There's no kind of disappointment worse than that served on a plate, that too on a holiday. Imagine a day of walking around different spots in a new city, looking forward to a delicious meal at the end of the rainbow and reaching a restaurant to find, uh oh, that you're too early. Or even worse, too late, and have to make do with your hotel fridge food for dinner.
Clearly, we feel strongly about the matter, and for all of our sake, have prepared a list of common dinner timings around the world. Make note, fellow traveller, and remember to make your reservation.
The Nordic countries in Europe wrap their dinner up the earliest, with Norway having one of the earliest dinner times—gasp—close to 4.30pm. At your usual suspects, such as UK, dinner (often a blurry line with the evening tea and supper) is served between 6.30-8pm. After that, you can hit the pub for pint and some snacks. The French eat their gourmet grub a little later, between 8-9pm, as do places like Belgium, France, Austria, Vienna, among others.
And then in Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, dinners are a party reserved for much later. Typically, these hot weather countries have a long afternoon siesta (nap) and people commune for dinner later in the night, starting at 10pm or even later. In fact, Spain is known as a country with the latest dining time (but as an Indian, I’ll contest to that!) As a rule of thumb, the north of Europe (where it is colder) tends to dine earlier and the lower you travel, the later you eat.
Australians eat their meals earlier than usual, especially in the recent years so as to spen more time with family after dinner, as per reports. Most restaurants are the busiest in service between 6pm to 7pm, but are open till later. In fact, it’s almost recommended to skip the regular dining hours, and book a table for 8.30 or 9pm for a higher chance of getting a table at a good restaurant.
USA, Canada and Mexico
When it comes to meals, Americans are infamous for dining and dashing—in the very best sense of the word. Mealtimes, typically, in the US aren’t long extended affairs but temporary breaks for sustenance. Dinner too, is a mid-day break had any time between 5:30pm—6:30pm, and never later than 8. Exceptions always exist, of course, and if you’re in tourist-heavy cities such as New York, you’ll never go to sleep hungry as if you look, there’ll be a hidden Indian food gem in the Meat Packing district or a great shawarma guy just around the corner. In case you miss restaurant timings, you may also find 24-hour open diners in America, or places to get takeaway without much difficulty. Further north in Canada, meals are typically between 6-7pm, and in places like Toronto, the most popular restaurant booking timings are between 7:30—9pm. It's a lot more relaxed.
In Mexico, dinner or cena doesn’t have a big hullaboo about it, especially if you’re eating at home. It can involve anything from milk or coffee with chocolate or a pastry. Eating out however is slightly heavier (tacos feature prominently) and is usually done anytime between 8pm-11pm.
Following the Spanish model of living, meals in South America only start after 8pm, with a slight variation in each country. Places like Brazil, Chile and Peru have its most popular dinner timings are 8-9pm, while Argentina is a little later even (9-1opm).
On the whole, meal times in Asia are a little later than its western counterparts. Both cafes and restaurants stay open for longer hours, though it does depend on each country. India, of course, especially the North, is notorious for its late diners. Our meals in restaurants start as early as 7.30pm and the last order is usually taken at 11.30pm. There are even several khau gallis in parts of the country which have street foods sold into the wee hours of the night.
In Singapore and Thailand, most restaurants will start serving at 6pm and take their last order between 9-10pm, depending on the location, i.e. standalone or in a mall. Both Japan and China are relatively early with their timings and most restaurants will take food orders only till 9pm or so—barring the tourist spots, however, which may be open later!
In South Africa, dinner timings are usually between 6:30-8:30pm, with most restaurants shutting shop by 9:30pm. Cape Town, livelier, can have exceptions in its most popular parts. In Egypt, on the other hand, the case is much different. The country has much later timings for meals than South Africa and restaurants stay open till 11pm and even midnight in many cases.