When President Barack Obama takes a break from running the country, he’s been known to eat his way through Washington, D.C. The president has dined at some of the area’s most celebrated fine-dining establishments, including Komi, Citronelle, and Equinox, as well as at more casual eateries like Ben’s Chili Bowl and Ray’s Hell Burger.
No matter where the presidential motorcade makes a stop, restaurants experience a flurry of exposure, from national media to social media attention and even gossip-column coverage.
Quick serve Taylor Gourmet recently experienced first-hand just how much buzz a presidential visit can create. The Philly-style hoagie joint’s 14th Street location welcomed President Obama on May 16 as he promoted his jobs act, and the brand enjoyed significant, measurable gains in sales and exposure.
And to think the owners had doubts it would even happen at all.
“When we first found out that Obama might be visiting, my reaction was disbelief,” says Taylor Gourmet co-owner Casey Patten. “I looked at my business partner [David Mazza] and said, ‘Not a chance this is happening.’”
But happen it did, albeit with some tweaks to the regular Taylor Gourmet business day.
The morning of the visit, Taylor Gourmet was closed, the windows were blacked out, and a giant tent was erected in front, providing coverage for when the president moved from his armored limousine to the restaurant. When the president arrived, Patten suggested he order the Spruce Street, which includes roasted turkey, sharp Provolone, ribbons of prosciutto, roasted red peppers, shredded lettuce, and onion slices.
While the Spruce Street is already a strong seller at Taylor Gourmet’s four locations (a fifth location is set to open this summer), President Obama’s order sent the sandwich’s sales soaring by 250 percent at all outlets, from 21 sold per day to 53 a day.
“People come in all the time and ask for the ‘president’s sandwich’ or the ‘Obama hoagie,’” Patten says.
Overall, the outlet President Obama visited has experienced a 25 percent sales increase, while the others have seen a 15 percent bump. Much of this business is coming from new customers.
“You can tell from their questions that they aren’t familiar with our concept,” Patten says. “They clearly haven’t eaten our hoagies before.”
Sandwich sales weren’t the only noticeable bump after President Obama’s visit. Since the 14th Street Taylor Gourmet is located on a busy stretch that sees a lot of commuter traffic, Patten immediately saw the brand’s Twitter feed explode with activity. Fifteen minutes after the president’s departure, Taylor Gourmet was a trending topic in D.C. After another 15 minutes, it was a trending topic in the U.S.
Some 1,083 people talked about Taylor Gourmet on Facebook that day—a 2,677 percent increase—and the brand’s daily Facebook page views jumped from 36 to 2,205. Later that afternoon, the White House Twitter account even sent out a tweet about the visit.
Taylor Gourmet had gone viral.
Patten says he knew Taylor Gourmet had marketing gold in its hands, but that he and his business partners made sure not to overwhelm social media followers with too many of their own tweets or posts.
“We don’t want to become stale or annoying to people,” he says. “But if interesting news stories came in, we’d make sure to retweet them.”
Warren Ellish, president and CEO of Ellish Marketing Group, says it’s important to never overwhelm social media followers by over-boasting about such visits.
“The fact that the celebrity chose your place is a statement itself,” he says. “[The celebrity has] obviously done some homework and you will get a lot of credit for that.”
Still, Patten and his team have turned the visit into a continued selling point by prominently placing pictures of the president with their hoagies on the Taylor Gourmet website. They also have plans to put up some plaques memorializing the visit with pictures, press, and one of the receipts President Obama signed for them.
Staying neutral when advertising potentially polarizing figures is key, Ellish says.
“Don’t try to put any of your political views out there,” he says. “Always stay independent when any politician visits.”
Though Patten says he would welcome other celebrities at his restaurants, he doesn’t think there’s any PR quite like a presidential visit.
“I’m not sure if George Clooney showed up he’d even put a dent in the Obama experience,” he says.