Like wearing “hard pants” and commuting to an office every day, “dinner at eight” increasingly seems to be a relic of a bygone, pre-pandemic age.
“When did a 6:00 dinner reservation become the new 8:00, most prized table of the night — and will it last?” celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer asked in a Wednesday post on X, the social media network formerly known as Twitter.
The idea started in the early weeks of the pandemic as industry experts like Steve Hafner, then-CEO of reservations platform OpenTable, predicted in a 2020 interview with Insider that reservations would likely trend earlier.
And exactly one year ago, The New York Times Magazine remarked on the surprising fashionability of twilight dining, followed in July by the Wall Street Journal detailing the lamentations of night owls caught off-guard by the new schedule.
What is interesting here is the observer: Meyer is the founder of Shake Shack and the chairman of Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns a portfolio of several of New York’s favorite restaurants like Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, and more.
As Meyer’s restaurants recover from the beating they took during the pandemic, some larger trends appear to have changed the business for the foreseeable future.
He followed up his post with three theories about what is driving the early-bird phenomenon.
“Work from home contributes to social isolation. That’s why restaurant bars and seats are filling up ever earlier,” Meyer suggested.
He also said the blurring of work and personal schedules means that more people need to get home earlier to respond to emails and wrap up their “round the clock” workday.
Lastly, he cited what could be characterized as a different sort of Netflix effect on the restaurant industry: there’s “more entertainment content than ever to get home to,” he said.
It’s also worth noting that Meyer and his businesses are in New York, which historically served the evening meal a fair bit later than the US average dinner time of around 6:22 p.m.
“Eight o’clock is what was hot for New Yorkers,” Roni Mazumdar, a co-owner of the Indian restaurant Dhamaka, told the Times last year.
“We’re going to see this trend go on for at least the next half-decade, if not longer,” he said.