Story: Restaurants and food outlets

Page 2. Liquor licensing and dining out

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Liquor licence restrictions

The Sale of Liquor Act 1917 required licence holders to stop serving alcohol at 6 p.m., though hotel restaurants could serve alcohol with food until 8 p.m. Licences carried a number of conditions, such as a required number of bathrooms, bedrooms and fire escapes. This meant that only hotels (and their bars) could easily satisfy liquor licence requirements – by definition restaurants were not considered appropriate for licensing.

Effect on restaurants

Further restrictions on liquor licences did not result in the closure of restaurants. Proprietors were long accustomed to operating without liquor licences. In fact, the 1917 act probably resulted in a broader array of dining options.

Since the 1880s a series of licensing and temperance (anti-alcohol) reforms had streamlined the hotel bar experience, stripping it of entertainments such as barmaids, gambling, dancing, music and food – even seats – so that the only thing to do in most hotel bars was drink, usually rapidly.

Restaurants, however, were concerned with more than just drinking – the restaurant experience included food, décor and service. Neither the industry nor diners were interested in swapping these elements for alcohol. Thus, many New Zealand cities witnessed an increase in the number of restaurants available: Auckland had 109 restaurants in 1920, and by 1926 there were 207 to choose from within the central business district.

Large-scale dining

Cinema restaurants were huge, reflecting the popularity of movie-going. A 500-seat tearoom and large dance floor opened at Auckland’s Civic Theatre in 1929. The tearoom employed 57 people.


From the 1920s restaurants began to merge with other forms of leisure activities. Cinemas opened restaurants, and nightclubs also hosted late dinners, served at small tables that lined the dance floor. Restaurant-goers who wanted to drink alcohol brought their own (known as ‘BYO’ – bring your own). At the Dixieland in Point Chevalier, Auckland, diners knew that if they left a bottle of alcohol on the table, a waitress would rent them ‘spot glasses’. BYO became a New Zealand tradition.

Pushing the boundaries

Point Chevalier’s Dixieland was a restaurant and resort by day but by night transformed into a raucous cabaret frequented by fashionable people. Patrons were charged an admission fee in an attempt to get around licensing laws. The fee was supposed to transform Dixieland into a private party venue but it didn’t stop police from raiding the establishment in 1926. Proprietor Frederick Rayner’s private party argument did not convince the judge during the subsequent court case and he was fined after being convicted of liquor licensing offences.

Food fashions

Restaurateurs tailored the restaurant experience to embrace various food fashions and fads. Social reformers and people who did not drink alcohol still enjoyed a nice meal with non-alcoholic drinks at coffee palaces and tearooms. Health enthusiasts patronised vegetarian and health-food restaurants, such as Sanitarium’s vegetarian cafés, the first of which opened in the early 1900s. Some tearooms embraced ‘healthy’ menus of raw fruit suppers and ‘purity ices’ – ice cream blended with fruit flavours.

The fashion of ‘dainty’ food placed an emphasis on smaller, more delicate dishes accompanied by tea or coffee. In the 1920s and 1930s department-store tearooms specialised in dainty food, quality décor and good service.

Hotel restaurants offered more substantial fare, including roast meats dressed with sauces, chicken and fish dishes, boiled and baked vegetables and rich desserts.

Pie carts

By the 1920s pie carts had replaced coffee stalls as a prime spot for a cheap evening meal outdoors. Along with fish-and-chip shops and working men’s restaurants, pie carts fed those disinclined or unable to enter more upmarket dining establishments.

How to cite this page:

Perrin Rowland, 'Restaurants and food outlets - Liquor licensing and dining out', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 July 2024)

Story by Perrin Rowland, published 5 Sep 2013