Story: Restaurants and food outlets

Page 1. Early restaurants

All images & media in this story

Essential service

When settling a new country, a hospitality industry is often one of the first created. In 19th-century New Zealand itinerant workers and other new immigrants had little access to kitchens or families to cook for them. They depended on hotels that provided daily ‘ordinaries’ (set meals at set times for a set price), as well as the alcohol that lubricated the grim reality of New Zealand’s early frontier settlements.

Restaurant growth

In Auckland, the urban infrastructure necessary for growing and maintaining a modern restaurant scene was established by the 1850s. Permanent hotels, cafés and restaurants were built with large kitchens housing commercial stoves. However, nothing could inject growth into a restaurant industry like the discovery of gold. In 1860 Dunedin had five hotels; gold was found in Otago in 1861, and by 1864 there were 87 hotels. Dozens of dining rooms, restaurants and cafés sprang up to cater to a variety of purses. The first Chinese restaurants also opened in Dunedin during the gold rush.

French connection

Restaurant owners vied with one another for custom by advertising in local newspapers. In the 1860s the Riordan brothers of Dunedin took out large advertisements for their City Buffet restaurant, boasting of fine meals ‘with every delicacy’ from a chef advertised as ‘an experienced Parisian artiste’.1

Varied options

Many more restaurants opened in the 1870s. Hotels had in-house restaurants, while stand-alone establishments included dining rooms, luncheon rooms, chop houses, American-style oyster saloons (which served oysters and other seafood) and cafés, which were then more upmarket restaurants often consisting of several floors. Some establishments provided separate dining rooms for women, and men’s clubs had dining facilities for members.

Something for the ladies

Charles Canning opened the St Mungo Café in Auckland’s central business district in 1871. His advertisements paid special attention to women, claiming: ‘To the Ladies of Auckland and Suburbs he would also beg to intimate that he has been enabled to set apart A COMPLETE SUITE OF ROOMS for their accommodation.’2 Readers knew this included rest-room facilities, which would have been welcome in the days before public toilets were available.

The 1880s depression dampened the hotel and restaurant trade, but it recovered by the mid-1890s. By the start of the 20th century urban New Zealanders, particularly those in the main centres, enjoyed a range of dining options.

Drinking and dining

During the 19th century alcohol was available in many restaurants, though the primary focus was on food. From 1881 liquor licences could only be obtained if accommodation was provided, and while some restaurants did advertise rooms, this was not universal.

Some restaurateurs provided their patrons with illegal alcohol – fish-and-chip shops, which arose in the early 20th century, were well known for this practice, as were oyster saloons and Chinese restaurants. Alternatively, waiters purchased alcohol for patrons from nearby wholesalers.

Other proprietors, content to concentrate on food, did not serve alcohol, and some advertised their alcohol-free credentials. From the late 19th century coffee palaces and lounges drew crowds who wanted to socialise without alcohol. Coffee and food were also available from street-side coffee stalls.

Footnotes:
  1. Otago Daily Times, 24 August 1863, p. 6. Back
  2. Daily Southern Cross, 31 August 1871, p. 1. Back
How to cite this page:

Perrin Rowland, 'Restaurants and food outlets - Early restaurants', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/restaurants-and-food-outlets/page-1 (accessed 19 July 2019)

Story by Perrin Rowland, published 5 Sep 2013