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Lawmakers Push for Lower CVC Food Prices

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Amid complaints about wages for restaurant workers and allegations about retaliation  against workers who went on strike, the Capitol Visitor Center is facing questions on another front: food prices.  

The disparity between CVC food prices and those in other Capitol cafeterias has spurred constituent complaints, and House appropriators are taking action. Tucked into the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee report is a provision zeroing in on food prices at the CVC. “The committee has some concerns with the cost of meals in the Capitol Visitor Center,” the lawmakers wrote. The provision instructs the Architect of the Capitol and the chief administrative officer to review CVC food prices compared to prices in House cafeterias.  

Lawmakers also directed the AOC “to make a proposed contract adjustment resulting in the ability of families to have a two meal option per day to eat in the CVC for approximately the same price as in the House cafeterias.”  

The provision made its way into the report at the urging of Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., a former ranking member of the subcommittee.  

“I am glad that families want to bring their children to the U.S. Capitol to learn about our nation’s history and how our government works,” Aderholt said in a statement Wednesday. “They know they will probably pay more than McDonald’s for a meal in the Capitol complex but when the CVC prices are an additional 10, 20 or even 30% higher, depending on choices, that can be a discouraging surprise.”  

Aderholt was alerted to the issue from visiting constituents who informed his staff. His aides then compared the CVC and House cafeteria prices and found significant differences, prompting the panel to include the provision.

In the CVC’s 530-seat restaurant, for example, visitors pay $6 for a hamburger. In the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria, which is also open to the public, a hamburger costs $3.75.

The CVC prices weren’t initially set to match campus offerings.  

“The prices at CVC are set to be comparable to other public museum restaurants in D.C.,” Restaurant Associates spokesman Sam Souccar wrote in a Wednesday email. Restaurant Associates is the food service contractor for the CVC and other Capitol cafeterias. The AOC negotiates the CVC food service contract, and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.  

Lawmakers have intermittently raised concerns about CVC food prices; officials there counter the center offers quality options.  

“If you go to any other museum on Capitol Hill or in this area, you’re going to see some very similar prices,” CVC CEO Beth Plemmons said in a 2014 interview with CQ Roll Call . “We do regular evaluations of other restaurants in museums.”  

Asked if the Senate was considering a similar provision, the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee chairwoman said it was a possibility.  

“That’s not something that’s been raised, but we’ll sure take a look at it if that’s what the House put in there,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Tuesday.  

Hannah Hess contributed to this report.

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