• With restaurants in major cities across the country forced to close their dining rooms, some are transitioning to takeout-only business models. 
  • Some of New York's most exclusive restaurants that are notoriously hard to get into — including Carbone, Rezdôra, and Rao's — are partnering with delivery services and offering pick-up to keep their doors open. 
  • While the shift allows for more people to try these restaurants without reservations, it's not so easy for the staff to pull off.  
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

One thing is for sure in the minds of some of New York City's restaurant owners: Restaurants are a quintessential part of New York. 

As all New York City eateries were forced to shut down their dining rooms starting March 17, many had to either rely on the business of takeout or shutter completely. This created a unique opportunity for diners who have been trying to snag reservations at some of the city's most exclusive restaurants: They can order their food to-go.

According to data provided by Resy — an online reservation service with a large network of restaurants — Carbone, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, was the No. 1 most desired reservation in the city last year.

A crowd gathered in front of Carbone to pick up delivery and takeout orders.
Insider

The restaurant became available for delivery service through Caviar — a courier owned by DoorDash — on March 17. It caused such a rush in the first few days that the police had to get involved. 

Residents of NYC couldn't wait to get their hands on the elusive $32 spicy rigatoni or $69 veal Parmesan. 

Carbone tried to control the crowding with taped-off waiting spaces.
Insider

Carbone isn't the only exclusive, nearly-impossible-to-get-into restaurant that's offering its food for takeout

Rezdôra, the No. 5 restaurant on Resy's list, was also overwhelmed by delivery and pickup orders. Stefano Secchi, the executive chef and partner at the Italian restaurant, told Insider that his team can hardly keep up. 

"We were super busy Friday and Saturday and we had to shut down Sunday because we didn't have any food left," Secchi told Insider. 

Even though they've been busy with takeout, Secchi said he'd much rather be able to have people sitting at his tables. "It's just weird not to be able to see the looks on their faces when the pasta or the fresh mozzarella comes to the table."

"Within two weeks our whole way of doing business has just done a 180," Secchi told Insider. When restaurants first shut down their dining rooms, Rezdôra started selling its handmade pasta through the online ordering section of its website. Customers can choose between around five kinds of pasta and five sauces that they can make themselves at home.

Pasta is handmade at Rezdôra.
Colin Clark

Secchi also mentioned dessert and drinks: "We spin three types of gelato every day and tiramisu, which have been selling out every night … we also have wines at a significant discount." But, he said, customers aren't ordering nearly as much wine for delivery as they typically do when they're sitting at the restaurant. 

Although Rezdôra is able to continue to make rent for now, Secchi told Insider that he did have to let some of his staff go. He hopes to re-hire them once lockdowns are lifted. 

Peter Luger Steak House hopes to offer delivery soon

David Berson, general manager at Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn, said he's managed to hold onto his entire staff for the time being.

The famed steak house has been offering takeout since it was forced to close its dining room, but Berson told Insider that he hopes to get delivery to Brooklyn and Queens up and running through Caviar within the week.

"Takeout allows us to feed the locals, allows us to feed some of the hospitals, which is really nice," Berson said. 

Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn.
Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Peter Luger continues to offer its mail-order business — they ship nationwide — as well as selling butcher shop items from the restaurant directly. Customers interested in the latter can order specific cuts of raw or cooked meats, and they can pick it up from the restaurant to make at home. Both options were available pre-social distancing rules, but Berson said he's seen a spike in those parts of the business since lockdowns have gone into effect. 

If you're ordering from Luger's butcher shop, Berson recommends cooking your meat from room temperature, aggressively seasoning it with salt, getting a good sear on both sides in a pan with butter, and finishing it off in the oven.

Both Berson and Secchi acknowledged that there are a lot of people ordering takeout who simply haven't been able to get to the restaurant in person. The same is true for Manhattan's notoriously elite Rao's in East Harlem. 

Diners can also order from Rao's, New York's most exclusive restaurant

Flora Chen and Jason Gruia, a New Jersey couple who have been wanting to cross Rao's off their bucket list, finally got to give the legendary restaurant a try.

Rao's is known as New York's most exclusive restaurant — you have to know someone with a connection to get a reservation. But, Flora wrote in an email to Insider, with a simple message to Rao's employee Marc Mel on Instagram, they were able to place an order for pickup.

Their simple feast of seafood salad, meatballs, penne ala vodka, and veal marsala ran them $107 with gratuity. Rao's has since become inundated with orders and they are trying to work their way through the list, Mel announced via Instagram. "Just trying to figure out a way to make it all work," he told Eater. 

Restaurateurs aren't sure how long the demand will last

Secchi said that while this adapted business model is working well enough right now, he and his peers at other restaurants aren't sure how long it will last. He worries that if more people lose their jobs, their disposable income will deplete, and they won't be able to afford as much takeout. 

His message to everyone in the industry is that "We have to let those people who are making the laws understand that we need to be a significant portion of the bailout … Don't just keep scrolling down [on social media when you see someone's call to action], make a difference by signing a petition or reposting." 

To the eaters of New York, Secchi says, "I can't say thank you enough. You think it can be such a cold place, but in a time like this people are amazing." 

"We've seen an outpouring of support from people who have been long-term Luger fans, or even people who just want to try it," Berson said.

"We need you guys. New York needs you guys," Secchi continued. "This is what we do! We work like crazy, we eat and we drink. And that's what makes us the best city in the world."

Carbone did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

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