Smithsonian Opens New Concept Restaurant at National Air and Space Museum

Press Release
Friday, May 24, 2002 (All day)

Media Inquiries

Claire Brown, 202-633-2371, brownch@si.edu

Public Inquiries

202-633-1000

With more than 20,000 meals already sold to tour groups over the next six months, the Wright Place, a new restaurant offering menu items from McDonald's, Boston Market and Donatos Pizzeria, officially opens Friday, May 24, at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.


The Wright Place will open in time for the Memorial Day weekend which marks the beginning of the busy summer tourist season at the Smithsonian. The restaurant will be open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also, for the first time, breakfast will be offered.


The glass-enclosed restaurant is being operated by the McDonald's Corporation. It will offer traditional McDonald's hamburgers, fries and chicken, as well as Boston Market rotisserie chicken entrees and salads and Donatos Pizzeria cheese and pepperoni pizzas. The restaurant will also feature dessert kiosks serving sundaes, smoothies and pastries. The Mezzanine Café© offering pastries, salads, sandwiches and LavAzza--Italy's most popular coffee--occupies a newly refurbished second floor.


In addition to providing an array of economically priced foods, the restaurant is organized to serve a high volume of customers, which is essential since the National Air and Space Museum is the world's most popular museum. In the past, the restaurant could serve a maximum of 6,000 people per day (it was not open for breakfast). The new restaurant will have the capacity to serve more than 15,000 people in a day.


"On behalf of the nine and a half million people who visit the National Air and Space Museum each year, we are pleased to welcome McDonald's," said Gen. John R. "Jack" Dailey, museum director. "At the Wright Place, we're providing better service and greater value to meet the needs of families, tour groups and international visitors in a comfortable, dynamic environment. As an added benefit, the new facility will generate increased revenue for the Institution."


Named for aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright, the restaurant seats 1,000 visitors, with 800 on the main floor and an additional 200 in the café©.  The space was previously occupied by a cafeteria managed by another outside contractor until it closed last September for major renovation.


McDonald's is operating the restaurant through a 10-year agreement overseen by Smithsonian Business Ventures, which manages the Institution's revenue-producing activities. The Smithsonian expects to earn $10 million more than it would have earned from the previous operation, providing additional funding for museum exhibitions, research and other programs.


"Being able to accommodate the diverse visitor base at the National Air and Space Museum was a major priority in introducing this new concept," said Gary Beer, CEO of Smithsonian Business Ventures. "While the previous restaurant captured only six percent of the 1 million school children who visited the National Mall, the new restaurant is already exceeding this number with pre-sales."


The Wright Place's imaginative interior design incorporates 18 video screens showing clips from "Space Station 3D," a new IMAX movie that recently premiered in the museum's theater, and "Infinity Express: a 20-Minute Tour of the Universe," the current attraction in the museum's Albert Einstein Planetarium.


The futuristic theme is reinforced at the customer service center, an area surrounded by plasma menu screens. After placing orders and paying at one of 12 stations, museum visitors proceed forward to a space-themed pick-up counter where they get their meals. The efficient organization allows visitors ample time to enjoy their selections and then return to exhibitions, programs and other museum attractions.


"The Smithsonian asked McDonald's to revitalize the restaurant facilities at the Air and Space Museum to dramatically improve service for the millions of visitors who come to this Washington landmark," Henry Gonzalez, president of McDonald's East Division, said. "Patrons of the museum will now have faster service and greater food variety at more affordable prices. With this major upgrade, for the first time, the museum will easily accommodate groups large and small. Customer convenience and providing great service will be hallmarks of this flagship location."


In addition to the Wright Place, McDonald's is operating a small LavAzza's stand on the museum's west terrace as well as several outdoor snack carts serving ice creams, hot dogs, sausages, sodas, big pretzels and other snack items.


Before the museum opens to the public in the morning, people will enter through the restaurant. During regular hours, access to the restaurant is only through the museum itself.


The museum is currently building a companion facility at Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, which will house the 80 percent of the national collection that has not been accessible to the general public. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center will open in December 2003 to mark the centennial of the Wright brothers' first powered flight.


The National Air and Space Museum, located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W., is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The museum will open at 9 a.m. from Friday, May 24 through Monday, Sept. 2. The Museum is closed Christmas Day. Admission is free.