House Dining Services Hungry for Feedback

Posted November 5, 2013 at 3:27pm

Before the cupcake, Daniel Minchew’s lunch in the Longworth Cafe totaled $5.50. Dessert pushed it to $7.75.

“Prices are fair — all of this for less than $8,” said Minchew, who ventures from his job in the Capitol Visitor Center to the House office complex a few times a week for breakfast and midday meals. His favorites come from the global food section, priced at 55 cents per ounce. Monday’s selection was Mexican.

“I tend to look at the international choices first, salads second,” Minchew said. Greens from the salad bar go for 48 cents per ounce. “I love the barbecue and brisket, but it’s just a little too heavy for me most days.”

The House is asking patrons of all its eateries — a collection of nine delis, cafes and markets, plus the Members’ Dining Room, all run by Restaurant Associates — for input on campus dining options. The questions ask about food quality, menu variety and convenience, and whether the fare is worth the price. Those interested in taking the survey can do so online.

Minchew gave the Longworth Cafe high marks across the board, saying it is more fairly priced than dining inside the CVC, with one exception. The CVC’s tourist-geared restaurant, also operated by Restaurant Associates, doesn’t charge him for a cup of water. “Here, I have to pay for the cup,” he said, raising the styrofoam glass.

The Longworth Cafe swarmed with Capitol Hill employees and visitors on Monday. Both the Rayburn and Cannon cafeterias were closed because the House is out of session this week. Each of the tables in Longworth was topped with a small reminder to participate in the survey, but few diners seemed to take notice.

“I don’t have anything to compare to,” said Candace Orozco, a House Democratic Caucus intern who eats at the cafeteria nearly every day because the location is convenient to her office and she doesn’t usually have time to cook at home. Pausing between forkfuls of creamy homestyle macaroni and cheese and barbecue pork, Orozco said she spent $5.60 on her lunch.

“You get a good bang for your buck overall,” said Gilbert Carrillo, her dining companion and a fellow House Democratic Caucus intern. Carrillo rarely buys a full meal from the cafeteria. He instead opts to complement what he brings from home with something small, like a cookie or soft drink. His spread included a container full of homemade pasta salad and a side salad, purchased for $2.

“The House is currently assessing its campus dining options to ensure optimum services are provided at competitive prices. And customer feedback is vital to the process,” a spokesman for House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel said in an email. “We do surveys on a periodic basis. They help us improve services provided to those who work and visit here.”

In addition to price and quality, the survey asks for opinions on ambiance and facility sanitation.

“I come here because it’s brightly lit, and the salad looks fresh,” said Trent Cooper, who works in physical security for the Architect of the Capitol. With a longer lunch break, he might venture over to Union Station, he said, but he knows he would pay more. On Monday, he enjoyed chicken fingers, salad from the salad bar and a diet soda for $11.

Restaurant Associates referred all questions about the survey to corporate headquarters, which did not respond to a request for comment from CQ Roll Call.

None of the diners interviewed Monday had completed the online questionnaire, but Minchew had one suggestion.

“Serve dinner as well, every day,” he said with a smile.