Story: Restaurants and food outlets

New Zealand’s 19th-century European settlers often depended on hotels for meals, and the 1860s Otago gold rush led to a proliferation of restaurants and dining rooms. For many years, restrictive liquor licensing laws made it difficult for restaurants to serve alcohol. In the 2000s numbers of restaurants and cafés boomed, and espresso machines were ubiquitous.

Story by Perrin Rowland
Main image: Pegasus Bay winery restaurant, Waipara

Story Summary

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Early restaurants

In the 19th century new settlers often ate in hotels. Restaurants developed in cities, and during the 1860s gold rush dozens were set up in Dunedin, including the first Chinese restaurants. Eating places in cities included dining rooms, luncheon rooms, chop houses, oyster saloons and cafés.

Liquor licensing

Many early restaurants served alcohol, until licensing laws were tightened in 1881 – although some continued to sell alcohol illegally. From 1917 only hotels could easily get liquor licences.

In the 1920s cinemas opened restaurants, and nightclubs hosted dinners. People who wanted to drink with their meal could bring their own alcohol – known as BYO (bring your own). Coffee palaces, tearooms and health-food restaurants catered to those who didn’t want to drink alcohol.

Second World War

During the war, eggs, sugar, tea, butter and some meats were rationed, so chefs had to adapt menus. From 1942 to 1944 US troops were stationed in New Zealand, increasing people’s interest in American foods such as hamburgers and doughnuts.

After the war more sophisticated restaurants opened. However, they were sometimes raided by the police for serving alcohol.

Family restaurants

In the 1970s family restaurants were set up, including the Cobb & Co chain. American chain restaurants such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s opened around the country. Georgie Pie was a New Zealand-owned fast-food chain, but it went out of business in the later 1990s.

New dining experiences

From 1976 restaurants were able to get BYO liquor licences. Many new restaurants opened. New food styles included nouvelle cuisine, which combined French techniques with local ingredients, and Pacific rim, which also drew on Asian cooking. Many more ethnic restaurants, including Indian, Vietnamese and Japanese, opened.

From the 1980s a new style of café concentrated on espresso coffee. Liquor licensing was simplified in 1989. In the early 2000s restaurant and café numbers boomed, and more restaurants opened in the provinces, especially in winemaking areas.

How to cite this page:

Perrin Rowland, 'Restaurants and food outlets', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/restaurants-and-food-outlets (accessed 17 November 2018)

Story by Perrin Rowland, published 5 Sep 2013