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Why your fast-food burger could soon cost more during the lunch-hour rush

Experts say that surge pricing is fated to become part of the dining industry’s financial strategy Don’t be fooled by any claims from restaurant chains that they will not adjust menu prices at various times of day, say industry experts.

The reality is that surge — or dynamic — pricing is the future of dining, experts warn.

“It’s written on the tablets of fate,” said Steve Zagor, a veteran New York-based restaurant consultant who also lectures about the industry at Columbia University.

The issue arose this week when news broke that Wendy’s WEN, +0.03%, the fast-food chain, was looking to put such a model into effect as early as 2025. The idea behind surge — or dynamic — pricing, a strategy embraced by companies ranging from airlines to ride-share operators, is to essentially charge customers more when there’s peak demand and less when that demand drops off.

Wendy’s faced immediate consumer backlash to the news. Since then, the company has expanded upon what it initially revealed on a call with analysts and is now saying its intentions about surge pricing have been misconstrued.

In effect, the chain will use the variable pricing model to offer discounts at slower times of the day, Wendy’s said in a blog post.

“We … would not raise prices when our customers are visiting us most. Any features we may test in the future would be designed to benefit our customers and restaurant crew members,” the company said.

Meanwhile, other restaurant chains have reacted to the Wendy’s situation by positioning themselves as anti-surge.

Burger King QSR, +0.44% has rolled out a “No Urge to Surge” promo that gives customers a free Whopper or Impossible Whopper with any purchase of $3 or more through its app.

Tom Curtis, president of Burger King’s U.S. operations, said in a statement to MarketWatch that “As the leader of this company, I will never support surge pricing or charging people more when they’re hungry. When our guests come to us, it’s our opportunity to give them our very best — in service and value for their hard-earned money.”