A semi-regular look at a fleeting form of restaurant swag in smoking ban-era D.C.

On its website, Barracks Row restaurant Ted’s Bulletin is described as “a real American classic joint with a bit of style.”

One bit of style is especially classic—-practically anachronistic, in fact. I’m referring to the old-school-style free matchbooks that are readily available on your way out the door.

“What we’re hearing from our producer of [the matchbooks] is that people seem to be smoking less, and it’s less of an item than it used to be,” says  Perry Smith, a principal partner of Matchbox Food Group, which operates Ted’s, along with multiple restaurants in town under the Matchbox moniker.

However antiquated the once common eatery freebies now seem, the things are an essential part of Smith & Co.’s branding. Every table at your local Matchbox, for example, is embedded with the boxes as part of the decor.  You’ll find all sort of themes including Elvis, Hello Kitty, and Star Wars, among others.

The boxes of fire sticks that aren’t incorporated into the furniture, however, remain a popular takeaway. Smith says the company spends thousands of dollars on the logo-emblazoned complimentary flame starters. And customers usually just don’t nab one. “They literally grab handfuls of them, and we go through thousands of them a year,” Smith says. One customer apparently uses them to light his gas stove, he adds.

The memorabilia may be on the decline these days, but Smith says this “hospitality item” won’t be going extinct on Matchbox’s watch.

“It’s a big part of our theme,” Smith says. “That’s what people expect. It’s probably our best form of advertising for what we do.”

Ted’s Bulletin, 505 8th Street Southeast, (202) 544-8337

Photo by Ashley Dejean