Afternoon tea is one of those things that seems to divide people. I can understand why it may not be to everybody's taste. It is fair to say that you could do your own afternoon tea at home for a lot less money. You could even buy shop brought stuff and pay a lot less. But for me, there is so much more to afternoon tea than the food itself. I admit that I have an upper spending limit, just making the odd exception if I think a particular afternoon tea looks outstanding (even then I will look up the menu beforehand and see if I can find any reviews).
I simply love the entire process, and I feel that wearing lolita fits with the whole afternoon tea aesthetic. I am not usually one for the whole "when I wear lolita, it is like I am a whole other person!" stuff, but in the past I have felt at my "most" lolita when I have been at afternoon teas. I guess it is the whole idea of afternoon tea being seen as 'elegant'. A lot of the time you have to adhere to a dress code of some description (some are not so strict, but you sort of feel the need to turn up in something other than jeans and sneakers). The food is usually small and dainty, encouraging you to take smaller mouthfuls. Afternoon tea is usually served in fancier locations by smartly dressed members of staff. Overall, it feels like an experience, rather than simply sitting in a cafe and eating a slice of cake. I find as well that you tend to alter your behaviour accordingly as well, being polite and fitting in with the scene. I always feel as though I need to put my phone away during afternoon tea, as it seems rude to be on your phone instead of talking to the people you are with. But that is something I see as a good thing. It encourages you to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern day life and actually step back in time. For me, afternoon tea is escapism. I get to dress up (often in lolita), eat food that I wouldn't usually have at home and get away from the outside world.
There are a couple of things that attract me to particular afternoon teas. Firstly, I like places where you can tell the food on the menu has been especially prepared for that location and food you would not find on other afternoon tea menus elsewhere. You do get what I would almost describe as "chain" afternoon teas, usually at places such as hotel or restaurant chains. These can still be pleasant, but it lacks that more personal touch. A place gets bonus points if they have a particularly unusual menu. My favourite afternoon tea to date is still the Willy Wonka afternoon tea I had for my birthday last year. I still think about that rhubarb and custard candy floss and the unlimited extra portions... A theme can add a bit of money on to the price, but if it is executed especially well it can still be worth considering. Location is another factor. I would much rather go to a stately home in the middle of nowhere than a budget hotel right by a busy road. You can even find afternoon teas that use specific crockery, such as Wedgwood. Another thing to consider is the online reviews. Rude staff, poor hygiene ratings and other unfortunate issues can usually be uncovered by checking out review sites first (although you should always consider how old the review is as well and bare in mind that some 'reviews' are actually fake).
For those of you in the UK, I would highly recommend taking a look at this site. I am always using that site to find fun and quirky afternoon tea experiences. Although sometimes you have to look up afternoon teas on google with the choice of town/city as well. I found out about a 1940s themed cafe that does afternoon tea purely by chance because I was on a website for a tourist location which recommended it. For those of you outside of the UK as well, maybe just try asking around or do a bit of online digging. You can find some real hidden gems out there.