Making a federal case

My take-backs from federal office cafeteria tours.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

I always enjoy getting out of the office to visit foodservice operations. I’m not afforded that luxury very often these days; my travel usually finds me attending conferences and seminars, either as a speaker or an observer.

But earlier this week I had the chance to take the train down to Washington, D.C., to visit with my good friend—and FSD advisory board member—Sam Ayoub, and to tour a few of the many federal office cafeterias he oversees.

Sam, who I met several years ago when he was a vice president with Guest Services Inc., has a title befitting a government bureaucrat. He is (take a deep breath) the branch chief for the Retail, Concessions and Specialty Services Branch, GSA Public Buildings Services, National Capitol Region, U.S. General Services Administration. That’s a lengthy way of saying is GSA’s representative for oversight of 32 cafeterias, 60 snack bars and coffee shops, and more than 500 vending programs found in federal office buildings in and around our nation’s capital.

Sam’s job is to dictate to the contractors that manage these foodservice facilities the type of services they will provide. But calling Sam a bureaucrat is unfair, if you believe government officials to be politicians and paper pushers without a real connection to the world as we see it. Sam is a foodie, and his love for his job and his concern for his customers is very evident when you talk with him and see him interact with vendors and clients—those people whose job it is to liaise with the food management firms at individual locations.

Last Tuesday, Sam and his boss, Steve Richard, led me on a quick tour of three facilities—State Department, Department of the Interior, and the Patent and Trademark Office. The purpose of the tour was threefold: to see the results of recent renovations at State and DOI, to witness the efforts being put forth by GSA in the areas of sustainability and health and wellness, and to counter some of the recent negative press by the Washington Post about the quality of food and service in federal government cafeterias.

I came away impressed on all three counts. At DOI and State, in particular, I could see the wellness and environmental programs in action, and at DOI I got a sneak peek at what Sam and his team at GSA hope will be the future of federal office foodservice programs. At the PTO’s Roundhouse Cafe, I had a wonderful lunch of Persian chicken over basmati rice with cucumber chutney and a yogurt dip.

The October issue of FSD will feature the new cafeteria program at DOI, along with GSA’s philosophy on wellness and sustainability.