is divine by the way. Warm with a good dollop of butter. And tea, one must wash it down with plenty of hot tea of course.
So I decided to drag along a number of supporting judges to assist me in my experiment including my mother, husband and small children (Bettys is very child friendly with some wonderful touches for the little people) and between us we’ve nibbled, sipped and gobbled all sorts of sweet and savoury delights washed down with cup after cup of Bettys signature Tea Room Blend (and the odd glass of pink fizz too).
The Bettys Brand
There are a number of fundamental signature touches that are identical across all the Bettys Café Tea Rooms. Firstly there’s the Bettys shop, and a bit like a theme park, one has to walk through the shop to get to the tea room. And walk through again to leave.
All the shops feature hand-crafted floor-to-ceiling fixtures, complete with just enough shelving to ensure that every edible object on display has its own little share of delicious personal space.
Shelf after shelf of the most fabulous teas, chocolates and preserves are all housed wonderfully in tins and jars and gift boxes and drawers. There are walls dedicated to fresh loaves, scones and teacakes … all baked fresh daily. The pastry and cream cake counters are intricate in detail, with every perfectly formed fondant fancy, chocolate éclair, vanilla slice and strawberry tart strategically positioned by someone quite obviously with a serious case of OCD.
Then there’s the Café Tea Rooms themselves with their marble tables, a combination of olive green leather seat coverings and wicker chairs, plants positioned here and there, silver tea sets, cake trollies and of course the menus. I say menus, but it should be singular – the offering is identical across all tea rooms and is much more extensive than I would have imagined, stretching way beyond scones and sandwiches and teas and cakes. Naturally, all the wonderful waiters and waitresses are impeccably dressed in black and white sporting crisp white aprons, the signature B brooch and perfect chignons in their hair.
The majority of the Café Tea Rooms have the same signature dramatic black wrought iron and glass frontage with old-fashioned signage, which is in keeping with a bygone era. And a tower of macaroons takes centre stage in every shop window.
The most apparent consistency across all of them is the great big queue that one has to join to get a table, which can stretch right outside of the door depending on the time of your visit. To make the anguish of having to queue as bearable as possible; most branches have somewhere to sit down while you wait for your table. This detail is especially good for the grey haired oldies and the yummy mummies with babies in arms who, it seems, make up for a lot of the Bettys client base in several of the branches.
But as with every chain (and I hate to call it a chain; Bettys cannot be compared to Pizza Express, Nandos, or Costa Coffee) the fundamental elements of the Bettys brand only form part of the Bettys experience. The location, the customers, the building in which the cafe tea room is housed and the view from ones table all contribute towards your Bettys experience, so choose your Bettys wisely.
God Save the Queen!
(All images are my own).