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$375 for Applebee's? Restaurants cash in on New Year's Eve

Tracy Saelinger
Monday, 30 Dec 2013 | 5:51 PM ET
Pay $375 to hang at Applebee's this New Year's Eve
Tuesday, 31 Dec 2013 | 11:57 AM ET
Several casual dining restaurants are charging five-star prices this New Year's Eve, reports CNBC's Jane Wells.

We've all heard the horror stories about doing the Times Square thing on New Year's Eve—lining up at 3 p.m., standing around for nine hours in 24-degree weather, and yes, wearing adult-sized diapers.

But there's a secret way to skip the crowds and cold. You just have to be willing to pay big bucks to eat at one of the chain restaurants inside the Times Square "lock-down zone"—like $375 to eat at Applebee's.

Tuesday night, the two Applebee's franchise locations in Times Square are offering a dinner package for that price, which includes a buffet dinner, open bar, deejay, live entertainment, party favors and a midnight Champagne toast.

Image source: Getty Images

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With a ticket in hand, partygoers can breeze past the security barriers and head to the restaurant at a reasonable 8 p.m., instead of waiting out in the cold. Temperatures in midtown Manhattan Tuesday evening are expected to be in the low 30s.

Though they've been generating above-normal social media interest this year, the New Year's Eve packages have actually been around for about 10 years and have been very successful, Dan Smith, an Applebee's corporate spokesperson, told TODAY.com.

"Certainly being in Times Square, it's a fantastic location to ring in the New Year," he said, adding that the 42nd Street location is the chain's largest in the world.

(Read more: Tech to table? Applebee's set for big 2014 upgrade)

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A call to the restaurant revealed there are tickets left at both locations, and that partygoers must pick them up Monday or early Tuesday, or they won't be able to get past security without a ticket.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, one of the few restaurants in the area with panoramic views of the festivities, was offering tickets for $679, but is already sold out.

In the past, Bubba Gump did not begin selling tickets until the first week of November, but due to extreme demand, it moved up sales to the first week of September this year, sales manager Becky McCreight said. The restaurant also switched to a lottery system; this year, 1,000 people from around the world entered for one of the 250 tickets.

(Read more: Restaurants' big bet to get you to spend more)

"We want to make sure our guests have plenty of time to make all necessary travel plans," she told TODAY.com, "and if they are not able to get tickets to our event, they should still have plenty of time to make alternate plans."

The party includes passed and stationed hors d'oeuvres, a dinner buffet of both seafood and non-seafood options, a premium open bar featuring signature specialty drinks, a champagne bar and toast at midnight, party hats and favors, a deejay, a photo booth and other entertainment, and a souvenir gift bag.

Guests are personally escorted through security to the party by staff at 9 p.m., McCreight said. "They will also be front row center for the ball drop itself, with full view of the fireworks and confetti drop as well."

(Read more: McDonald's removes worker site after fast food flap)

At press time, TGI Friday's in Times Square New Year's tickets—ranging from $225 to a whopping $1,095 VIP couple's package—were still available, as were Ruby Tuesday's, which is offering packages from $295—for open bar and passed appetizers only.

Most of the restaurants even charge for coat check.

So would a seasoned vet pay for the privilege of foregoing the cold and crowds? Tara Cox, a magazine editor in New York City who went to Times Square on New Year's Eve as a teenager, says she could see the draw of the warmth and cocktails, but that's not what the night is all about.

"You're supposed to be down in the crowds, shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers and weirdos and the fabulous and the wonderful. You're supposed to be IN it. If you want to observe from afar ... watch it on TV from your couch!"

By Tracy Saelinger, Today contributor.

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