U.S., New Haven History: Afternoon Tea in the Dining Car

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; December 23, 2020

The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, commonly referred to as the New Haven, dominated conservative New England in the early and middle 20th Century. While it lives on today in name only on Connecticut’s commuter lines operated by Metro-North, it formerly was a railroad which operated a number of different services, from night trains full of Pullman sleeping cars to day trains full of businessmen traveling from one part of New England to another. The New Haven operated a large fleet of commuter trains, too.

Those of us of a certain age – meaning, we all have gray hair – remember when New England was a bastion of conservatism. The phrase “Banned in Boston” was exclaimed with regularity. If the leading citizens of Boston were scandalized by the latest novel or the imprudence of Hollywood to produce racy films, the Boston protectors of public morals stepped in and outright banned the sale or showing of these allegedly offensive offerings. Much of the rest of New England fell in line. Simply, liberal ideas and liberal offerings were not tolerated. The children and innocents must be protected from dangerous outside influences.

New England was also a bastion of niceties of a civil society, such as the practice of afternoon tea. For those unfamiliar with this event, the alleged purpose of it was, as one English queen remarked (paraphrasing), “it fills the empty feeling one experiences late afternoon, and allows one to fully function until dinner is served later in the evening.”

In those more civilized days, luncheon was served in the middle of the day, and a formal dinner was served at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. It was a long time between meals.

The New Haven Railroad in the winter of 1941, almost a full year before Pearl Harbor, sought to make sure its passengers did not experience that “empty feeling” in the late afternoon, just before the evening began at 6 p.m. By coincidence, it also generated additional revenue for dining cars and made better use of an important rolling stock asset.

The New Haven Afternoon Tea menu:

Afternoon Tea …

  1. 55 Cents, Cream Cheese Sandwich, Tea
  2. 40 Cents, Toasted English Muffin, Orange Marmalade, Tea
  3. 50 Cents, Plain or Cinnamon Toast, Strawberry, Tea
  4. 55 Cents, Sliced Chicken Sandwich, Marble Wafers, Tea
  5. 60 Cents, Bar-le-duc with Cream Cheese, Toasted Crackers, Tea
  6. 75 Cents, Assorted Tea Sandwiches, Ice Cream, Wafers, Tea

Please order by number


Cream Cheese; 25 cents, Cream Cheese & Currant Jelly; 30 cents, American Cheese; 25 cents, Deviled Smithfield Ham; 25 cents, Sliced Ham; 25 cents, Sliced Chicken; 35 cents, Assorted; 30 cents


English Muffin; 10 cents, Melba Toast; 15 cents, Buttered or Cinnamon Toast; 20 cents

Tea, Coffee or Chocolate – Pot; 20 cents

Choice wines and liquors are also available.

In these modern times, if you have not had the opportunity of enjoying a true English Afternoon Tea, the next time you are visiting Victoria, British Columbia, stop in the Fairmont Empress, one of the oldest and grandest hotels in Victoria. Opening in 1908, it is one of the jewels of Canadian hospitality, and daily offers the afternoon tea service. It is highly recommended you make the visit in the company of either an Englishman or at least an Anglophile to absorb the full experience. And, the tea offering is so extensive, you may wish to skip dinner that night altogether, or, in the proper fashion, wait at least until 9 p.m., allowing you time to properly digest the tea repast.

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