SIX YEARS OF TEA ROOMS
From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART II
BUSINESS CAREER OF A WOMAN COLLEGE GRADUATE
"For the last three years I have cleared $5,000 a year on my tea rooms,"
declared a young woman who six years ago was graduated with distinction
at one of the leading colleges of the country.
"I attained my twenty-third birthday a month after I received my
diploma. On that day I took stock of the capital with which I was to
step into the world and earn my own living. My stock taking showed
perfect health, my college education and $300, my share of my father's
estate after the expenses of my college course had been paid.
"In spite of the protests of many of my friends I decided to become a
business woman instead of entering one of the professions. I believed
that a well conducted tea room in a college town where there was nothing
of the kind would pay well, and I proceeded to open a place.
"After renting a suitable room I invested $100 in furnishings. Besides
having a paid announcement in the college and town papers I had a
thousand leaflets printed and distributed.
"Though I couldn't afford music I did have my rooms decorated profusely
with flowers on the afternoon of my opening. As it was early in the
autumn the flowers were inexpensive and made a brave show. My only
assistant was a young Irish woman whom I had engaged for one month as
waitress, with the understanding that if my venture succeeded I would
engage her permanently.
"We paid expenses that first afternoon, and by the end of the week the
business had increased to such an extent that I might have engaged a
second waitress had not so many of my friends persisted in shaking their
heads and saying the novelty would soon wear off. During the second week
my little Irish girl and I had so much to do that on several occasions
our college boy patrons felt themselves constrained to offer their
services as waiters, while more than one of the young professors after a
long wait left the room with the remark that they would go elsewhere.
"Of course it was well enough to laugh as we all knew there was no
'elsewhere,' but when I recalled how ready people are to crowd into a
field that has proved successful, I determined no longer to heed the
shaking heads of my friends. The third week found me not only with a
second assistant but with a card posted in a conspicuous place
announcing that at the beginning of the next week I would enlarge my
quarters in such a way as to accommodate more than twice as many guests.
"Having proved to my own satisfaction that my venture was and would be
successful, I didn't hesitate to go into debt to the extent of $150.
This was not only to repair and freshen up the new room but also to
equip it with more expensive furnishing than I had felt myself justified
in buying for the first.
"Knowing how every little thing that happens is talked about in a
college town, I was sure the difference in the furnishings of the rooms
would prove a good advertisement. I counted on it to draw custom, but
not just in the way it did.
"Before I realized just what was happening I was receiving letters from
college boys who, after proclaiming themselves among my very first
customers, demanded to know why they were discriminated against. I had
noticed that everybody appeared to prefer the new room and that on
several occasions when persons telephoning for reservations had been
unable to get the promise of a table in there, they had said they would
wait and come at another time. What I had not noticed was that only men
coming alone or with other men, and girls coming with other girls, would
accept seats in the first room.
"I learned from the letters of 'my very first patrons' that no gentleman
would take a girl to have tea in a second class tea room. They were not
only hitting at the cheaper furnishings of my first room but also at the
waiter whom I had employed, because I felt the need of a man's help in
doing heavy work. The girl in her fresh apron and cap was more
attractive than the man, and because he happened to serve in the first
room he also was second class.
"No, I couldn't afford to buy new furniture for that room, so I did the
only thing I could think of. I mixed the furniture in such a way as to
make the two rooms look practically alike. I hired another girl and
relegated the man to the kitchen except in case of emergency.
"Although my custom fell off in summer to a bare sprinkling of guests
afternoons and evenings and to almost no one at lunch, I kept the same
number of employees and had them put up preserves, jams, syrups, and
pickles for use the coming season. I knew it would not only be an
economical plan but also a great drawing card, especially with certain
of the professors, to be able to say that everything served was made on
the place and under my own supervision.
"My second winter proved so successful that I determined to buy a home
for my business so that I might have things exactly as I wished. I was
able to pay the first instalment, $2,500, on the purchase price and
still have enough in bank to make alterations and buy the necessary
"The move was made during the summer, and when I opened up in the autumn
I had such crowds afternoons and evenings that I had to put extra tables
in the halls until I could get a room on the second floor ready. At
present I have two entire floors and often have so many waiting that it
is next to impossible to pass through the entrance hall.
"Three summers ago I opened a second tea room at a seashore resort on
the New England coast. I heard of the place through a classmate whose
family owned a cottage down there. She described it as deadly dull,
because there was nothing to do but bathe and boat unless you were the
happy possessor of an automobile or a horse.
"I was so much interested in her description of the place that I went
down one warm day in April and looked things over. I found a stretch of
about three miles of beach lined with well appearing and handsome
cottages and not a single place of amusement. The village behind the
beach is a lovely old place, with twenty or more handsome old homes
surrounded by grand trees. There are two or three small stores, a post
office, two liveries and the railroad station half a mile away.
"Before I left that afternoon I had paid the first month's rent on the
best of the only two cottages to be rented on the beach. Of course it
needed considerable fixing up and that had to be done at my own expense,
but as I was getting it at a rental of $200 for the season I was not
worried at the outlay. The cottages told me enough of the character of
the people who summered on that beach to make me sure that I would get
good interest on all the money spent.
"Immediately after commencement I shut up my college tea rooms, leaving
only the kitchen and storeroom open and in charge of an experienced
woman with instructions to get more help when putting up preserves and
pickles made it necessary. Then I moved.
"The two first days on the beach my tea room didn't have a visitor.
People strolled by and stared at the sign, but nobody came in to try my
tea. The third day I had a call from my landlord, who informed me that
he had been misled into letting me have his cottage, and offering to
return the amount paid for the first month's rent, he very politely
requested me to move out.
"After considerable talking I discovered that the cottagers didn't like
the way my waitresses dressed. They were too stylish and my rooms
appeared from the outside to be so brilliantly lighted that they thought
I intended to sell liquor.
"I didn't accept the offered rent, neither did I agree to move out, but
I did assure my landlord that I would go the very day anything really
objectionable happened on my premises. I told him of my success in the
college town and then invited him to bring his family the following
afternoon to try my tea.
"Well, they came, they saw, and I conquered. That evening all the tables
on my piazza were filled and there was a slight sprinkling indoors. A
few days later the classmate who had told me of the place came down for
the summer and my troubles were at an end.
"The secret of my success is hard work and catering to the taste of my
patrons. Had I opened either a cheap or a showy place in the college
town, I would not have gained the good will of the faculty or the
patronage of the best class of students. If my prices had been too high
or the refreshments served not up to the notch, the result would not
have been so satisfactory.
"Knowing one college town pretty well, I knew just about what was needed
in the student's life; that is, an attractive looking place, eminently
respectable, where you can take your best girl and get good things to
eat well served at a reasonable cost.
"The needs of the beach were pretty much the same. People can't stay in
the water all the time, neither can they spin around the country or go
to an unlighted village at night in their carriages and automobiles. My
tea room offers a recreation, without being a dissipation.
"Another point about which many people question me is the effect of my
being a business woman on my social standing. I haven't noticed any
slights. I receive many more invitations than it is possible for me to
accept. I go with the same set of girls that I did while I was in
"Two of my classmates are lawyers, more than one is a doctor, and three
have gone on the stage. I know that my earnings are far more than any of
theirs, and I am sure they do not enjoy their business any more than I
do. If I had to begin again I would do exactly as I have done, with one
exception--I would lay out the whole of my $300 in furnishing that first
tea room instead of keeping $75 as a nest egg in bank."
* * * * *
1. Half-tone reproducing photograph of dressed chickens with
the caption, "There is this rule you must observe: Pick your
2. Reproduction in type of shipping label.
BY PARCEL POST
Next: ONE MAN'S WAY OF SERVING THE DIRECTTOCONSUMER MARKET
Previous: WANTED: A HOME ASSISTANT