Teenagers and eating out
With growing economic security in the post-war years, the family budget often permitted teenagers to keep any money they earned to spend as they liked. Teens hung out in local restaurants to eat hot dogs, play jukeboxes and drink American-style milkshakes away from parental authority. Popular spots were the Kiwi Café and Maori Community Centre in Auckland and the Sorrento club in Wellington. Dozens of other cafés, milk bars and dance clubs opened where teenagers could be among their own, away from the outside world and their families.
Families were another growing market for restaurants. By the 1970s, one in four married women worked outside the home. With limited time together, the opportunity for a family to eat out in a restaurant became a celebrated occasion.
The Hungry Horse menu was American in style, offering omelettes, steaks, salads and open sandwiches. The food and prices were popular with the dining public, and staff cooked and presented food on a large scale. Fifty garnished plates were laid out ready to pile with food at any one time and vast quantities of coleslaw ingredients were mixed with mayonnaise in plastic rubbish bags.
Bob Sell was one of the first restaurateurs to offer casual, cheaper, family-oriented food complete with children’s menus in the early 1970s. Inspired by San Francisco restaurants, his Hungry Horse restaurant in Auckland was fun and colourful, decorated with saddles, halters and paintings of horses.
New Zealand Breweries built upon this design with their chain of Cobb & Co restaurants (named after a 19th-century coach company), which were decorated with wine-red carpet, dark wood and equestrian equipment. Cobb & Co branches opened quickly around New Zealand. They were often the first licensed restaurant in the outer suburban and rural areas that encouraged families to dine together.
American franchise restaurants were quick to capitalise on the success of family dining. Kentucky Fried Chicken (1971), Pizza Hut (1974) and McDonald’s (1976) opened branches as ‘family restaurants’ that traded on cleanliness, convenience and quick service. They were ‘child-friendly’, hosting children’s parties and providing indoor playgrounds. Food was consistent and scientifically hygienic, and they fascinated the New Zealand public. However, once the novelty wore off, the food became commonplace and these restaurants were rebranded as fast-food chains.
New Zealand-owned fast-food chains such as Georgie Pie (first opened in 1977) competed with the American brands, but ultimately unsuccessfully. The Georgie Pie chain expanded rapidly in the early 1990s but ran at a loss. The stores were progressively closed from 1996 – some were turned into McDonald’s outlets.