An empty restaurant can mean one of two things: the food is appalling or your early bird tendencies are getting in the way of a good time. And frankly, the latter is unacceptable, especially when you're on vacation. To help out, we've created a world guide to dinner hour. Reservations are highly suggested.
Without getting all Mean Girls, there's something to be said for fitting in, especially when it involves dinner in a foreign land. Hit it at the wrong time and you might end up at a Berlin senior citizen schnitzel fest. But wait another hour and the lights could dim, the music might change, and a stream of unmistakably cool local characters could trickle in for their nightly soiree. So, yeah, the choice is yours.
A city's cultural scene dictates its dinner hour. While determining the perfect time to dine is far from an exact science, our local correspondents gave us insider tips on how to join the cool kids' table. Plus, if you play your cards right for later reservations, some restaurants turn into impossible-to-get-into clubs.
City: Buenos Aires
Prime time: 10:30 p.m.-midnight
The scoop: You have to love a city where eating copious amounts of red meat and drinking red wine are considered cultural activities. In Buenos Aires, dinner at midnight is completely normal considering that some of the city's best clubs don't even open until 2am.
Prime time: 8:30-9:30 p.m.
The scoop: When the primary cuisine was fish and chips, the Brits were known to start drinking pints right after work, and be knackered and off to beddy-bye by 9 p.m. But with the London cuisine scene exploding, it's dinner hour, not happy hour, that now draws the chic crowds, and eating out has trended later in recent years.
Prime time: 9-10 p.m. for expats
The scoop: In many places, expats are known to dine later than locals, but in Dubai, it's the expats who are on the early bird special. Visitors hit the restaurants 9-10 p.m., whereas the Gulf Arabs often eat as late as restaurants permit. It's not uncommon to see locals sitting down for dinner as the expats are leaving. A few of the restaurants (notably Okku) turn into clubs post 10:30 p.m., where food continues to be served among dancing patrons.
Prime time: 10:30 p.m.
The scoop: Mumbai is often called the New York City of India. Locals saunter into stylish dinner spots at 10:30 p.m., and even later. After all, punctuality is not a cultural virtue, and Mumbai is one of the most rapidly evolving restaurant and social scenes in the world.
Prime time: 10:30 p.m.-midnight
The scoop: It's nice that some things never change. The Spanish have always reveled in late nights, and restaurants don't even begin to come alive until 10:30pm. After midnight, Madrid hits its stride and that's when it really gets interesting.
Prime time: 7-8 p.m.
The scoop: In Zurich, nightlife is quieter, people are calmer, and the living is cleaner. No one blinks an eye at a prompt 7 p.m. meal, which is not surprising since these people basically invented timekeeping. And let's face it: most of us are hungry at 7. This is one place where you don't have to suppress your hunger for another three hours in the name of eating fashionably late.
City: New York City
Prime time: 9-10:30 p.m.
The scoop: NYC defines the international restaurant scene, with virtually any kind of cuisine that your heart (and taste buds) desire. It's not just hubris talking, but New York City often does it better. Think French, like the new Montmartre, that would win a throw-down any day with a Parisian bistro, Italian Babbo -- which matches Nonna's garganelli -- and sushi like Gari on the Upper East Side, which does omakase until you hit nirvana. Prime hours may be 9-10:30, but you have to love the city that never sleeps, and where midnight dinner at Pastis is still somehow cool after all these years.
Prime time: 8-9 p.m.
The scoop: While suburbia may gather at the table at 5-6 p.m., chic Chicagoans head to some of the country's most buzz-worthy restaurants starting at 8 p.m. This is generally not a late city for dining, so those willing to wait until 10 p.m. can often squeeze into the tail-end of dinner at the trendier restaurants.
City: San Francisco
Prime time: 8-9 p.m.
The scoop: San Francisco is early to bed, early to rise, especially during the week. And on the weekends? Don't be surprised if you get invited to a 7 a.m. hike. For those East Coasters looking for decent feasting after 10 p.m., generally, forget about it. Our local says, "At that time, you'll probably have a better chance of the restaurant staff starting to vacuum under your feet."
City: Los Angeles
Prime time: 8:30-9 p.m.
The scoop: Los Angeles has no shortage of restaurants with outdoor space that transform into a night scene before you even realize it. By dessert, someone has the lampshade on their head. But seriously, dinner in the land of palm trees starts on the earlier side, and clubs close relatively soon as well. It's still California, where the morning bike ride calls and healthy living trumps hangovers.
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