Touring New Zealand by motorcycle is a feast for the senses.
There’s so much to see, with mouth-watering scenery around every corner.
You’ll be riding through blazing sunshine one minute, and stinging rain the next.
Your ears will be ringing with the songs of a dozen kinds of birds.
And then again when you try to understand the Kiwi accent.
Motorcycling in New Zealand will involve most of your senses.
But what about your sense of taste?
On a New Zealand motorcycle tour, food is another one of the star attractions.
We’re surrounded by water, so the seafood is often sensational.
And all those rolling green hills make rich grazing for some very happy cows.
They produce milk for ice-cream that will make you groan out loud when you eat it.
But the dining experience itself in New Zealand is a total lottery.
It’s true, sometimes, you’ll get a delicious dinner served promptly by a smiling waitress.
But this doesn’t happen very often.
Touring New Zealand by motorcycle is an adventure that continues after the ride.
Come dinner time, there are new challenges waiting – ordering food.
Eating out on a motorcycle tour of New Zealand is even more unpredictable than the twisty roads and changeable weather.
It helps to know what to expect.
Yes, eating at restaurants in New Zealand is totally random.
And more often than not, you’ll end up either fuming at the amateur service, or laughing in disbelief at the total chaos.
Luckily, you don’t have to tip.
That’s a good thing, as the service is usually woeful.
The food might be amazing. Or it might be average (or worse).
You’ll wonder who’s actually running the kitchen.
At least things are pretty casual here.
You won’t need to dress for dinner.
And people are not terrified of bikers either.
So you can show up in your leathers, and not be arrested at the door of the restaurant.
Even so, if you’re out for dinner, you probably have a challenge ahead of you.
Let me walk you through some of the more common experiences in trying to order food on a motorcycle trip of New Zealand.
Touring New Zealand by Motorcycle:
What to Expect at Dinner Time
Ever since Covid struck in 2020, the hospitality industry here has been reeling.
Even though we’re now a couple of years down the track, the sector has never recovered.
It’s apparently impossible to get restaurant staff.
And this is very VERY obvious if you’re brave enough to go out for dinner.
Especially in the smaller towns in New Zealand.
Here’s what to expect.
1. Most restaurants are short staffed
I don’t know whether the entire wait staff of New Zealand still thinks we’re in Covid lockdown.
Or maybe they’ve fled the country now the borders are open.
But there are apparently only a handful of professional waiters still working.
So far, I haven’t met any of them.
And this means two things:
- There are usually long waiting times for your food.
One restaurant we were in recently actually had a laminated notice on the table saying none of their staff were trained, and many did not speak English.
I was already laughing in amazement when I got to the final line:
Asking where your dinner is won’t make it arrive any faster!
That’s super welcoming, isn’t it?
- The wait staff are usually nervous locals with no training whatsoever.
That means they say things to you that you can’t believe.
Like the “waiter” in the Chinese restaurant, who at the end of the meal said:
I hope you don’t want to split the bill. That’s much harder for me.
And then accidentally wiped the whole order from the new register he didn’t know how to use.
And the “waitress” in the coffee shop who was taking our breakfast order.
I asked for the eggs on toast option, which is exactly what it said on the menu.
The waitress sighed and asked angily: Do you want toast with your eggs?
YES, I said, pointing to “eggs on toast” as it appeared on the menu.
She bristled and actually said, Well, I can’t read your mind! That’s why I’m asking.
By that point, she was lucky she couldn’t read my mind.
She wouldn’t have enjoyed my homicidal thoughts.
2. Don’t ask for outrageous things – like salad
After you’ve been on the motorcycle awhile, you might get sick of the road food.
Fries, burgers, sandwiches … it all gets very boring and stodgy.
And if you’re a biker chick like me, you might actually be hankering for some fresh vegetables.
Yeah, good luck with that.
I tried to find myself a salad recently in a small country pub in the South Island of New Zealand.
It’s pretty standard to go up and order your food at the bar.
In many places, table service hasn’t been invented yet.
So up to the bar I went, and smiled politely at the jaded, bored barmaid.
She ignored me for as long as she could.
Hi! I tried brightly.
She looked up, irritated, and raised her eyebrows.
Do you serve salads? I asked, with a hopeful smile.
She sighed, and stared at me suspiciously.
Long seconds passed.
She turned her head, and shouted over her shoulder into the kitchen behind her.
HEY! Sharon! SHARON!
What? Came back an annoyed shout.
WE GOT ANY F****** LETTUCE?
The barmaid looked back at me.
She still hadn’t smiled.
NUP! she confirmed.
Sorry to bother you.
I’m just the customer.
3. Some of the menu is not available
Even though you may see a list of dishes right there on the menu in black and white, that doesn’t mean you can order them.
Some of them will have been taken off the menu months ago.
But no updates have been made.
Most restaurants here don’t want to invest in laminating a menu that’s current.
Just last week, we were on a motorcycle trip with some friends.
We nabbed a table in a pizza restaurant we knew made superb food.
Add a lamb shank to your pizza! The menu cried in several places.
Go on! You’ll love it! What a great combination!
That sounds like fun, said our friend Phil.
When the waitress eventually arrived, Phil said, I’ll add a lamb shank to mine, thanks.
Oh, we’re not doing that anymore, said the waitress.
Well, why is the menu hard-selling us on that concept then?
That kind of thing happens all the time.
We had a similar experience the next night, in a different restaurant.
What’s the soup of the day? The hubby asked our waiter.
Soup of the day? He replied, clearly baffled.
Do we serve soup, do we?
He went off to check with the kitchen.
I started laughing.
How could he not know?
Isn’t that his job?
After some time, he remembered to come back with the answer.
We don’t do soup anymore!
Well, why is it on the damn menu??
So what can you do to get around these obstacles to finding a decent meal?
Is there any hope at all?
Or should you just buy a bag of trail mix at the supermarket?
Thankfully you still have some options.
How to Get a Decent Dinner on a New Zealand Motorcycle Tour
If you’re in a bigger city, you might get lucky and experience a wonderful restaurant meal.
But even so, I hope you have a big limit on your credit card.
Restaurant dining, even if you’re not going five star, is surprisingly expensive.
So if you’re staying in a smaller town, or you’re horrified that you’re spending a million dollars a day, try some of these alternatives.
1. Get takeout rather than dine in
Many restaurants, especially in the smaller towns, offer delivery direct to your motel room.
If you’ve been on the motorcycle all day, this is a good option.
It saves you having to wrangle with waitresses who don’t know how to carry a plate from the kitchen to your table.
Or finding out that half the menu is not actually available anyway.
2. Look for smaller restaurants that cater to the locals
The smaller places only ever had about 3 staff in the first place – and many of them are family members.
They’re usually friendly, actually happy to see some customers, and capable of serving what’s listed on the menu.
Look for the local council’s hygiene rating poster on the wall.
If it’s prominently displayed and it’s an A grade, you have a good chance of getting great food at a reasonable cost.
3. Try the local fish and chip places
These are often cheaper, fresher alternatives to the bigger, but frustrating restaurants.
The people running them will smile at you, the food costs about a third of restaurant prices, and it’s fresh and no-fuss.
Eat there, or take your paper wrapped feast of fish back to your room.
Riding a Motorcycle in New Zealand Makes You Hungry
All those snow-capped mountains, the endless twisty roads and the lush green fields full of millions of sheep will help you work up an appetite.
But now you know that getting dinner here is not as simple as walking into a restaurant, and ordering off the menu.
The dining experience is random, confusing, annoying, and often expensive.
So it’s helpful to know that going in.
The key is to be patient, lower your expectations and laugh rather than start shouting when you get appalling service and a gluten-free vegetarian wrap instead of the steak you ordered.
And if you can overlook the shortcomings of the restaurant culture here, you might just find that touring New Zealand by motorcycle is otherwise a delicious experience.
Did you enjoy this post?
Then you might like this one too: