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Carnegie Deli's Sharing Charge Is a Quintessential New York Ripoff

New York tourists deserve better

People can't seem to get enough of Carnegie Deli, the 80-year-old institution famous for, among other things, serving two- pound meat sandwiches named after Woody Allen, settling a wage lawsuit for $2.65 million, and shuttering for most of 2015 after ConEd discovered the restaurant had been illegally siphoning gas before it reached the meter. In fact I've never queued up longer for a pastrami than I did at Carnegie this week.

"You have to wait outside," the host said to the unlucky bloke who came in right after me. That staffer then repositioned some Japanese tourists (and me) to make sure we were all lined up single file against the wall. Then I waited 25 minutes to be seated. Then I waited 10 minutes for someone to take my order. Then I waited 10 minutes for a beer, which came in a plastic mug.

Then the $20 pastrami sandwich arrived, which would've been a $23 pastrami sandwich if I shared it with someone, because when Carnegie Deli reopened in January, it maintained its longstanding policy of levying something rarely seen in New York City: a sharing charge.

That share charge, in place since the 1980s, is hogwash. I bring it up not just because Carnegie is slinging sandwiches again but because in this era when wage and real estate pressures are pushing up the price of dining out everywhere in New York, it's particularly bothersome that one of the few venues to financially punish customers for splitting a sandwich is a venue known for catering to out-of-towners who might not know better.

If two guests order a beer each and a single pastrami, meeting the $12.50 minimum for dining in, they're still charged an extra $3 for sharing. This charge also applies to other sandwiches like the $18 BLT or the $30 "brisketball," smoked fish platters like the $29 sturgeon spread, virtually any egg dish, and many salads that the restaurant itself admits are meant to be shared.

The pastrami sandwich, incidentally, stands about three inches tall and weighs in at a full pound (it feels closer to two). No reasonable human being would try to finish it by herself. Paying a sharing charge for such a sandwich is like going to Minetta Tavern, ordering the brontosaurus-sized cote de boeuf for $148, and getting charged $3 extra because two people are eating it instead of one.

I reached out to Carnegie Deli to ask for the reasoning behind the charge, and a spokesperson said, "With the sharing charge, the additional guest receives two slices of bread and perhaps even some room for a slice of their world-famous strawberry cheesecake to end their meal."

Carnegie, in other words, is charging $3 extra not for extra food (save those two slices of bread). It's not charging for extra labor. It's not charging a higher price for a partial order of pasta or wine, which is something that chefs and sommeliers often do to hedge against the risk of not selling the remaining product later that night.

Carnegie is charging $3 extra for doing what a sandwich was meant to be done with in the first place, split and enjoyed amongst friends. Economically, the fee can even have the effect of shaming you into buying a whole separate $20-$30 sandwich, because you might as well spend a lot for something you can take home rather than spend a little just to pay the piper.

It's temping to dismiss Carnegie altogether; the venue doesn't rank among the city's most heralded delis by New York's meat experts. But a lot of people are spending their hard earned dollars there.

I watched a young couple walk into Carnegie, check out the prices, and vow to return the next day for lunch. "I feel like we just have to," they exclaimed. They've dreamt of this deli, with its photos of Billy Baldwin and Mayor de Blasio hanging on the wall, as being part of the quintessential, New York experience. To the people who flock here, that experience can't be replicated elsewhere.

Those diners who love Carnegie deserve not to be ripped off. It should trouble all of us if a visitor from Iowa or Kansas or Long Island or anywhere went to Carnegie, got levied this charge, and took it as a sign that New York is a cutthroat city dead set on shaking down everyone for their last dollar. That's not what this town is about. And as someone who lives two blocks away from Carnegie (alas), I won't be back for precisely this reason.

So go to Katz's, pocket the $3, and spend it on something else.

Eater Video: Why Katz’s Pastrami Is Still King of Sandwiches

Carnegie Deli

854 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10019-5216 Visit Website
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