5 Secrets to Eating Out in Florida during Season
By Kelly Dean
Getting a seat in a Florida restaurant during “season” can be a bit difficult. I sometimes think that snowbirds and vacationers do not know how to cook at all. Maybe they’re having so much fun they forget to eat and then suddenly say, “Hey, I think I need nourishment. Maybe we should … I don’t know … eat … some vittles … or something?”
Of course, you could get reservations, but I believe the difficulty arises when people suddenly realize they are hungry; therefore, reservations aren’t made. Also, many restaurants either don’t take reservations or can’t honor them very quickly once you arrive. You might go to the top of the list, but that’s about it.
Anyway, there are ways to avoid the rush that invariably clogs the hostess stand at most eating establishments. These secrets are known to most locals, but if nonlocal folks use them too that can only improve the log-jam, right? Unfortunately, one would think that, but despite the common sense, it usually doesn’t work out that way.
Eat all meals at LEAST one hour earlier than normal
Breakfast lunch and dinner are generally eaten at the same times, especially breakfast and lunch – dinner can vary at times. If you want a table at your restaurant of choice, eat breakfast between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. The snowbird breakfast crowd doesn’t get roused until about 9:30-10:30 a.m. Take advantage of this and eat breakfast early. Another tip is to eat at the counter. Many breakfast diners have them. If you are solo or with just one person, there is generally little waiting.
Lunch is pretty predictable. Noon until 1:30 p.m. will be a pain. Just avoid it. Eat lunch at 1030am or 11 a.m. What does it matter? If you are having lunch with friends, simply explain your logic, they will understand. Or they will wait 45 minutes for a table.
Dinner is a bit harder to fix but eating in the 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. range is generally advised. If you tend to get hungrier later, then order a bit more and take it home in a box. However, if you set out to eat at 5, 6 or 7 p.m., you are going to wait for a table at any restaurant that has decent food.
If you do a vacation tour, have it include a meal that is guaranteed seating
Wow. I learned this on a vacation outside the country. If you book a tour, seek one that includes the meal. People are literally moved to make room for you and it’s always better food in the end. Most boat tours include meals and often drinks right on board. Otherwise, many restaurants service tours and make their living from them; it can be a big advantage. The food is generally the same as the others, why not?
Bring a jacket, sweater or hoodie and choose outdoor seating
Florida doesn’t get incredibly cold at night in winter, but it does get nippy sometimes – down to the low 60s and upper 50s, depending upon how late you eat. If you’ve suddenly decided to have dinner and it happens to be restaurant “press time,” then bringing something warmer to wear and perhaps don jeans to give you some options. Many restaurants are equipped with gas heaters and wind screens outdoors for this purpose. If you are willing to sit outside, it can increase your experience and it has a bit of romance as well.
If you’re local, let them know
Restaurants make their living during season but appreciate the year-round business as well. That doesn’t mean local staff doesn’t commiserate with other locals. I have noticed it’s easier to get a table when you mention you are a local – not incredibly so – but enough to make it noticeable.
Sit at the bar a while
Bar business is high-margin business, so sitting at the bar sometimes gives you some options as well. Bartenders collect the tips at the bar, including food if it’s offered and ordered. Therefore, it’s financial motivation for employees to seat folks instead (not so much for the establishment, obviously). Again, this is better for couples than three or four people, but it has an effect, psychologically.
These tips are common sense and not exclusive to Florida, but when you want to enjoy all that is glorious about the Sunshine State, sitting in a waiting area isn’t the best way to do that. So use a few ideas from those who deal with it all the time and let the others wait. That’s how we roll down here.