Fun and Furlough in Washington

Nearly two weeks in, you’ve probably noticed that 800,000 government employees were furloughed on Oct. 1 when the government shut down. With parks, monuments and museums all closed, how can the furloughed workers possibly fill their time out in Washington? Well, if they aren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck, and there are certainly many who are, there are discounts on food, drink and being merry until the shutdown ends. As the shutdown continues, more options have become available in Washington, and online as well.

Dozens of locations across the District are offering free or discounted food to federal employees, and a few are upping the price for congressmen. One CEO, Jeff Bank of Carmine’s, is even offering one of his nine private rooms and a free plate of spaghetti and meatballs to Barack Obama, Harry Reid and John Boehner. No one has taken him up on this offer.

A discerning government employee may have proved you can, in fact, get a free lunch, repeatedly. José Andrés, one of the best chefs in the area, tweeted that his three restaurants — Jaleo, Zaytinya and Oyamel — would be giving away free sandwiches from 3 to 5 p.m., “every day ’til it’s over.”

Other businesses had similar offers but have since rescinded them. Z-Burger promised to have free burgers from 11 to 1 and 5 to 7 at any of the four Washington Z-Burger locations. Co-founder Peter Tabibian told USA Today, “This might put us out of business, but we want to show that we care more about the people than the politicians do.” However, after just one day the business decided the promotion would only extend to Oct. 3. Tabibian reported the premature ending was due to unanticipated numbers of furloughed workers. According to a tweet, the local burger chain gave away 15,840 burgers at a cost of more than $88,000.

There are still many deals to take advantage of as the shutdown continues:

• Mango Mike’s  is offering one free order of nachos or a quesadilla from 4 to 7 p.m.

• Pork Barrel BBQ is offering one free pulled-pork sandwich all day.

• Dino is offering one free drink and one free dessert every day… you get the point.

These are just some of the places a furloughed employee can go to get something free, and it doesn’t even begin to cover places that will offer you free things in addition to a purchase, or bars with extended happy hours. If you’re furloughed and you’ve ever dreamt of being on “Extreme Couponers,” this may be that dream.

Many are calling this a PR stunt, and for some it might be. However, it is unlikely any of these businesses will make a net profit because of their offers. As Tabibian said, many will lose money as the shutdown stretches on. Danny Fisher, general manager of Ripple, a bar offering happy hour all day for furloughed employees until the end of the shutdown, said they made the decision “because [furloughed workers] are not making any money right now, and I would assume they are a little bummed out, but more or less to offer them condolences in a way. Supporting their trouble.”

Tim Bodie, a manager at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, said government employees purchase a lot of doughnuts. “They’ve been good to us, so we thought we’d do something nice for them.” They’re offering one free doughnut with any purchase of doughnuts or fried chicken.

Astro Doughnuts on Oct. 2, second day of the shutdown

Astro Doughnuts on Oct. 2, second day of the shutdown

Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., there were a number of government employees who came into the small establishment to take advantage of the deal. Many declined to speak at all about the situation, saying they were told not to talk to the press, and none of them were willing to identify themselves. However, some of them very much wanted to talk.

Two young DOT workers, one male and one female, were spending their second day on furlough scouring the capital for worthwhile deals. “We go to where they say the deals are, and we get the deals,” the man said. They had just gotten a doughnut, and planned to stop by one of Andrés’ restaurants for a sandwich later.

“You feel weird spending any money, but you still get the deal. I’d still rather be getting paid, but,” the woman said as her voice trailed off.

Another woman was going through the backlog of her to-do list and stopped by to get a doughnut (and another free one). When asked how she felt to have the day off for a shutdown, she said, “I’m pissed. I’m furious. I definitely blame the GOP for it and hope they go down in flames.”

Map of Furlough Deals in Washington


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