How Restaurants Handle the Obamas

Chefs try to stay cool amidst Secret Service crush

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 16, 2011 9:57 AM CDT | Updated Mar 19, 2011 1:43 PM CDT

(Newser) – Barack and Michelle Obama love to eat out, but how do restaurants handle a presidential visit? David Hagedorn of the Washington Post asked chefs around town, and found that the key is to remain calm. “We are in the business of creating perceptions,” says one general manager. “We can’t freak out, and we can’t put all our energy into that one person.” Still the evening is decidedly upended when the president’s massive motorcade rolls in.

The Secret Service will generally swing by earlier that day for a walk-through. By the time the first family arrives, 20 to 30 agents will be there to wand anyone coming in after them. Another agent—a trained chef—watches as the Obamas’ food is prepared. When the president dines, his staff will sometimes insist he be surrounded by diners, but the Secret Service will try to provide more privacy if Michelle, Sasha, and Malia are dining. The Obamas tend to order the chef’s choice, tip well but not outrageously, and insist on paying for everything. And they’re good for business—as word of a presidential visit gets out, mobs swarm the restaurant, and reservations increase afterward.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama leave The Source restaurant and board their motorcade in the freezing rain after having dinner, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, in Washington.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama leave The Source restaurant and board their motorcade in the freezing rain after having dinner, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Obama and Michelle Obama leave State Road restaurant in West Tisbury, Mass., after dinner with friends on Martha's Vineyard, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
President Obama and Michelle Obama leave State Road restaurant in West Tisbury, Mass., after dinner with friends on Martha's Vineyard, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Obama and Michelle Obama leave a dinner at Komi, a Greek and Mediterranean restaurant, in Washington, Friday, May 7, 2010.
President Obama and Michelle Obama leave a dinner at Komi, a Greek and Mediterranean restaurant, in Washington, Friday, May 7, 2010.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Obama waves as he and first lady Michelle Obama, leave Alan Wong's restaurant after dinner in Honolulu, Hawaii  Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009.
President Obama waves as he and first lady Michelle Obama, leave Alan Wong's restaurant after dinner in Honolulu, Hawaii Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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