Design History Society Annual conference 2018

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

Description of Activity

The displaced kitchen: British Restaurants in the Second World War

In 1940 in Britain ‘communal feeding centres’ or ‘community kitchens’ displaced the domestic kitchen as the heart of the home. They were created by the Ministry of Food to assist people who had been bombed out of their homes or had run out of ration coupons or had another reason for needing help. The driving force behind their creation was a Mrs Flora Solomon, who was in charge of Marks & Spencer's staff canteens at the beginning of the war. By 1940 there were 2,160 such restaurants. Officially disbanded in 1947, some converted to civic restaurants run by local councils and continued to operate until the mid-1950s. They were renamed ‘British Restaurants’ by Winston Churchill in 1942 who thought the former terms were ‘redolent of Communism and the workhouse’.

This paper considers the means by which the British Restaurant became a brand associated with the idea of a good meal. For many of their customers who lived in food poverty before the war, this was their first experience of a restaurant. However, the British Restaurant lacked the décor of commercial restaurants and tended to resemble a works canteen. Many were located in schools and drew on the facilities and advice of domestic science teachers. British restaurants were also set up in church halls, town halls and working men’s clubs. There were even special prefabricated buildings erected on waste ground. Meals were paid for with specially made tokens, often made of Urea Formaldehyde.

The experiences of the volunteers in British restaurants, many of whom were older women who belonged to the Women’s Voluntary Service are also discussed. They had to negotiate scientific advice about nutrition alongside regional preferences in diets and limited availability of ingredients. The logistics of feeding people on a large scale also necessitated the adoption of mechanised forms of food production, such as machines to slice potatoes.
Period6 Sept 20188 Sept 2018
Event typeConference
LocationNew York, United States, New YorkShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • design history
  • history of design
  • history of food
  • world war 2
  • food history
  • restaurants
  • murals
  • interior design
  • interior decoration