Monday, 6 August 2018

Second World War British Restaurant Tokens

The British Restaurant scheme evolved from the Londoners’ Meals Service, which had been providing emergency feeding centres for people in London.  This included people who had been bombed out of their homes, people who were unable to prepare meals due to interruptions in the supply of gas, electricity or water, or those who had simply run out of rationing coupons. Set up by the Ministry of Food, these community kitchens were run by volunteers in evacuated schools and church halls (typically places with kitchen facilities) and offered inexpensive set meals from 9d (£2.33 in today’s money). As the scheme expanded, the name ‘British Restaurant’ was adopted in 1941 and the restaurants began to cater for all, not simply those limited by war conditions, with the intention of providing an uplifting dining experience to raise morale. By the end of hostilities, over 2000 British Restaurants had been established across the UK.

Each meal purchased could only contain one serving of protein (meat, fish, eggs or cheese) with menus devised by government-appointed dieticians in order to achieve the highest nutritional standards. A typical lunch consisted of a soup starter, a meat based main, and a sweet pudding followed by tea/coffee. Customers purchased a ticket (off ration) before queuing to select their three courses. 

AIBDC : 007513.4 - This Mitcham Corporation paper ticket was individually numbered and perforated down the centre for ease of tearing. Once redeemed, it could not be reused.


By 1942 the increasing demand from the British Restaurants for paper to make meal tickets was notably contributing to the existing paper shortages so Ministry of Food was tasked to create an alternative system. Plastic tokens were recommended with regulations for colour (yellow = soup, red = meat, green = sweet and brown = tea/coffee) and size (1¼” for adults, 1” for children) although in practice these standards were impractical to achieve. Local Authorities were provided with a list of manufacturing firms who could make the tokens, most of which ended up being circular, stamped ‘British Restaurant’ on one side with space for the Local Authority’s initials and any extra information deemed necessary on the reverse.

Customers would purchase their tokens before entering the serving counters and then drop the relevant token into a locked box when served.

MoDiP’s tokens

MoDiP has a collection of 9 British Restaurant tokens: three are labelled ‘Child’ (coloured white), three are marked ‘Beverage’ (black) and the other three brown tokens are for the ‘Sweet’ course. They are all made of Cellulose Acetate, are punched in the middle and were produced by injection moulding (sprue marks are clearly visible on the reverse side). 

AIBDC : 007513.1-3 Collected up at the end of service, the tokens would be tallied and then given back to the cashier for reuse the following day.

We believe they were made for Mitcham Corporation, a district in the London Borough of Merton, and were donated by the Merton Historical Society along with the paper ticket above. So far we have been unable to identify exactly which firm supplied them but we will continue to research this.

There were six British Restaurants in Mitcham, the one at Benedict Road can be seen in this image featuring a ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign mural on the far wall. It is nice to think someone in this photograph may have used our tokens to buy their lunch at some point during the war. 

Benedict Road British Restaurant, Mitcham c.1943. © London Borough of Merton

Katherine Pell (Collections Assistant) 

Further information

If you want to find out more about the different types of British Restaurant tokens, visit Phil Mernick’s excellent website and Mal’s Tokens More historic images of Merton can be found at 


Atkins, P.J. (2011). Communal Feeding in War Time: British Restaurants, 1940-1947. In: Zweiniger-Bargielowska, I., Duffett, R. and Drouard, A. (eds.) Food and War in Twentieth Century Europe. London: Routledge. pp.139-153.

Browning, R. (n.d.). Historic inflation calculator: how the value of money has changed since 1900. (online). Available from: (Accessed 5 July 2018)

Cryer, P. (n.d.). Experiences of wartime British Restaurants. (online). Available from: (Accessed 5 July 2018)

Mals Tokens (n.d.) British Restaurants. (online). Available from: (Accessed 5 July 2018)

Mernick, P. (n.d.). British Restaurant Tokens. (online). Available from: (Accessed 5 July 2018)

Merton Memories Photographic Archive. Benedict Road British Restaurant, Mitcham. (1943). (online image). Available from: (Accessed 19 July 2018)

Ministry of Food. (1942). Substitution of Paper Meal Tickets by Tokens of Plastic Material. Cardiff: Ministry of Food.

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