Impact of war
The outbreak of the Second World War did not have an immediate effect on restaurants. Casual lunchtime trade in tearooms, grill rooms and hotels remained brisk and was sustained by women customers, who had entered the workforce to replace the men serving in the armed forces.
Change of plans
The steady depletion of men, as they left New Zealand to serve in the armed forces, curtailed the number of dining opportunities for New Zealanders at home. One woman remembered her sister answering the door to find her dinner date in uniform ready to report to Fort Dorset instead of taking her out.
However, restaurants were soon affected by wartime restrictions. Food rationing was a particular challenge. During the war eggs, sugar, tea, butter and certain meats, all staple ingredients or menu items, were rationed. Chefs were resourceful though and adapted menus to cope with rationing. Labour shortages were another wartime problem and some restaurants closed due to lack of staff.
Between 1942 and 1944 around 100,000 American troops were stationed in New Zealand, mainly in Auckland and Wellington. American soldiers brought a sense of glamour to the New Zealand restaurant scene. They wooed women with flowers, sweets, liquor and meals out on the town at Regent, Blake’s, the Silver Grill, the City Grill and the Cocoanut Grove (all in Auckland), or Garland’s and the Green Parrot (Wellington).
Bacon and … toast
Wartime egg rationing was a major problem for certain restaurant menu items. In 1942 some Wellington restaurants listed bacon and egg (rather than eggs) and even just bacon on toast.
Steaks, beer and contemporary music were found at the El Rey nightclub in Auckland, a favourite of American naval chief Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Other popular Auckland nightclubs included the Orange, Druid’s Hall, Masonic Hall and Crystal Palace. As long as patrons behaved appropriately, police turned a blind eye to liquor licensing infractions.
White damask tablecloths and silver service were available at department-store tearooms as well as at the Ritz (Auckland) and the Grand Hotel (Wellington).
While many of these hotspots were Wellington and Auckland mainstays, Americans did introduce plenty of new fashions, such as a taste for casual dining at hamburger bars, milk bars and cafés. These often adopted American names such as the Florida, California or Sunshine.
Cafés and restaurants had regularly served hamburgers, coffee and doughnuts in New Zealand well before the troops arrived, but the Americans’ popularity did trigger an interest in this style of dining, especially among the young.