The White House State Dining Room has played host to some of the most elegant and memorable affairs to date. Heads of state, kings and queens, A-list celebrities, singers and entertainers, scholars, poets and inventors have all dined under the chandeliers beneath the portrait of Abraham Lincoln for countless State and Social Dinners.
Normally, there are White House chefs and butlers on duty to make sure the meals are perfect and served right on time. Due to the partial government shutdown, however, a lot of the residence staff that would traditionally prepare such a feast were furloughed for Monday’s reception honoring the 2018 College Football Playoff National Champion Clemson Tigers Football team — so it was fast food by candlelight.
It is not every day you get an invitation to the White House and end up being served some of America’s best fast food on presidential chinaware but that is exactly what happened Monday night.
The football team entered the White House to the Marine band playing a jazz rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Much to their audible surprise, the team discovered a decadent White House display of fast food.
Going through the buffet line in the State Dining Room and filling the china of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with fast food from McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King was a reminder that the White House truly is the People’s House.
Traditionally, the meals are made with the guest or guests of honor in mind, and nothing screams college football players louder than fast food, with assorted sauce packets in the historic silver White House serving bowls!
No one is sure what was originally planned for the players as the fast food meal was served due to the government shutdown, but Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, “The president wanted to host a fun event to celebrate the College Football National Champion Clemson Tigers. Because the Democrats refuse to negotiate on border security, much of the residence staff at the White House is furloughed — so the president is personally paying for the event to be catered with some of everyone’s fast food.”
En route to deliver a speech earlier in the day, the president previewed the event by saying, “The Clemson championship team — the national championship team, —will be coming tonight. It’ll be exciting … Great team, an unbelievable team. They’ll be coming tonight, and I think we’re going to serve McDonald’s, Wendys and Burger King. … I would think that’s their favorite food.”
But no one was really sure if the president was actually going to serve something so casual at the White House.
While this might seem as highly unusual, it really is not that out of the ordinary for first families to be more casual at White House events. Burgers, hot dogs, pizza and more have been served in a variety of ways from previous administrations from State Dinners to picnics.
First lady Laura Bush had staff over for a movie in the White House theater and served pizza on the presidential china. At their famed Crawford ranch, they served Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hamburgers made of “Texas beef.” The next time the first lady saw the Prime Minister, he raised his arm to make muscle and told her, “That hamburger made me strong. I went home to do political battle, and I was strong because of that hamburger.”
Sports teams have also been coming to the White House for years, as most Super Bowl winners stopping by Executive Mansion have become an annual event. A favorite being when the New York Giants visited the Reagan White House and Harry Carson dumped a bucket of popcorn on the commander and chief.
President Reagan had come out of the White House carrying a huge orange bucket filled with popcorn-mimicking the Giant’s tradition of dumping Gatorade on their coaches Bill Parcell’s head at the end of a winning game. Reagan threw some popcorn on the players but soon found the tables turned as Carson grabbed the bucket and showered a laughing president.
When President Obama hosted a Super Bowl party for celebrities, friends, staff and Members of Congress, they served bratwurst, kielbasa, cheeseburgers, deep-dish pizza (most likely Chicago-style), buffalo wings, German potato salad, twice-baked potatoes, Snyder’s potato chips and pretzels, chips and dips, salad, ice cream and, of course, beer.
Remember, the Obama White House actually brewed their own White House beer, which was rather unique.
President Trump has been known as the “blue-collar billionaire,” who has a knack of reading and understanding people. While many inside the beltway may look down at President Trump buying the Clemson football champs fast food and serving it, in the State Dining Room — in middle America and from the looks of the players and supporters in the room — it was a hit.
People should feel welcome and comfortable when they come to the White House. They should be served food they would be comfortable eating in an elegant fashion. This could become another White House tradition and from a historical standpoint.
Like Kid State dinners, congressional picnics, Texas barbecues with heads of state and State Dinners in tents on the South Lawn, each White House can define how they host and entertain based on the times, circumstances and tastes. And that is what makes our American system of democracy with our presidents and first ladies so unique and so special.
Jennifer Boswell Pickens (@JenniferPickens) is a White House East Wing historian with an expertise in White House traditions, social events and first ladies. She is the author of two books, Christmas at the White House and Pets at the White House.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.