Senate Privatizes Restaurants

Tired of lousy food, inept management, and massive cost overruns, the Senate is going to privatize its restaurants. Like the House did during the Reagan administration.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Rules and Administrations Committee, which oversees the operation of the Senate, said she had no choice. “It’s cratering,” she said of the restaurant system. “Candidly, I don’t think the taxpayers should be subsidizing something that doesn’t need to be. There are parts of government that can be run like a business and should be run like businesses.” In a letter to colleagues, Feinstein said that the Government Accountability Office found that “financially breaking even has not been the objective of the current management due to an expectation that the restaurants will operate at a deficit annually.”


In a masterful bit of understatement, Feinstein blamed “noticeably subpar” food and service. Foot traffic bears that out. Come lunchtime, many Senate staffers trudge across the Capitol and down into the basement cafeteria on the House side. On Wednesdays, the lines can be 30 or 40 people long. House staffers almost never cross the Capitol to eat in the Senate cafeterias.


Operation of the House cafeterias was privatized in the 1980s by a Democratic-controlled Congress. Restaurant Associates of New York, the current House contractor, would take over the Senate facilities this fall. The company wins high praise from most staffers and lawmakers, who say they are pleased with the wide variety of new items offered every few months. Most important to Feinstein, Restaurant Associates turns a substantial profit — paying $1.2 million in commissions to the House since 2003.

So, apparently, if the government hires people, pays them far more than the private sector to do the job, and then guarantees that they won’t be fired, said people will be less motivated to provide good service? And if they are not held to any standards of cost accountability, they will run deficits?

Who knew?

Via Alex Tabarrok

FILED UNDER: Congress, Economics and Business, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that Senators (and Congressman) should by law be required to live in specific dormitories and take their meals in the Senate cafeteria, the contract for which should be let to IHOP.

  2. c. wagener says:

    As long as we don’t try this unproven “private” stuff in education or health care.

    I’d like to write more but I need to stand in line for toilet paper at the government store.

  3. Am I the only one wondering why the House and Senate need two independent, completely redundant, eating places to begin with?

  4. Michael says:

    Am I the only one wondering why the House and Senate need two independent, completely redundant, eating places to begin with?

    Because some wanted French Fries, and others wanted Freedom Fries, but you couldn’t have one place that served both?

  5. Fence says:

    Stormy Dragon, I guess you unfamiliar with the number of employees you have at this location. Frankly, perhaps we’d be better off if they would turn the entire complex into a series of profitable restaurants.

  6. So, the Senate commissary is expected to lose $20,000 per Senator this year. Perhaps Senator Clinton now has some spare time to look into this.

  7. brainy435 says:

    Government – We can’t feed ourselves but we still know better than you!

  8. Eneils Bailey says:

    And we need these folks running our health care system?
    Policing the behavior of oil company executives?
    And are hell-bent on taking more of our money to piss away?

    They know as much about running an organization as I do about nuclear fusion. Although I am sure I could crack the code for generating power before they could learn how to run a snack bar.

    Good God, let us send them all back home and send them working at a McDonald’s if they can not run a highly subsidized feeding trough for the pigs in Washington.

  9. Eneils Bailey says:

    I would love to see a lunch menu with prices for this place. Although I do get the feeling that paying your bill may be an old “House Post Office” type of arrangement.

    Do the Senatorial staffs get the privilege of eating there?