What day of the week do you prefer to eat out? What meal do you prefer to eat out; breakfast, lunch or dinner? I am going to share some pointers on time of day and day of week to dine out, from an owner’s perspective, along with a few other tips that may enhance your experience. My point of view is based mostly, but not solely, on the flow of business at Three Birds Tavern, and my personal experiences as a diner over the last 30 years.
Lunch is my favorite meal to eat in a restaurant, usually a late lunch, so a big pet peeve of mine is restaurants that close mid-day for an hour or two, and re-open for dinner. One of the best pieces of advice we received the first year as restaurant owners came from one of our suppliers who told us not to shorten our hours. From our research, this building only closed for Boxing Day for more than a decade, open 364 days a year. That is extreme, and we have altered it a bit, but you have to be here when your guests want you, which for me, is mid-afternoon. Restaurants are quiet this time of day, you will have full attention from your server or bartender, and the kitchen is working at a slower pace than during peak lunch or dinner hours.
If you are going out for dinner, try going a little early, or a little late, to beat the rush, for both guests and restaurant staff. Enjoy a 5:30 pm dinner before a walk on the beach, or stroll through downtown. On the other hand, get some extra work, or exercise, in late afternoon/early evening, or meet a friend for a pre-dinner cocktail, and then share dinner at 8:30 or 9:00 pm. Again, you will most likely get more attentive service, and avoid the rush in the back of the house. If, however, your schedule commands that you dine out during the prime dinner rush hours, please be patient with your service and food preparation. There is a very short window in most restaurants where there is a back-up of orders, and believe me, the entire staff is trying to get through that 90 minute pop as effectively and efficiently as possible. When is that 90 minute window? For us, it varies according to time of the year, dependent on both temperature and light of day. In the summer, our busiest dinner business can start as late at 8:00 pm, after the sun goes down and temperatures drop. In the winter, as early at 6:00 pm, before the temperatures drop, since the majority of our seating is outdoors.
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are my favorite days of the week to eat out, and let me tell you why. Friday is by far our busiest day of the week at Three Birds Tavern. Everyone seems to eat out on Friday. We go out to eat less on Friday than any other day of the week. Why? Because that is when everyone else goes out to eat (plus, we work on Friday, because that is when everyone else goes out to eat). I know . . . it is the end of the week, you want to celebrate the start of the weekend, and so on. As a restaurant owner, I am grateful. But please remember that your dining experience on Friday will be different from your dining experience on Tuesday at 3:30 pm. It will be louder, your server will not have as much time to look at the latest photos of your granddaughter, your favorite booth may not be available, heaven forbid, you may even have to wait for a table. Ticket times, both at the bar and in the kitchen, will be longer. Why? Because everyone else is here too. Remember, it is Friday. It is a lively, fun atmosphere; but different. Keep that in mind wherever you go on Friday, and embrace it, or choose another evening.
Why Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday? In many venues, chefs, kitchen managers and lead line cooks are off early in the week, having worked a long and busy weekend. The same is true with managers, prime servers and bartenders. Notoriously, in this industry, Monday and Tuesday are the slowest days of the week, therefore a good time for your “prime” staff to be off. Of course, many restaurants close on Monday because of this. Thus, your service and food quality might be affected by the chef not being in the kitchen, or the front of the house manager not being on the floor. We always hope that is not the case, but let’s be honest, it can and does happen. For me, Wednesday can be a coin toss, and varies with each restaurant, but Thursday is my go to day, for both lunch and dinner. Prime staff is in house preparing for the weekend, rested after their days off, and food deliveries have recently come in.
If we are going to dine out over the weekend, and chances are that between Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we will eat at least one meal out, we choose Saturday when possible. During different times of the year, Saturdays can also be crazy busy at Three Birds Tavern, but choose your timing well. We almost always experience a lull between 3:30 and 6:30 pm on Saturdays. This is a perfect time to bring a group to the restaurant, or enjoy an intimate meal hidden away either in our dining room, or on one of the two patios. Jack and I find this a great time of day to dine out elsewhere as well, most any day, but especially on Saturday. Restaurants are usually quiet, and as evening staff comes on, they are grateful, and fresh, for their first few tables. You do want to confirm that the restaurant is open in that many elect to close during this mid-day lull.
Sunday evenings can be relaxed in our industry, but remember that by the end of the weekend, a scratch kitchen, such as ours, that uses fresh products will most likely be out of at least a few menu items by Sunday evening. 86’d, as we say in the industry. Please do not get pissed by this reality. Actually, it is a very good sign, in my opinion, when a restaurant is out of something. That may mean that they are using fresh product, had a good week, and eventually sold out of the cod, or fresh spinach. You want to go to a restaurant where they are using as much fresh product as possible, and one that runs out of things, periodically. Now if a restaurant is continuously out of stuff early in the weekend, that could be a red flag. But a restaurant that is never out of anything probably has freezers full of pre-prepared, freezer burnt product waiting for you.
Another general dining tip; when a restaurant tells you that they cannot handle your party, believe them. Don’t personalize it, don’t try to talk them into it, and above all, don’t lie to them. Telling them that there will be eight guests, and then show up with 18, will invariably lead to everyone being unhappy, most importantly, you. There are several reasons a restaurant might not be able to accommodate a large group, including, but limited to: staffing, kitchen capacity, inventory, and so on. Just believe them, and move on, without writing a scathing Yelp review.
On another note, just because you see an open table in a restaurant, that does not necessarily mean that it is available. Again, there could be several reasons it is not available: staffing, reservations, and so on. Successful restaurant owners want you to have a pleasurable dining experience, and want to accomodate you as often as possible. If we can seat and serve you, we will. Remember the profit motive? Also, if you enjoy your experience, you will tell your friends, and return, hopefully.
What can you do enhance your experience? Choose when you dine out thoughtfully. A thoughtful selection of both time and day can affect your experience almost as much as choice of venue.
I welcome your questions and comments. I invite you to share your own experiences.