“Do you have a show to get to?” the maître d’ asked as we arrived five minutes early for our 5:30 reservation at Union Square Café. He gave us the up-and-down when my husband answered “no.” Hmmm….no small children or frail companions in tow…why would a couple be here now? Exposed, we made our way to our table. And laughed. We like early dinnner.
You may have guessed that we are a couple of a certain age. But even as thirty-somethings the 10 o’clock table held little appeal. And being captive at a dinner party with the many-hours-long cocktail hour has always been a certain circle of hell.
On the upside, restaurant reservation systems like Resy and Open Table favor the early diner. Try getting a 7 o’clock reservation at a popular restaurant anywhere: there’s invariably the block of unavailability between 6:00 and 9:30 pm. It would have taken us years to get into Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat if we hadn’t showed up at the door at 4:30 and sat at the bar.
Speaking of the bar, it’s quiet! And so are most restaurants at opening hour—at least quiet enough for conversation with inside voices. There’s often a comfortable bass timbre and, depending on the season, a pleasant sepia tone as the sun disappears. The bartender has time to talk. The wait staff are unhurried.
It took us awhile to embrace the “Early Bird” (yep, we had to answer to the name) hours at one of our favorite vacation spots—The Manitou on M22 in Michigan. The portions and price helped us get over it. Plus, there’s plenty of time left after dinner for taking a walk, reading, or just staring at the trees.