I want to let you in on a little secret: Everyone clamoring for a 7pm or 8pm dinner reservation is an idiot. It might seem like the optimal time to dine -- not too early, not too late, very Goldilocks in nature -- but it’s actually one of the worst times to visit a restaurant. The time everyone should actually be fighting over 5:30pm. No, seriously.
Stick with me here. It might seem like the time only your grandma and grandpa would prefer, but in their infinite wisdom earned by living many decades of life, they are also right about eating dinner at 5:30. I have spent many months crisscrossing the country, eating at hundreds of restaurants to put together lists like this, and I can say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the early bird really does get the worm, which in this case means the early diner really gets the better meal.
The first step to enjoying a dinner out is to actually get a table. As restaurant culture grows more and more pervasive, it is becoming harder and harder to get seats at beloved or deeply trendy spots. Call a popular spot for seats, especially for a Friday or Saturday night, and it will be nearly impossible to snag a table for 7 or 8 unless you’ve somehow managed to call months in advance. (But who really knows what they will want for dinner nine Fridays from now?) More often than not, these restaurants will have a 5:30 seat available, however. And if they don’t take reservations, walking in at 5:30 means they will likely be able to seat you right away. Walk in at 7pm and you might not be eating until 9pm at the earliest. Who doesn’t want the freedom to eat wherever they want to eat?