If you enjoy eating out you'll be spoiled for choice in New Zealand. From fine dining to casual cafes, there is a huge variety covering virtually every style of cooking you can think of. Here are a few things to be aware of to make the most of your experiences.
Depending on the location and type of restaurant, the kitchen may only be open over main meal times. These are usually from 11 or 12 for lunch and from 5 or 6 for dinner. Kitchens usually close for ordering by 9.30 or 10pm, although it may be earlier for nights during the week.
Most New Zealand restaurants do not require booking in advance. However, if you have somewhere particular in mind and it is a Friday or Saturday, it would be worthwhile doing so.
Wine and Alcohol
"Licensed" or "Fully Licensed" Restaurants are those which sell a full range of wines, beers and spirits (liquor) for consumption on their premises. Often they may have a bar attached. If a restaurant doesn't state it is Licensed it may still be; even casual cafes usually provide alcoholic beverages.
Many New Zealand cafes and restaurants have a selection of wine available by the glass. It's not a bad policy to ask the waiter how long the bottle has been opened for; more than a couple of days and the wine may be past its best.
A quirk of New Zealand's licensing laws that has survived since the 1980s is the BYO. Meaning "Bring Your Own" this allows you to take a bottle of wine to some restaurants that you have purchased elsewhere. Many ethnic restaurants (especially Chinese, Thai and Indian) are BYO. It's a great way to save money by avoiding a restaurant markup (which is normally much higher than in a shop) and also means you don't have to rely on the restaurant's often quite limited selection. You will be charged a "corkage" of $5-$10 to take your own bottle, and you can't normally take beer or other alcohol.
When you are ready to order your meal, take a look around to see if there is a waiter actually taking orders at the tables. At many casual places you might be expected to place your order at the counter or bar.
Paying your bill
Unless the restaurant is a fine dining establishment, at most places you will be expected to settle your account with the cashier on your way out.
Tipping is neither expected nor very common in New Zealand cafes and restaurants. However, if you received great service and want to acknowledge it, a token of appreciation is always welcomed.
Many New Zealand cafes and restaurants are now providing for special dietary needs, such as vegetarian and gluten free. Even if there appears to be nothing suitable on the menu, a request to the wait staff will usually result in an alternative being offered.
If you want to check out a New Zealad restaurant in advance and have internet access there are some very good websites that provide diner reviews. The main ones are