Eating Out 1950-2000
Between 1950 and 2000, eating out became a normal part of daily life for most Londoners, including children.
By the end of the century, Londoners had an unprecedented choice regarding what or where to eat out. The city had over 12,000 restaurants and cafs, which represented nearly 20% of the United Kingdom's total.
The 1950s saw eating out become more informal and more fun. Bistros or brasseries began to replace restaurants, and Mediterranean 'peasant' food became popular. The pizza oven arrived in London when Pizza Express opened its first branch in Soho in 1965.
American styles of fast food eating also arrived. London's first Wimpy Bar arrived in 1953 and spread its branches through the then novel technique of franchising. By the end of the 1960s there were nine Wimpy bars in Oxford Street. The first Kentucky Fried Chicken appeared in North Finchley in November 1968, and the first British McDonald's in Woolwich in October 1974. Branches in Holloway, Catford, and Croydon followed, and by 1978 there were 25 MacDonald's in Greater London.
One of the elements of MacDonald's' success was its appeal to children. The company's market research had told them that British families were generally embarrassed about taking children to restaurants, so they set out to make their restaurants as child-friendly as possible.
Ethnic restaurants, especially 'Chinese' and 'Indian' restaurants, led the big boom in post-war eating out. By the end of the 1960s, Chinese and Indian takeaways were familiar on high streets across London, and most Londoners had become familiar with the taste of 'curry' or 'sweet and sour pork'.
In central London, Chinese restaurants colonised the Gerrard Street area. Veeraswamy's in Regent's Street had been serving Indian food to customers since the 1920s and it was joined by a new breed of post-colonial restaurant, such as the Punjabi restaurant in Neal Street, which opened in 1968.
London's 'Indian' restaurants boomed with the arrival of the Bangladeshi community in the 1970s. By the end of the century, the Bengali-run restaurants in Brick Lane were featured in guidebooks to London as part of the capital's distinctive experiences for tourists.
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