The Old Ebbitt Grill puts out more meals than any independent restaurant in the country and it is the third highest grossing. Established in 1856, this historic Washington D.C. restaurant has weathered any and all storms throughout its lifetime and in spite of that has found a way to be one of the most successful in the world. Here’s what we can learn:
The Old Ebbitt Grill always made sure it was getting a lot of attention and doing everything they could to leverage and capitalize on that attention.
It was always known for something and always seemed to find itself in the media. Whether it be for hosting lavish parties, Soviet spies, serving Guinness stout on tap, or keeping the doors open later than most, there was always a reason for people to talk about and go to the Old Ebbitt Grill.
A great example of how the Old Ebbitt created and leveraged attention was when the block it was sitting on was being demolished. The tension was high between builders and patrons over the demolition, and the Old Ebbitt Grill in response threw a massive party.
With music provided by the Federal Jazz Commission indoors and out, people packed the restaurant and poured into the street. The party was a huge success and ended up being so big that it made the Washington Post. Genius.
In 1995 the Old Ebbitt threw its first ever “Oyster Riot” an annual event held each November to promote its Oyster bar. And what first started out as a four hour all you can eat event turned into a three-day celebration serving 15-20 different types of oysters with 10 different wine pairings. The event became so popular that by 2007 it sold out in 38 minutes.
The restaurant built a culture of hosting parties and events. And because of it’s strategic location, (between the White House, National and Warner Theatres) found itself a popular venue amongst government officials, famous actors and musicians.
It was a favorite among the US Secret Service and in 2004 the Democratic Leadership Council rented out the entire restaurant on Inauguration Day. After-parties were common at the Old Ebbitt with pop culture stars Stephen Colbert and The Rolling Stones being just two of many to host events at the restaurant.
As a result, the Old Ebbitt Grill became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and in 2012 was turning away 800-900 customers a day. Not to mention that all this had been accomplished while the food consistently received mixed and poor reviews. Which speaks volumes to the power of creating and leveraging attention.
The restaurant made itself highly visible, building a culture of hosting parties and events. It always found its way into the media, (for better or worse) and made itself available to some of the worlds most popular and powerful people.
The Old Ebbitt has created, leveraged and capitalized on that attention for well over a century and operates on a model that can be utilized by any restaurant in operation today.