Don't Call it The Early Bird Special

Posted on January 9, 2010

Remember the Seinfeld episode when Jerry visits his parents at the retirement home in Florida? The one where they headed to the steakhouse at 4:30 p.m. for the Early Bird Special? It was a funny episode. Well, guess what? The Early Bird Special is now very hip with Florida diners of all ages, according to The New York Times.

Now that so many people are facing financial difficulties, eating out has become a luxury. And the age of people showing up for dinner at 6:00 p.m. has plummeted. Young professionals who want to save money don't dine at a fashionably late 9:00 p.m. anymore. They visit restaurants for what's being called the "Twilight Special" or "Early Dining."

Nearly everyone in the state feels a little poorer these days with unemployment at its highest rate since 1975 and real estate values continuing to drop. That insecurity has reshaped the local mindset, say many Floridians under 55, and taken the shame out of scrimping.

For instance, Cassandra Eriser, 35, an aesthetician with cover girl looks who works giving facials at a South Beach spa, is not what most people imagine when they think early bird. But there she was at Cafe Prima Pasta on a recent Sunday at 5:30 p.m., finishing up a meal of tilapia with her boyfriend, a musician with a shaved head. With wine and tip, the couple spent less than $25 each. "It's a great way to try a new restaurant without forking over a lot of money," Ms. Eriser said.

A few nights later at Cafe Prima Pasta, the urge to splurge brought out a party of 13. Mostly employees of a nonprofit in their 20s and 30s, they laughed as they explained that they were eating early for a simple reason: "Because we're broke."

Some restaurants have been very surprised at the youthful makeup of the early diners and have cut back on some of the offerings, such as fresh fish and steak, to save money.

If we went to a restaurant offering a "Twilight Special" we would expect a meet and greet with Robert Pattinson and some Twilight swag. Otherwise, it's just false advertising.