Members’ Dining Room Sheds Exclusivity, Welcomes Staffers

Further changes might be in store for the storied eatery

The painting and quote in the hallway where the previously members-only dining room is located on the House side. Starting on Tuesday, staff were welcomed in. (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Members’ Dining Room in the House is getting much less exclusive. Starting Tuesday, the eatery is now open to Capitol Hill staff, not just House members and their guests.

“Beginning today … the [Bennett] Room of the Members’ Dining Room will open to all congressional staff. This includes employees of the House, Senate, Architect of the Capitol, Congressional Budget Office, and Library of Congress,” House Chief Administrative Officer Philip Kiko wrote in a letter.

A valid congressional ID is required to enter, and the letter reminds staff that diners are expected to “dress in business attire.”

Whether the dining room will prove to be a popular option for Hill staff remains to be seen. Lawmakers have complained about the declining quality of food and service there for years.

In an appropriations conference report released earlier this month, conferees directed the CAO “to explore applying the branded option concept to the dining room in an effort to provide consistent service, better food selection, and quality food to members and their guests.”

Meanwhile, the website for the dining room says the “menu embodies the prestige expected by its members.”

While the Members’ Dining Room used to have à la carte service, it moved to buffet style in 2015. In response to feedback, a new chef was brought in and some table service was reintroduced. 

A few brand-name eateries have been added to the House side, including Dunkin’ Donuts in the Longworth House Office Building. 

All the generic cafeterias and restaurants on the House side of the Capitol are operated by Sodexo. The Members’ Dining Room is a joint operation of Sodexo and Capitolhost catering services.

A January Congressional Research Service report on House and Senate dining services said the members’ dining rooms “provide an ambiance not typically found in workplace eateries. In addition to their historic and architectural value, these dining rooms also provide members of Congress and staff members a more formal and private setting in which to meet with guests or one another.”

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