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Senate Cafeterias Set to Be Privatized

The Senate is readying to make the leap to privatize its restaurants.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee has directed the Architect of the Capitol to move ahead with negotiations with an outside vendor to take over Senate restaurant operations.

The Senate is expected to contract with Restaurant Associates, the vendor that began running House restaurant operations in December and will provide food service in the upcoming Capitol Visitor Center, according to Howard Gantman, staff director of the Rules Committee.

The Senate’s decision to privatize, made this week, comes after years of major deficits by the current food operator, Senate Restaurants.

Senate Restaurants, which is overseen by the Architect of the Capitol, posted a $1.3 million deficit in fiscal 2007, Gantman said.

The decision to switch to Restaurant Associates was not made lightly, although it has been an option for some time. When Restaurant Associates made its original bid on the CVC project, it also bid on the House and Senate restaurants, Gantman noted.

When Rules and Administration Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) took over the Rules panel in January 2007, she didn’t make the move to switch vendors immediately. Instead, she ordered a top-to-bottom look at Senate restaurants, because Members “felt it was important to review the situation,” Gantman said.

“We came to the realization that [the switch] seemed to be the best step,” Gantman added.

In a statement, the AOC said it believes the transition is in the government’s best interest.

“The AOC appreciates its Senate Restaurant employees and will continue to work very closely with the Rules Committee to ensure that they will be treated fairly and respectfully during the transition period,” the statement reads. “Restaurant Associates brings significant expertise to the table, and we are confident that they will ensure a seamless transition and become a valued partner to our Agency.”

Gantman noted that Feinstein is expected to introduce legislation to ensure that no current Senate restaurant employees lose their jobs or benefits during the eventual switchover.

“Many of these restaurant workers have been here for 20 or more years,” Gantman said. “They’ve been an important part of the Senate family, and we felt it was imperative to ensure that the benefits they’ve been receiving wouldn’t be cut off.”

Contract negotiations could take several months, Gantman said.

Aside from tackling the deficit issue, several other frequent restaurant complaints are expected to be addressed during the contracting process, from food quality to environmental initiatives to installing more energy-efficient vending machines, Gantman said.

Restaurant Associates already has brought many of those changes to the House, including the introduction of a composting system featuring Earth-friendly cups, plates and utensils. New vending machines also were installed, and much of the House’s food is generated from local sources.

Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, who oversees the House cafeterias, testified during a recent Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee hearing that those changes have been generally well-received and are expected to save the chamber money in the long run.

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