Apparently some pasta is too hot for social distancing.
Twice in the past week, police officers have had to manage the large crowds waiting for delivery and takeout orders outside Major Food Group’s famed fancy restaurant Carbone in Greenwich Village. On Friday, after failing to disperse the crowds and rein in wait times that were over an hour long, frustrated managers for the restaurant locked the doors and turned off the lights, leaving deliverymen and patrons empty handed.
It’s notoriously difficult to get a reservation at the 72-seat Michelin-starred Italian-American restaurant, and the flood of hundreds of orders have overwhelmed a staff that only recently started experiencing the pace of delivery.
The issues started on Tuesday, the restaurant’s first day of attempting delivery through Caviar in response to the city’s restrictions on restaurants to curb the spread of COVID-19. According to witnesses, dozens of delivery workers gathered at Carbone’s entrance while yelling at each other to “social distance,” which involves staying at least six feet away from another person. Eventually, police officers arrived to space everyone out. Slowly but surely, everybody got their fix of $32 spicy rigatoni, $22 chopped salad, and $69 veal Parmesan.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the restaurant taped off spaces on the sidewalk that were several feet apart and used barricades as a means of socially distancing the waiting deliverymen.
But the system completely fell apart on Friday.
At around 7:30 p.m., a crowd started to build outside of Carbone. The tape had been removed from the ground, and order fulfillment had gotten so backed up that delivery workers started leaning their bikes on nearby cars and trees in an attempt to move closer to the doorway to listen for their number. Locals who had walked over to pick up their orders joined the growing sea of people outside 181 Thompson Street. Only a few were wearing face masks, and nobody was adhering to the rule to stand six feet apart.
“They don’t have enough social distancing,” said one woman who lives above Carbone who refused to give her name. “It’s not safe for anybody.”
The first wave of police arrived at 8:00 p.m. to clear a path on the sidewalk. “I know you guys are just out here trying to make money,” screamed one officer as he motioned for the crowd to spread out. “I personally don’t give a shit!”
As the officers continued to monitor the situation, the crowd grew ever more restless as the wait times started increasing. One customer showed me that Caviar had alerted him that the order was ready at 7:55 p.m., but by 8:35 p.m., he and dozens of others were still waiting outside the restaurant. According to a representative for DoorDash, which owns Caviar, the restaurant got so many orders that the algorithm for timing out the alert to pick up the food went haywire.
“It’s difficult to be mad when you’re ordering Carbone,” said Courtney Canning, a West Village resident.
As the crowd continued to build, more officers arrived. Restaurant managers struggled to keep the entrance clear and deliverymen began to get restless as wait times grew to almost an hour long. “This is insane! It’s just pasta!” said one woman who walked by with her dog.
Canning, who had already been waiting for 45 minutes, left to grab takeout Negronis from Dante a few blocks away. She returned a few minutes later, drinks in hand, to discover that her pasta still wasn’t ready. “I had a buzz when I got here, and I want a buzz when I leave,” said Canning.
Finally, when it became apparent that the restaurant would not be able to get things under control, the commanding officer stood at the doorway and ordered everyone to disperse. “They’ll call you when the order is ready,” he assured everyone.
The crowd did clear out, at least initially. Then, one by one, deliverymen and customers waiting on takeout orders started to mass around the door again. This time, there were no cops to control the mayhem, and a manager shut down the operation at 9:23 p.m.
“We can’t fulfill any more orders! Disperse!” she screamed. Staff trying to distribute the last few bags of food were whisked back inside before the door was locked and the neon sign went dark. Irritated customers loitered near the doorway and one yelled “Fuck Carbone!”
“I waited two hours for food, and they just shut the door on my face,” said Madigan McGovern, who lives upstairs from the restaurant.
Representatives from Carbone did not respond to multiple requests for comment. According to representatives from DoorDash, new systems were put into place to prevent an overload. Just minutes after orders came online at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, the restaurant was already made unavailable in the Caviar app to control the sudden spike in volume that they received.
“We sincerely regret that last night’s incident fell short of the experience we strive to give our customers every day,” DoorDash spokesperson Mattie Magdovitz said in a statement. “We have since put additional measures in place to create a better experience for Caviar customers who order delivery on Carbone, and hope that they will continue to support local businesses who need them now more than ever.”
Correction: This article previously suggested that the restaurant did not have the ability to call delivery workers; a DoorDash spokesperson says the Caviar app has options to contact workers.