Skip to Content

What is it called when seniors go to dinner early?

Many seniors tend to eat dinner earlier in the evening than younger people. This is sometimes referred to as the “early bird special”. Restaurants will often offer discounted meals and specials for seniors that come in to dine early, usually between 4-6 pm. There are several reasons why seniors tend to eat dinner earlier than the general population:

Fixed Incomes

Seniors are often retired and living on fixed incomes from pensions, retirement savings and social security. Eating dinner earlier allows them to take advantage of early bird specials and get discounted meals when dining out. This helps stretch their limited budgets.

Changing Sleep Patterns

As people age, their circadian rhythms and sleep patterns change. Many seniors get tired earlier at night and go to bed earlier than when they were younger. Eating dinner earlier accommodates their changing sleep schedules.


For widowed or single seniors, dinner time may be a source of loneliness. Eating dinner earlier in more social settings like restaurants allows seniors to connect with others and not have to eat alone later at night.

Health Issues

Some seniors have health issues like diabetes or gastrointestinal conditions that necessitate they eat smaller, more frequent meals and not large meals late at night. Eating dinner early allows them to get adequate nutrition on their needed eating schedule.

Benefits of Early Bird Specials for Seniors

There are several advantages seniors can gain from taking advantage of early bird restaurant specials:

Financial Savings

Early bird specials allow seniors to save 20-50% off the regular price of menu items. This can mean a substantial financial savings, especially for seniors on fixed budgets. Getting discounted meals allows them to eat at restaurants more often without breaking the bank.


Many seniors are at risk for social isolation after losing a spouse or retiring. Early bird specials draw in large crowds of seniors at restaurants in the early evening. This gives seniors an opportunity to socialize with peers and community members. Eating out early becomes a form of engagement.


Senior early bird specials allow older adults to enjoy dining out without having to deal with large crowds of younger families filling up restaurants later at night. The earlier time means they can enjoy their meal and get home at a reasonable hour.

Healthier Options

Some restaurants cater their early bird menus to seniors with healthier low-sodium, low-fat, and fiber-rich options to accommodate common senior dietary needs and restrictions. Early bird menus make it easier for seniors to make nutritious choices when dining out.

Types of Restaurants Offering Early Bird Specials

A wide variety of restaurants offer special discounts and menus to draw in senior diners in the early evening hours. Here are some of the most common types of establishments featuring these early bird specials:

Family Style Restaurants

Chains like Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans and Denny’s are popular choices for early bird senior dining. They have senior discounts, ample seating and menus with classic comfort foods. The familiarity and casual environment is welcoming for seniors.

Buffet Restaurants

Old Country Buffet, Sizzler and Fresh Choice are examples of buffet chains that cater to seniors with early bird pricing on all-you-can-eat buffets. Seniors enjoy the variety and ability to get meals tailored to taste and appetite.

Fast Casual Restaurants

Fast casual spots like Panera, Noodles & Company, and Corner Bakery offer nice atmospheres for seniors at an affordable price point. Early bird discounts apply to menu items or meal combos.

Classic Diners

Diners are a popular early bird destination, with senior specials on homestyle classics like meatloaf, pot roast, and liver and onions. The retro ambiance provides a comfortable, familiar setting.

Family Restaurants

National chains like Applebee’s, Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday attract seniors with appetizer and entree early bird combo deals. They provide a more upscale atmosphere with familiar fare.

Early Bird Dining Etiquette for Seniors

Here are some tips for seniors to practice proper early bird dining etiquette:

Arrive During Hours

Be sure to come during the specified early bird special hours, usually between 4-6pm. Arriving too early or late means you could miss out on the dining deals.

Order Promptly

Review the menu ahead of time and be ready to order promptly to help your server provide efficient service during the limited early bird hours.

Tip Based on Full Price

Tip based on the full, pre-discounted meal prices rather than the early bird price to avoid inadvertently undertipping servers.

Keep Conversation Levels Moderate

Having lively conversations is part of the social fun, but be mindful of keeping volume levels modest out of consideration for other patrons.

Don’t Overstay

Be mindful of the time and plan to wrap up your meal and exit by the end of the early bird hours so new diners can be seated.

Find Companions

If dining alone, be open to sharing a table with other seniors to help build community and make new friends.


Early bird senior dinners provide benefits like financial savings, health, convenience and socialization. A variety of restaurants offer special menus and discounts to appeal to older adults who prefer to eat dinner earlier. Following basic etiquette helps seniors get the most out of their early dining experience while being respectful to servers and fellow patrons. Taking advantage of early bird specials is an easy way for seniors to enjoy dining out more affordably and make meal times more appealing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Early Bird Dinners for Seniors

What are the standard early bird dinner hours?

Most restaurants offer early bird specials from 4pm to 6pm, though hours can vary by location. The discounts are aimed at drawing in senior diners before the regular dinner rush.

What kind of discounts do early bird specials offer?

Discounts generally range from 20-50% off menu prices for seniors. Some may have special discounted menus, offer free drinks, or take a percentage off the total bill.

What is the average age for early bird special eligibility?

While it varies, most restaurants classify those 55 and older as seniors eligible for early bird discounts. Some may have minimum ages of 50, 60 or 62.

Are early bird dinners just for seniors?

While targeted at seniors, some restaurants allow younger adults to take advantage of early bird specials as well. However, seniors get priority seating during the designated hours.

Do you have to be a senior to go to early bird dinners?

No, some restaurants allow younger adults to come and take advantage of the early bird specials. However, priority seating and service is given to seniors during the designated early bird hours.

Do seniors need ID for early bird specials?

Seniors rarely need to show ID to take advantage of early bird discounts. Servers can usually ascertain age visually. However, some restaurants may ask for ID if a patron appears borderline senior age.

Do early bird meals appeal to younger seniors or older ones?

Both younger (55-65) and older seniors enjoy early bird dinners, as they allow different age groups to socialize. Healthier, more active seniors in their 60s-70s often prefer eating later though.

Are early bird menus healthy?

It varies by restaurant, but many do offer healthier low-sodium and gluten-free choices appropriate for seniors with dietary needs. However, comfort foods and heavy dishes are still common.

Is early bird dining just for senior couples?

Not at all – single seniors make up a large portion of early bird diners. The group setting helps keep them socially engaged. Widows and widowers are common.

Do seniors expect discounts or is it a nice surprise?

Most seniors are aware of early bird specials and intentionally come during those hours to take advantage of the discounts they’ve come to expect. It’s a dining tradition they look forward to.

Trends in Early Bird Dining Among Seniors

Early bird dinners have long been a tradition among seniors looking to save money and find community. Here are some interesting trends shaping current senior early bird dining habits:

Going More Casual

Today’s seniors are eschewing old-school “blue plate” diners for more modern fast casual and upscale casual chains like The Cheesecake Factory and Panera offering early bird discounts.

Seeking Adventure

Senior early birders are branching out from predictable chains to try hot new restaurants, ethnic eateries, food trucks and other foodie adventures during discounted hours.

Shift from Lunch to Dinner

Busy, active Baby Boomer seniors are shifting their restaurant meals from lunches to early dinners to socialize after activities and volunteer work.

Seeking Non-Chain Options

Independent restaurants are recognizing the appeal of early birds to seniors and adding specials. This provides welcome alternatives to chain outlets.

Going Later

While 4-6 pm is still preferred, some more youthful seniors are pushing early bird hours later, dining at 6 or 7 pm while still expecting discounts.

Happy Hour Pairings

Seniors enjoy pairing early bird dinner deals with drink specials like happy hours. This satisfies their appetite and thirst for savings.

Nutrition Over Nostalgia

Today’s health-conscious seniors look for creative, nutritious fare during early bird hours rather than sticking to heavy comfort food standards.

City Average Early Bird Hours Typical Senior Early Bird Discounts
Miami, FL 4:30pm – 6:00pm 30% off
Phoenix, AZ 4:00pm – 5:30pm Free soup or salad
New York City, NY 5:00pm – 6:30pm 20% off total bill
Denver, CO 4:45pm – 6:15pm Special discounted menu

As shown in the table, early bird specials can vary by city, with different standard hours and types of senior discounts available. Larger metros tend to have later early bird times catering to a more urban senior population.


Early bird dinners have become a cherished tradition among seniors looking to enjoy dining out while sticking to a budget and limiting meals to their changing dietary needs and preferences. Restaurants have catered to this demographic with special menus and discounts during the early evening hours. The beneficial social opportunities and sense of community early bird dining provides helps combat issues like loneliness and isolation common among seniors. Adapting early bird specials to changing generational tastes and health requirements allows restaurants to continue meeting the needs of their loyal senior patrons.