The early bird special isn’t just for frugal retirees who don’t like to drive in the dark. Count the millennials among those looking for dining deals at off-peak hours.
Add families who want to feed their children a sensible meal before a weeknight sports practice. And young professionals who come straight from the office.
There is a broad range of consumers looking to stretch their dining dollars when restaurants are less busy.
“There is a great deal of pent-up demand from consumers looking to dine out,” Christin Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, wrote in an email. “Our research shows that more than seven out of 10 adults say they would consider dining out more often if menu prices were lower during off-peak times. Restaurateurs can capitalize on this demand by lowering menu prices using special promotions during slower times to drive foot traffic.”
Many restaurants have embraced the early dining discount. The association found, in a 2013 restaurant trends survey, that a quarter of family- and casual-dining operators and 36 percent of fine-dining establishments offered off-peak dining at reduced prices. A majority of restaurant owners believe this trend will become more popular in the future.
The early bird revival was perhaps most noticeable a few years ago in states like Florida, where the real estate crash reverberated throughout the economy and forced people of all ages to rethink the notion of eating a steak at 4:30 in the afternoon.
The seniors-only stigma apparently has faded. According to the nationwide survey, 72 percent of adults said they would consider dining out more often if menu prices were lower during off-peak times. Some 80 percent of those who frequently eat at fast food and fast casual places, like Smash Burger or Chipotle, said they would take advantage of early-bird deals, too.
A few upscale eateries in New Jersey have long offered these specials, while others are just catching on.
Darrell Wordelmann, general manager of this seafood-driven restaurant on the Long Branch boardwalk in Monmouth County, said the early-dining deal was instituted when Rooney’s opened 19 years ago.
But it has recently been revamped.
The new prix fixe menu extends into the busiest time of the night, and the tier pricing structure was replaced with one set cost for a three-course meal. The $30 meal runs from 11:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is also available until 6 p.m. Fridays, and until 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Wordelmann said the baked artichoke appetizer was added to the menu because of its popularity, but the lobster bisque, clams casino, and mussels in a garlic herb broth are also worthy contenders.
The surf and turf entrees include the poached salmon, seafood lasagna, roasted chicken, hanger steak and something playful called Lobster Mac A Rooney (a macaroni casserole with Monterrey jack, cheddar and pecorino cheese with stewed tomatoes and a bread crumb crust).
Desserts include key lime pie or bread pudding with coffee or tea.
Rooney’s offers a fabulous view of the ocean. Take a long walk on the boardwalk after dinner.