I had never heard of Eaters.com until this week, but it seems to be a pretty cool website.
What drew my attention was a story about the demise of the early bird specials at South Florida restaurants.
Writer Jaya Saxena, while visiting her husband’s retired grandparents in South Florida, realized that once-popular early bird specials at area restaurants were dying out despite the continuing in-migration of retirees.
What’s going on?
The short answer, she says, is that the Baby Boomer generation has little in common with the Greatest Generation.
“Retirees who heralded the early bird specials are going away, and their replacements . . . have different expectations about what retired life should look like – mostly, they do not want to be reminded in any way that they are old now.”
Andrew Haley of the University of Southern Mississippi has only a slightly different slant:
“The Baby Boomers who are coming of age these days – in part they’re healthier for longer into their lives – view old age in very different terms and don’t want to be seen as the men with the hiked-up pants and the little old lady on a cane.”
The early bird special has long been a valued part of the American restaurant scene, but a lot of restaurants, at least in South Florida, are trying names without such an old-age connotation:
“Early dinner.” “Twilight menu.” “Sunset menu.” Honestly, I’m not sure any one is an improvement.
As Saxena put it, early bird specials began not with food but with, uh, men’s underwear:
“The first appearance of ‘early bird special’ was in 1904, when it shows up in a department store ad hawking a deal on men’s summer underwear from 8 a.m. to noon.
The Depression – followed by the advent of Social Security, which put money in the pockets of retirees and the opportunity to eat out – made the value offered by eating early popular. By the 1950s every kind of restaurant offered an early bird special.”
I confess that the bride and I have sought out an early bird special on more than one occasion – no, my pants are not hiked up and she does not own a cane – but we more frequently find a happy hour that offers food and drink at reduced price. We’re on Social Security, too, you know.
Retirees are finding other ways to pinch pennies when it comes to eating out.
“In 2014,” Saxena wrote, “Americans 65 and older ate out an average of 193 times a year and 63 percent of those meals were at fast-food restaurants, where a cheap meal can be had no matter the time of day.”
And that, I guess, is how McDonald’s has sold billions and billions of hamburgers as the early bird special heads for oblivion. Blame the Baby Boomers.
Contact Bob Bestler at [email protected].