Early Bird Special

A friend of mine recently told me about a new Sunday ritual of his: He and his girlfriend like to have a late breakfast, and then they skip lunch and have dinner at 5:30 p.m. at a place of their choosing. There is never a wait, no matter where they want to go, he explains, and they get to be home at a reasonable hour before starting the workweek.

Economist Tyler Cowen also believes that dinner at 5 or 5:30 is a smart choice:

The quality of the food coming out of the kitchen will be higher. Only the very top restaurants (and even then not always) can maintain the same quality at say 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. It is also the easiest time for getting a reservation.

The best time to eat at @ElephantJumps is 4:20 p.m. They’re all just sitting around, waiting to cook for you.

Oyamel is a good example of a D.C. restaurant which can be quite iffy, but is tasty and consistent first thing in the evening.

The early dinner is true of reservations: The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this summer that some patrons slip in for dinner at 5:30 knowing they’ll get into even the most hard-to-get-into places, and that restaurants are more lenient then about their “no substitutions” rule (one parent who brought a two-year-old said she was able to request a tomato-based sauce for her daughter’s ravioli instead of a truffle butter-based one).

The Journal also pointed out that some well-known restaurants like Le Cirque even discount their regular menus for early diners, while others create special “before 7 p.m.” menus to attract diners — a bonafide early bird special.

I think I’d more than willingly do the 5:30 dinner to avoid waiting times to get into popular restaurants and get the early bird special, but would have a hard time convincing friends. There’s a Seinfeld episode about this:

JERRY: (bewildered) Four-thirty? Who eats dinner at four-thirty?
MORTY: By the time we sit down, it’ll be quarter to five.
JERRY: I don’t understand why we have to eat now.
HELEN: We gotta catch the early-bird. It’s only between four-thirty and six.
MORTY: Yeah. They give you a tenderloin, a salad and a baked potato, for four-ninety-five. You know what that cost you after six?
JERRY: Can’t we eat at a decent hour? I’ll treat, okay?
HELEN: You’re not buying us dinner.
JERRY: (emphatic) I’m not force-feeding myself a steak at four-thirty to save a couple of bucks, I’ll tell you that!
HELEN: All right (sitting on the couch), we’ll wait. (pointedly) But it’s unheard of.

Jerry’s got a point — 5:30 seems reasonable, but 4:30? I’ll wait.