Inauguration Security Restrictions Have Caterers Bunking at Venues, Party Guests Lining Up Before Dawn

By Walter Nicholls & Courtney Thompson January 12, 2009, 8:00 AM EST

For city and federal officials and the public alike, Inauguration Day is shaping up to be a harrowing experience, with added anxiety driven by the last-minute unknowns of crowd size and weather conditions. On Wednesday, the U.S. Secret Service and the Washington area’s regional transportation officials released a plan that will dramatically restrict travel in and out of the city on January 20. Beginning at 2 a.m. on Inauguration Day, personal vehicles will be banned on all Potomac River bridges from Virginia and on some major roads leading into the city. Large sections of downtown will be cordoned off from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Walking is expected to be the most reliable mode of transit.

Where does that leave the folks with invitations to parade-viewing parties and the workers who will feed and serve them? In short: Waking up very early on the big day—and maybe even sleeping in their party venues.

Some planners have notified their guests that they should make their way through security checkpoints by 7 a.m. or earlier. Lobbying firm the Carmen Group, for example, is hosting a viewing event at the National Council of Negro Women, located at 633 Pennsylvania Avenue, directly on the parade route. In an email to invited guests, the company said, “Our event is inside the parade security cordon. ... The cordon will be closed once a total capacity number is reached, without regard to specific event invitations. It is anticipated that the space will be filled immediately by people waiting, so plan to queue for entry by 7 a.m. or earlier.” Although guests may start lining up in the pre-dawn hours, the inauguration doesn't begin until 10 a.m., and the parade isn't slated to commence until 2:30 p.m.meaning the party will last roughly nine to 10 hours.

To ensure the staff makes it, caterers are calling for sleepovers on inaugural eve. “We’ve asked a couple dozen event planners, captains, and waiters to sleep in the office building conference rooms, on cots and sleeping bags,” said Andrew Gerstel, vice president of Catering by Windows. “Details are still unfolding, and there are the security sweeps, road closures, and the inability to drive themselves to consider.” In an additional twist, it’s questionable if cell phones will be reliable for communication between employees with the massive crowd texting and snapping pictures.

For event planners, wine openers are an issue. “With the security checkpoints, waiters can’t carry in a wine opener, chefs can’t carry in their own knives. They will be brought in the day before,” said Kathy Valentine, C.E.O. of Design Cuisine. Headquartered in Alexandria, Design Cuisine will need to have drive its last truck across the Potomac River by 2 a.m. on Inauguration Day. To keep food fresh, the company has rented additional refrigerated trucks as well as the kitchen of a restaurant on the parade route that is closed for the day. Additional staff will be brought in from Richmond and Philadelphia. “We’ve split D.C. into four quadrants, with a lead manager in charge of each,” said Valentine, who would not say how many events her company has on the books. “If there is a shortage of people, or Sterno, at one event, we can move them around to assist. Still, it’s going to be difficult.”  

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