3 Jul 2023

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau left restaurant without paying: 'It was an honest mistake'

5:01 pm on 3 July 2023
Tory Whanau

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau says she is so embarrassed that she walked out without paying. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A restaurant manager says Wellington mayor Tory Whanau appeared intoxicated at the establishment on Friday and left without paying.

Shay Lomas said Whanau arrived at The Old Quarter on Dixon Street with a friend, and seemed "tipsy" - something the mayor herself concedes.

They ordered a bottle of wine and Lomas said the restaurant decided that if they ordered food as well staff could serve Whanau and not have to "cut her off".

The law does not allow intoxicated people to be served alcohol.

The Old Quarter, where, according to the restaurant manager, Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau appeared intoxicated  on Friday and left without paying.

The Old Quarter restaurant, Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Lomas said while he did not personally wait on the pair, the server who did told him at one point Whanau asked them "do you know who I am?"

"The server recognised her but wasn't entirely sure so he was just kinda like, 'ah nah I'm not too sure who you are', and she was like 'I'm the mayor of Wellington'.

"She just kept saying stuff like that."

Lomas said he did not think she acted inappropriately or rudely, it was just "silly little comments".

"The staff didn't find her rude or disrespectful at all, ah - up until she left without paying - but it was just her being ... slightly drunk or something like that.

"But it was nothing too major or too bad from her."

Lomas said the restaurant got a call from someone other than Whanau on Saturday morning and they invoiced that person the bill, which has now been paid.

Whanau said she was embarrassed to have walked out of the restaurant without paying, but said other accusations about her conduct were false.

In a statement, the mayor said she was a regular patron of The Old Quarter, and described the Dixon Street eatery as one of her favourite restaurants.

"I am so embarrassed that we walked out without paying. It was an honest mistake, one that we corrected the next morning," Whanau said.

However, she denied the other allegations against her.

"I strenuously deny any other accusations about my conduct and being refused service. They are simply false."

Despite her denials, the waiter was adamant about what she said, and that a patron heard it too.

Whanau told Newstalk ZB she had no regrets about the events of Friday night, but said she needed to adjust to being a politician in the public eye.

Whanau said she would continue to work towards delivering accelerated climate action, affordable housing, and better services for Wellington.

Local Government New Zealand said its advice to mayors and councillors did not cover "public behaviour".

Support and criticism from council colleagues

Wellington city councillor Ray Chung said the mayor's behaviour was making them all look bad.

He said the council already suffered from a low public approval rating.

"I think the public will think worse of us than even what they do now," he said.

"It isn't good and it destroys a lot of the hard work that ... some of the people have been doing."

Chung said Whanau needed to do more to make things right.

Whanau's friend and city councillor Rebecca Matthews said it was all being blown out of proportion.

"If we expect people to behave completely perfectly all the time, we wouldn't have a mayor of Wellington, because none of us are complete saints," she said.

Matthews worried people were being held to an unfair standard of behaviour which could put people off getting into politics.

The mayor has made no secret she enjoys a night out - as she told RNZ's Anna Thomas the day after being elected last October.

"I won't lie, many wines were had and it was a bit of a late one which is why I'm a bit croaky this morning."

During that interview, the new mayor was asked what she did for fun.

"I love my wine, I love a glass of wine."