A Guide for Americans
By Kate Blalock, contributor
In 2015, my husband and I went to New Zealand for a belated honeymoon. We are both reasonably well-traveled, and considered ourselves quite worldly. We prepared for our trip in the usual fashion-pouring over websites and reading travel guides to ensure that we knew how to act like a proper “Kiwi”. Imagine our surprise when we arrived in country and could barely order at a restaurant.
I did not come across one single pointer that alluded to the major differences between American and New Zealand restaurants. My husband and I are foodies, and our first few meals in New Zealand would have been a lot more enjoyable if we had known these few tips. So, for my fellow foodies out there, here are a few tips that might make your Kiwi dining experience better.
The first time we entered a restaurant in New Zealand–a pub-style steakhouse–we approached what we thought was the hostess and asked for a table for two. She looked at us as if we were crazy and promptly seated us at one of the many open tables. Mistake one: seat yourself. For most of the meal, we had a server, or what we thought was our server. When he disappeared halfway through our meal and my husband couldn’t get the check, we began to get a little nervous. Mistake two: you rarely are assigned a server–all servers attend to all tables, and it’s actually quite efficient this way.
My husband flagged down another waiter, and asked for the check; again, the waiter looked at us like we were crazy. The waiter never brought the check (he was probably thoroughly confused by the crazy Americans), and so my husband went up to the bar to try to get the check. Mistake three: this is actually what you’re supposed to do. In most New Zealand restaurants, all tabs are kept at the bar; go up to the bar after you’ve finished your meal to collect your check and pay.
For the most part, every restaurant we visited operated under these basic principles. The only other difference was that many servers give your a numbered pedestal to display on your table after you place your order. Once your food is ready, a different server will bring it to your table.
Dining in New Zealand is very efficient, and for us it was everything we hoped it would be. Of course, it would have been less embarrassing for us if we had known these tips ahead of time, but hey–that’s half the fun of traveling to another country!
Photo by Jay Wennington