One of the perks of living in a Florida retirement community is the "early bird special," where restaurants offer discounted meals at off-peak hours. It arose to spread out business through the day, and elderly people on a fixed income thrived on it. At least they did until recently. As Baby Boomers retire to Florida, either richer or poorer than the generation before, they've killed the early bird special. Fewer eateries are offering it, and those that do don't even want to use the term, because Boomers do not want to be reminded that they are old.
Rosie Ross, a snowbird — though she prefers the term “sunbird” — who spends summers in upstate New York and winters in South Florida with her husband Bernard, told me that “the notion of early bird specials is something we attribute to older seniors, the same ones who sneak leftover rolls and sugar packets in their purses.” Though Bernard’s mother lives in North Miami, the Rosses didn’t want to live like she does. “We settled on a very cool active-adult community in the very cool city of Delray Beach,” Rosie said. The Rosses dine out multiple times a week, eat everything from Japanese to vegan, prefer to eat around 7 p.m., and “do not eat out based on early bird specials at all.” I could feel the pride emanating from her email.
When the new generation of retires does pinch pennies, they’re finding new ways of doing it. In 2014, 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. “A lot of people will drive to the Wendy’s, the burger place, for hamburgers,” Isabel Lubchansky told me. A $7 cheeseburger combo beats a $12 diner platter any day, and it’s the same price no matter when you pick it up. Captain’s Catch Seafood Restaurant was the only place I found a line out the door for the early bird special, and the only people below the age of 75 appeared to be accompanying nurses or family. Their early bird dinner starts at $10.95, which is around $4 more than a Wendy’s burger combo. And while some reviewers have raved about the early bird, one also notes, “This is an older restaurant.”