Why the fuss over Betty's Tea Rooms?
“Oooh what a lovely city! Have you been to Betty’s?” is one of the things I hear quite often, particularly at home down South, when strangers and acquaintances alike find out that I go to the University of York (along with “Is it cold up there?”).
Confession #1: Before I moved to York three years ago, I had never heard of Betty’s Tea Rooms. Perhaps it’s a Southern thing. Perhaps it’s just a me thing. Either way, I know I was clueless about who this Betty bird was, and I definitely didn’t know why everyone was telling me to pop round her's for a brew (I guess the North has infiltrated me more than I realised). It wasn’t until my first Christmas in York, when I saw tourists queuing around the block in all sorts of weather, that I realised just how far Betty’s reputation had stretched.
Confession #2: I’ve now been to Betty’s and (imagine me lowering my voice to a whisper for this next bit), I don’t see what all the fuss is about.
The day that my friends and I all finished our degrees with a ceremonious handing in of the final essay, we all hopped on the bus into town and headed to Betty’s for a celebratory afternoon tea.
Naturally, we had to queue, but we were so at one with our new found freedom, that the 20 minutes passed very quickly. Call me sceptical (many have), but I’m not entirely convinced that making customers queue isn’t a marketing technique, serving to create a hype around Betty’s, as passers-by become convinced that it is worth queuing for. Of course, the effect of the queuing is amplified by the fact that they hand you a beautifully designed menu to peruse whilst you wait, so that by the time you are seated, a combination of the food smells and the intricate descriptions has you ready to order one of everything on the menu with a side of mortgage to pay for it.
I digress. 20 minutes later, we were seated. Unfortunately we ended up in the downstairs part of the restaurant, which I wasn’t even aware existed, instantly dashing out hopes of being spotted dining in the windows by passers-by in St. Helen’s Square. It was a tad dark and dingy, and as my friend pointed out, felt somewhat like being on the Titanic (we all wholeheartedly agreed at the time, although looking back now, I fail to see why. The idea of your student loan sinking without a trace, perhaps).
Disappointingly, our orders were slow in arriving. Being the only one who didn’t order a milkshake, my hot chocolate arrived a few minutes after everyone else’s drinks. The cakes were even later coming, so that our drinks were all but gone by the time they arrived. The food was good, but nothing special.
The next day, by fluke, I returned to Betty’s with some different friends. The first time I was so conscious of not spilling anything and aiming to blend in with the wealthy retired couples who clearly pop into Betty’s like a student pops into Costcutter, that I couldn’t relax. The second time, I felt more like a pro. When my friend took my recommendation of which cake to try “because you’ve been here before”, I felt like royalty. Although on that note, perhaps they should introduce loyalty cards....
This time, we did end up sitting on the ground floor, with a fabulous view of the world going by. However, the service was even slower and my friend’s mum eventually had to grab a waiter (quite literally- the look he gave her as he dusted off his suit jacket from where a customer had dared to touch him was priceless!) in order to get the bill. The waitress who was serving us had galavanted off when one of her regular customers had arrived and was nowhere to be seen.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I went to Betty’s for the experience and so that the next time somebody asks me, I can reply with an enthusiastic “Yes! Yes I have!”. The prices were not as bad as expected, with a hot chocolate and cake weighing in at around £9, although they were not vastly different from something you could get in any high street coffee shop. You are paying for the experience, although whether it is an experience worth paying for is open to debate. I know that if I had queued around the block in snow to get in, I would have been disappointed.