- Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn, New York, is the latest exclusive restaurant to make its food more accessible — by offering delivery.
- But fine-dining restaurants around the world have pivoted to more accessible and affordable food as a result of the pandemic.
- Restaurants that formerly required pouncing on reservations for meals costing hundreds of dollars are now offering $15 burgers, delivery, and takeout tasting menus.
- Fine-dining restaurants are benefitting from their reputation for exclusivity: by becoming more accessible, they’re opening up the floodgates of demand.
- However, this trend may not last forever, and it’s likely that many of these restaurants will go back to being highly exclusive after the pandemic is over.
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On Monday, Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn, New York, started offering delivery — the first time delivery service has been on the table in the legendary steakhouse’s 133-year existence.
But Peter Luger is far from alone in abandoning its white tablecloth for something a lot more accessible. Fine-dining restaurants around the world are finding out that surviving through the pandemic means giving up the tasting menu.
Before the pandemic, scoring a seat at Noma was not an easy feat for the common man. Seats at the Copenhagen restaurant helmed by René Redzepi sold out far in advance, and meals, which featured over a dozen courses, cost $400 a head. Noma has won the accolade of “Best Restaurant in the World” multiple times and currently has two Michelin stars.
But on Thursday, Noma reopened as an outdoor-only burger and wine bar. The price of its burgers? $15.
Tons of restaurants are selling burgers to-go, especially during the pandemic. But what restaurants like Noma or Peter Luger are selling is pedigree.
Pivoting to more affordable, accessible food opens up the floodgates of demand for a restaurant with an established name and perennial waitlist. Canlis, Alinea, Peter Luger, and Noma are just a handful of the horde of fine-dining restaurants who are opening up their menus to the middle class.
Canlis, often considered the most exclusive restaurant in Seattle, was arguably the first of its fine-dining comrades to prove this theory. In March, just after the pandemic hit, the restaurant famous for its elegant dining room with magnificent lake views and live piano music transformed into a fast-food drive-thru serving up burgers. So many people came to try Canlis’s burgers that the line of cars spilled out into the roads, blocking traffic.
Owner Mark Canlis told Business Insider that, one night, Canlis “had 1800 people on the waitlist.” So Canlis decided to shut down the drive-thru and offer pre-ordered delivery instead. Delivery slots for Canlis are still often sold out soon after they’re released.
Alinea, the molecular gastronomy restaurant famous for its green apple balloon desserts, is the only Chicago restaurant gilded with three Michelin stars. It’s also one of the few fine-dining restaurants that’s started offering takeout of tasting menus. Before the pandemic, a meal at Alinea would be dinner in a show — each course as theatrical as it was delicious. Reservations filled up months in advance and as soon as they were released. Dinners started at just over $200 a head. Now, Chicagoans for whom an evening at Alinea was previously a faraway fantasy can take home boxed-up seven-course tasting menus from the restaurant.
“The restaurant industry will be different on the other side of this,” Canlis said. “And maybe one beautiful thing that comes out of this is Canlis gets in the habit of serving meatballs to Americans.”
As one in five restaurants face permanent closure, the most exclusive of them will have the best chance of surviving by becoming, at least temporarily, less exclusive.
That’s not to say this sudden democratization of fine dining will last forever. Canlis says it’s possible that his restaurant will keep some aspects of its current business model post-pandemic, but Redzepi told the LA Times that he plans to reopen Noma’s full operations in July, at the earliest. Noma will return to serving its high-rolling guests, just with more distance between them, and its peers will likely follow suit.