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Why Dining During Peak Hours May Cost You More

Le Cirque Restaurant in New York City.
Le Cirque New York | Facebook
Le Cirque Restaurant in New York City.

The next time you dine at a restaurant between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m., it could cost you more. At least at one of New York City's swankiest eateries.

That's because Le Cirque restaurant is considering charging customers more to dine during those peak hours.

"We're borrowing something the airlines and hotels have done for many years, " said Carlo Mantica, chief executive of the Maccioni Group, which owns Le Cirque.

On the flip side, the company is also investigating offering discounts to customers, who eat during off-peak hours, Mantica said.

Changing technology and consumer habits

Restaurant discounts, such as those for senior citizens who dine earlier, have been around for years. What's changed is the proliferation of online payment technology, and consumers willingness to pay different prices for the same products and services.

Websites such as Groupon and Gilt offer member discounts on everything from restaurants to designer denim. And if consumers have to eat at a specific day and time, or wear a specific piece of clothing—they're willing to make those compromises for a discount.

New technology and flexible pricing are options Mantica wants to explore for Le Cirque and the Maccioni Group's other restaurants around the globe. "We're looking for a technology partner to help us do that, " said Mantica.

One notable example of a restaurant company that's taken advantage of new payment technology is OpenTable , an online network that connects reservations-taking restaurants with consumers.

Timing of a new pricing model

While the potential of technology is promising, charging consumers more can be risky during a wobbly economy. A LeCirque bill can run you three figures—and higher. But Mantica said exploring flexible pricing is about keeping his restaurants full, and staying competitive during challenging times.

"Of course the economy is important. We're conscious of that. But during periods of challenges, you have to be proactive and try something new, " he said.

Mantica declined to offer specifics on how much more—or less—LeCirque might charge its customers for various hours of dining. "I'm not at the point where I can say one specific number, " he said.

And expect more restaurants beyond LeCirque to explore flexible pricing. "In the next decade, it will make perfect sense for some restaurants to adjust pricing by not only time of day, but day of week, even season of the year, " said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association.

Email us at SmallBiz@cnbc.com and follow us on Twitter @SmallBizCNBC.

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