As a teenager in the small city of Christchurch, New Zealand during the early parts of the 1980s, good food in a restaurant was a rare commodity. Nouvelle cuisine of the late 1980s was yet to reach the shores of the Land of the Long White Cloud (A colloquialism that New Zealanders refer to their country) and the conglomerates of high fat, higher carbs and beige looking meals such as McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks (Burger King for everyone else in the world) had not dominated the street corners. The corners were dominated by something else.
In such a small city (then population approximately 310,00) Christchurch was a city that had yet to be spoiled by restaurant chains, franchisors and American corporation. There was no such thing as a professional coffee roaster and a flat white was some pakeha (a Maori word for a white person who is a local) who had drunk too much and passed out in the middle of the city mall. The eateries in the middle of the city
Hotels were few and far between, but what was there at the time was luxury, for a city that was cold and hostile as the Antarctic continent during the winter and as hot as Texas spare ribs during the summer.
What was in abundance in Christchurch in the 1980s though was motels and pubs. There was even a night club district. (Well, an arcade and at least 5 nightclubs that I can remember)
And within some of these motels that
One such place I remember well which was considered the elite of dining out if you wanted buffet style dinner, was a place called the Autolodge. A motel down this strip of all you can eat heaven. With its cobbled driveway, stone archways and
What made this place so special? It was the fact they had a seafood section on the buffet. Along with it, a carvery of different roast meats. Accompanied
The buffet was like a try before you buy scenario. You could fill up your plate with whatever food could fit on it and then you could plough through the morsels of edibles until you find a particular item you liked. To which then you could return for more. And magically the trays never seemed to empty.
Alas as with most food, restaurants and new age ideas in hospitality the trends don’t last long. Smorgasbords, buffets, all you can eat, whatever you want to call them were the pinnacle of dining for so long. Made popular in Las
Research indicates that there is surprisingly good margins, and lower food costs per sitting, which is a wonder that the buffet or smorgasbord hasn’t fared too well. Along with tricks of the trade, including smaller plates so people would not consume as much and the heavy carbohydrate options that were always in direct eyesight of the first pickings. All just egging you on to try the creamy potato dish to fill you up or the cheapest food that would be more cost effective for consumers to eat. As for value for money, what once was cheap now at an average cost of buffets here in Australia are now approximately $65.00, I am not sure I can eat the dollar value in food anymore. Perhaps as the restrictions of food and safety came into play things started changing. Maybe it would be best, for now, to leave the buffet at the wedding or conference that we attend.
There are still a few of the existing smorgasbord restaurants still operating, so I have been informed, hidden in pockets of Christchurch suburbia. A place where locals go for a treat and often leave with over exuberant stomach and a belly ache that quickly ensues.
I for one will always be grateful for the smorgasbord, the buffet, the all you can eat. It certainly saved me doing the dishes at home and I got try different food (although maybe not the best of quality) which began my culinary journey.