"The early bird catches the worm” is a proverb that dates to at least 1636; it means that it’s good to wake up early and get somewhere before everyone else. Many businesses held “early bird breakfasts” since the 1920s.
An “early bird special” is when a department store announces a sale on an item for the first few hours after the store opens, or the store has a limited amount of sale items and it’s first-come-first-served. The “early bird special” is cited from 1904, but came into popular use in the 1930s.
An “early bird dinner” (or “early bird supper") is usually held between the lunch and dinner hours, such as 2-7 p.m. or 4-7 p.m. This time is convenient to many seniors and “early bird dinners” have become popular in Florida retirement communities. “Early bird supper” is cited in 1950 (from Illinois); “early bird special” (meaning dinner) is cited in 1950 (from Oakland, CA); “early bird dinner” is cited from 1954 (also from Oakland, CA); and “early bird menu” is cited in 1968 (from Van Nuys, CA).
“There was an early bird special at the diner, so I ordered Archaeopteryx” is an “early bird” joke.
Wikipedia: Early bird dinner
Early bird dinner is a dinner served earlier than traditional dinner hours; particularly at a restaurant. Many establishments offer a seating prior to their main dinner seating with a reduced price menu, often more limited in selection than the standard dinner menu. Some restaurants offer specific meals or meal options which are sometimes referred to as early bird specials.
The hours which are deemed as “early bird” hours differ, depending on the locale and the establishment. 5:30, 6:00 or 6:30pm are common end times for early bird seatings. Early bird seatings may be as short as an hour or may be several hours long.
Early bird dinners are often stereotypically associated with the elderly and, by association, Florida, but are offered throughout the eastern United States and Canada.
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
“The early bird catches the worm.”
William Camden, Remains Concerning Britain, 5th ed. (1636)
(Oxford English Dictionary)
early bird n. orig. U.S. attrib. designating a product (esp. a meal) or service offered at a discount before the usual or peak hours of purchase or use; (also) designating a discount so offered; cf. the early bird gets the worm at sense A. 1a.
1917 Washington Post 12 Aug. 2/2 The following train schedule will be in effect: *Early bird special, 9.15 a.m.; joy special, 10 a.m.
1976 J. LUKASIEWICZ Railway Game 275 An ‘early bird dinner’ was advertised for those who wanted to eat between four and six P.M.
1994 P. HOBBS & M. ALGAR Free to Travel i. 3 Early bird discounts may motivate you to book well in advance of your vacation.
12 July 1904, Morning Oregonian (Portland, OR), pg. 2, col. 3 ad:
EARLY BIRD SPECIAL IN
Men’s Summer Underwear
From 8 to 12 A. M.
(Olds, Wortman & King—ed.)
26 June 1922, Dallas (TX) Morning News, sec. 2, pg. 7:
EARLY BIRD BREAKFAST CLUB
MEETS LAST TIME OF SUMMER.
Seth S. Sobley was the speaker Sunday at the final meeting of the Early Bird Breakfast Club of the Young Men’s Christian Association.
2 February 1925, Dallas (TX) Morning News, pt. 1, pg. 6:
EARLY BIRD BREAKFAST.
John Vogelsang addressed the members of the Early Bird Breakfast Club on the subject of Texas cotton products and possibilities at the breakfast held in the Y. M. C. A. dining-room at 8:30 o’clock Sunday morning.
Google News Archive
20 January 1932, Ludington (MI) Daily News, pg. 1, col. 8:
The sales army will launch every day’s work next week with an “early bird” breakfast at 7:30 in Hotel Stearns.
Google News Archive
28 January 1932, Ludington (MI) Daily News, pg. 1, col. 1:
Incomplete reports at the early-bird breakfast in Hotel Stearns this morning brought the grand total of subscriptions to $6,185.
Google News Archive
3 January 1935, Eugene (OR) Register-Guard, pg. 3 ad:
Early Bird Special!
250 FINE QUALITY SHIRTS
REGULAR VALUES TO 1.65
7 May 1936, New York (NY) Times, “To Mark Insurance Week,” pg. 2:
National Life Insurance Week will be inaugurated by more than 2,500 members of the Life Underwriters Association of the City of New York at an “early bird” breakfast in the Hotel Astor on Monday at 8:15 A. M.
15 November 1936, New York (NY) Times, pg. 46 ad:
EARLY BIRD SPECIAL! Just 600, 2x2 white collar attached, broadcloth shirts.
7 December 1950, Dixon (IL) Evening Telegraph, pg. 13, col. 2 ad:
EARLY BIRD SUPPER
DIXON POST No. 12
25 November 1952, Oakland (CA) Tribune, “Going Places-A Roundup of Night Life Gossip” by Don Steele, pg. 18, col. 6:
The Gomans, those fun people who operate the Gay 90s in San Francsico have something new starting tonight. They call it the “Early Bird Special.” This is a dinner that includes a cocktail, fried chicken, hot biscuits, honey, shoestring potatoes, coffee and after dinner drink—all for a couple of bucks. The early bird idea means you have to come before 7:30.
10 July 1954, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. D11, col. 8 ad:
EARLY BIRD DINNERS
(Served 2 to 7 p.m.)
(Milt Nelson’s Orinda Willows—ed.)
10 July 1954, Hayward (CA) Daily Review, “The Starlighter” by Lloyd Johnson, pg. 14, col. 1:
Early bird dinners are proving popular and folks come in as early as 2 p.m. in the afternoon. The $1.25 to $1.95 dinners are served up to 7 p.m., excepting Monday.
20 September 1954, Winona (MN) Daily News, pg. 3, col. 1:
The party opened at the Hotel Winona late Sunday afternoon with “early bird registration” followed by a warm-up huddle in the hotel’s Mississippi Room and an early bird supper in the Flamingo Room.
27 November 1960, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Around Town” with Joan Winchell, pg. B2:
...the Kings and Queens Arms Early Bird dinners between 3 and 7 p.m. daily.
12 May 1963, Los Angeles (CA) Times, Calendar section, pg. B25:
AN EARLY BIRD DINNER FROM JACKS FAMOUS MENU-Starting at $2.95. Daily 5 to 6 p.m. Son. 4 to 6 p.m.
22 March 1968, Van Nuys (CA) News, pg. 31A, col. 6:
Le Flambe Offers
Early Bird Menu
Early diners can reap a reward at Le Flambe Restaurant in Tarzana, with the innovation of “Early Bird” dinners, according to owner-hostess, Mrs. Hazel Wray Davey.
“From 5 to 7 p.m. daily, we are offering special dinners at low prices,” she reveals.
Google News Archive
5 March 1969, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, pg. 4B, col. 6:
Dine at the Edward James between 4 and 7 p.m. and have one of the many appealing selections on the early bird menu.
TV Show Episode Scripts
The Golden Girls (1985) Episode Scripts
035 - Big Daddy’s Little Lady
Working on the crossword puzzle? Nope.
Just lining up a few dates.
Maria Malanero, survived by her husband Tony Malanero.
You’re getting dates out of the obituaries? That’s sick.
It is not sick.
Life is for the living.
Maria’s loss is my date for the Early Bird Special.
Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink
By John F. Mariani
New York, NY: Lebhar-Friedman
Early-bird special. A restaurant dinner meal served earlier and at a cheaper price than is usual at the regular dinner hours of 5PM or later. It is popular with those on a budget, senior citizens, and especially in resort areas like Florida.