In an administration overstuffed with bizarre moments and unusual events, Monday night’s celebration of the Clemson University Tigers at the White House nonetheless made a mark.

The Tigers, who won the national college football championship after not having to play my alma mater Ohio State, had the traditional meeting with the president, enjoying remarks from South Carolina’s senators after retiring to the State Dining Room for a meal.

A meal that was made up of fast food from various national chains.

“Because the Democrats refuse to negotiate on border security,” a statement from press secretary Sarah Sanders explained, “much of the residence staff at the White House is furloughed — so the president is personally paying for the event to be catered with some of everyone’s favorite fast foods.”

Here is President Trump, presenting his feast with obvious satisfaction.

As Trump repeatedly makes clear, it is indeed a lot of food, but perhaps not a lot of food in the context of a hungry college football team. In his comments, he claims that there are 300 burgers total, which are obviously joined by a number of salads, chicken nuggets and, on a separate table under a heat lamp, fries and pizzas.

It raises a perhaps obvious question: Exactly how much did all this cost the president?

The way to figure that out is straightforward: Figure out how much food there actually was and multiply that by the cost. Or, it would be straightforward, if counting hamburgers were as easy as it seems in theory.

So here’s the spread on the main table as it looked before the players’ entrance. Once they were in the room, of course, those various hamburgers and (probably to a lesser extent, salads) were quickly plucked from the table.


Fast food is shown in the State Dining Room of the White House. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Others were picked up by waiters in the room and distributed on platters in the style of servers at an elegant cocktail party. “Another Big Mac, sir? Please, help yourself.”

After considering far more wire photos and social media posts than you might expect, we’re pleased to report that the arrangement in the room looked like this. (Not shown: The candelabra.) There were sandwiches and pizzas from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Domino’s.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

Using those same photographic sources, we then endeavored to tally how many of each item existed at the outset.

There were a few complicating factors with this that bear mentioning. First, Wendy’s, unlike McDonald’s, makes it a bit tricky to determine what type of burger is contained in a particular package. The calculations below assume that the Wendy’s burgers are all doubles, that the chicken sandwiches are Wendy’s spicy chicken and that the salads are the Southwest (McDonald’s) and full BBQ Ranch Chicken (Wendy’s). The pizzas we figured were Domino’s Favorite Feast.

Another problem is that stacking flat hamburgers makes counting hard, as does obscured views of the various piles. So below, our estimates of the number of each item and, thanks to the aptly named FastFoodMenuPrices.com, an estimate of the cost of each item.

And, finally, the White House had a unique system for distributing the french fries. The fries, which appeared to be from McDonald’s, given the accompanying ketchup packets, were transferred into White House-branded cups, making it hard to determine how many there were at the outset. (In his taped remarks, above, Trump only revealed that there were “many, many fries.”) We figured an estimate of 200 large fries was about right.

Brand Item Tray Count Cost Total
McDonald’s Big Macs 1 21 $5.35 $112.35
2 18 5.35 96.30
Chicken McNuggets 1 18* 5.35 96.30
2 18 5.35 96.30
Filet O’Fish 1 23 5.08 116.84
2 23 5.08 116.84
Quarter Pounders 1 27 5.08 137.16
2 28 5.08 142.24
Salads 1 14 6.42 89.88
2 14 6.42 89.88
Fries All 200* 2.53 506.00
Wendy’s Burgers 1 24* 6.95 166.80
2 24* 6.95 166.80
3 24* 6.95 166.80
Chicken sandwiches 1 32 6.28 200.96
2 28 6.28 175.84
Salads 1 16 8.96 143.36
2 16 8.96 143.36
Dominos Pizza All 4 21.43 85.72
Burger King Whoppers All 11 5.61 61.71

* estimates

The grand total? According to our count, Trump spent about $2,911.44 on feeding the team. A sixth of that is the fries alone, though, so take with a grain of salt. (The fries; also the estimate.) Half the cost was incurred at McDonald’s alone.

Update: Some people have noted that the McDonald’s sandwiches and nuggets would be on the 2-for-$5 menu. If so, the total drops to $2,437.11. It also explains why there are so many more McDonald’s products than Burger King.

This total includes 319 sandwiches, 177 of which were hamburgers. Perhaps Trump’s “300” hamburgers figure referred to all of the sandwiches — or perhaps they weren’t all put out at the outset. (The low number of Whoppers and pizzas certainly does suggest that some food may have been held in reserve.) That the staff who were passing around Wendy’s on serving trays took those sandwiches directly from the table, however, seems to suggest that what you see in the photos was what was purchased.

Was it indeed enough food? We didn’t see photos of the aftermath, so we don’t know exactly what might have been left over. But we do know that the team alone is made up of 120 players, weighing over 27,500 pounds combined. So, the average Clemson player weighs about 230 pounds.

Thanks to the also-aptly-named CalorieKing, we can also determine how many calories were waiting in that room: About 310,000 — excluding sauces and dressing. The spread also made up somewhere around 16,000 grams of fat. In other words, each player could eat about 2,600 calories of food assuming our counts and estimates above are correct. Football players apparently need about 50 calories for every 2.2 pounds each day when undertaking their heaviest workout periods, meaning the spread covered about half the team’s necessary caloric intake for the day of the championship, if not a few weeks after.

Hopefully, though, they left some food for their coaches and other attendees.

There is one other asterisk worth noting. In other comments, Trump — in true Trump fashion — suddenly more than tripled the hamburger count.

FACT CHECK: At two inches each, a thousand burgers would not reach one mile high.

Had Trump instead invested his entire net worth — $3.1 billion per Forbes last year — on $5 sandwiches, each two inches high? A stack of hamburgers nearly 20,000 miles high.

It would require quite a large silver serving platter.

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