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The Early Bird Special Isn't Just for Retirees

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) — Go ahead, make your tired little joke about retirees in socks and sandals lining up for early dinners. They'll be laughing for entirely different reasons.

The early bird special, early movie matinees and other off-peak discounts commonly associated with very specific, wizened U.S. demographics didn't get that way because activities directors in Florida and Arizona retirement homes made them so. They're embraced because after a few decades on this planet you start to realize something: You're not impressing anyone by queuing up, waiting for hours and spending more on the same product you could enjoy in the peace of a half-empty room a few hours earlier.

There are now entire segments of the food and entertainment industries built around this exact premise, even if it doesn't pry all that many customers off of their 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. dinner reservations. Those who weren't budged by the LivingSocial and Groupon flash deals of the mid-2000s that tried to make the most of lulls in restaurant demand are now the targets of apps designed specifically to fill seats at a discount during off hours. Groupon, for example, acquired the Savored app back in 2012 to offer restaurants a means of drawing customers with discounts during low-demand hours.

The subject of a lengthy New York Times profile, Savored gives users a discount of between 15% and 30% off their bill during off-peak hours and applies that savings directly to the check, sparing customers the need to whip out a smartphone or, worse, a printed coupon.

Back in 2011, Savored launched a partnership with OpenTable that knocked $30 off the price of their meal for a $10 reservation fee. Though the two companies ended that relationship after the Groupon buyout -- and OpenTable was subsequently taken over by Priceline -- OpenTable kept offering incentives for early dinner reservations as part of its 1,000 Points Club. Groupon, meanwhile, held on to Savored, but integrated some of its elements into its Groupon Reserve dinner reservation service.

While competing such as like the Leloca and Froogal apps offer discounts on early dining and unfilled tables with as little as 45 minutes notice, even restaurants are starting to reward their frugal customers. The Wall Street Journal noted back in June that the owners of Chicago's Michelin-star restaurant Alinea and its sister restaurant Next offer discounted meals at off hours. A Wednesday dinner at Next at 5:30 p.m. goes for $130, for example, while that same meal on a Friday at 7:30 p.m. goes for $195. "It's no different than going to a matinee," a restaurant partner told the WSJ.

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