Select Committee on Catering First Report

II. Existing facilities and possibilities for change

17. We now consider the various cafeterias in turn.

Terrace Cafeteria

Outline of the Cafeteria

  18. Created in 1996 as part of the redevelopment of the kitchens, bars and cafeterias serving the main building, the Terrace Cafeteria replaced separate Members' and Strangers' Cafeterias with a single servery and a medium-sized dining area, approximately 40 per cent of which is reserved for Members (and Peers who are former Members), together with up to three guests. Access to the other half of the seating area is open to all photopass holders with up to two guests, temporary passholders (except between 12.00 noon and 2.00 pm), and a number of other groups with special dispensation.[31] Between the two halves is a screen. It was anticipated by one of our predecessor Committees that the screen would be moveable from time to time "to give flexibility to vary the seating allocation to reflect the space requirements of users".[32] In practice, the screen has never been moved.

19. For Members' staff and the large majority of House staff, the Terrace Cafeteria is the only place in the main building where they can eat. Some are obliged to eat there because of their duties in connection with the business of the House: a small number of non-Officer staff from the Clerk's Department (not normally more than two at any one time) man division desks and must therefore be able to reach the lobbies within a minute or so.[33]

20. The single greatest source of discontent in the evidence submitted to our inquiry concerned overcrowding and queues in the Terrace Cafeteria,[34] which comes under particular pressure between approximately 12.30 pm and 2.00 pm. We are not aware of significant overcrowding in the evenings, and the results of the Refreshment Department survey appear to confirm this impression.[35]

The servery and tills

  21. It was noted in evidence that queues in the Terrace Cafeteria often appeared not to be connected to seating capacity.[36] It was said that:

  • the queue at the servery counter would be reduced if the number of staff serving were to be increased;
  • the layout was unsuitable, particularly at the hot and cold drinks area, where customers were obliged to backtrack;[37]
  • there were not always enough tills open at busy periods;[38] and
  • the presentation and serving of food could be improved.[39]

22. The floor space available for display of food, service and tills is small considering the volume of traffic that passes through the Terrace Cafeteria. We accept that design options are limited, but we nonetheless believe that more could be done to improve throughput. We recommend that the Director of Catering Services, taking account of the detailed issues raised in evidence, should investigate ways of improving the flow of customers through the Terrace Cafeteria serving area.

23. A few relatively small-scale changes may help to improve the flow through the servery, and some steps in this direction have been taken during the course of this inquiry. They do not, however, address the problem of restricted space in the dining area. More far-reaching measures are needed to increase capacity for House staff and Members' staff in the main building.

The screen

  24. A large number of submissions from House staff urged us either to move the screen in the Cafeteria so as to increase the available seating area for non-Members, or to remove it altogether.[40] We were told that staff felt frustrated when the non-Member section was full to capacity but seats were free in the Members-only section.[41]

25. We recognise that such removal of the screen, opening up all of the seating area to House staff and Members' staff in addition to Members, would be strongly welcomed in many quarters. We agree that in many ways removal of the screen would be desirable in principle. It is essential, however, that suitable provision should first be made for Members elsewhere in the main building.[42] We believe that it would only be practical to consider moving or removing the screen once such alternative provision has become popular with Members. We now look at some options.

Alternative provision for Members: Dining Rooms and the Churchill Room

  26. It is our impression that formal dining at lunch times is becoming less common amongst Members, and that Members in general are looking for "quicker" and less formal meals at lunch times. The room used as the Members' Dining Room at lunch times (the smaller of the two Dining Rooms) currently serves between six and twelve covers on sitting days. The Churchill Room is also under-used, sometimes serving as few as four covers at lunch times on sitting days. Although we recognise that there is a small group of Members who regularly use the smaller Dining Room in the middle of the day, it is difficult to justify the use of this space by so few.

27. We therefore believe that steps should be taken to attract more Members into the smaller Dining Room and the Churchill Room at lunch times. Some exclusive waiter-service provision for Members should be retained at lunch times, either at one end of the smaller Dining Room or in the Chess Room, which is currently under-used. Either a part of, or the whole of, the smaller Dining Room could then offer a competitively-priced buffet and other "quick" dishes to Members and their guests. We invite the Accommodation and Works Committee to consider our proposal for converting the Chess Room.

28. The quality of food served in the Churchill Room is in our opinion high; but the general atmosphere is rather staid, and we suspect that this limits its appeal. Ideally, the Churchill Room would provide a cafeteria service at lunch time while remaining as a waiter-service facility in the evenings. It is, however, impractical to operate a dual-purpose outlet of this kind. It would be difficult, for instance, to disguise serveries and tills in the evenings, and the ambience would suffer. The existing kitchen is in any case too small: major investment would be required to provide the necessary preparation and cooking facilities. We propose therefore that the Churchill Room should at present remain as a waiter-service restaurant but that the Director of Catering Services should present options for different menu styles.

Terrace Pavilion

  29. In the long term, a more radical course of action might be required. The Terrace Pavilion, which provides buffet facilities principally for Members and Officers of the House and their guests, is housed under a marquee on the Terrace overlooking the river. The marquee is some 15 years old and is now showing signs of wear and tear. A decision will soon be required on its future.

30. The Terrace Pavilion was only ever intended as a temporary structure. It has served the House well, but it is difficult to heat in cold weather and difficult to keep cool in summer. Furthermore, it is not at all welcoming in bad weather. Some form of replacement for the marquee on the Terrace which blends better with the stonework, or a glazed structure, would be more attractive when viewed from the river and less at the mercy of bad weather. A riverside restaurant or brasserie could then be provided for Members and their guests, freeing up space in the main building for staff use. We invite other Domestic Committees to submit their views on these proposals. We recommend that the Director of Catering Services and the Director of Estates should draw up proposals for an alternative structure on the Terrace, and that these proposals should be submitted for discussion with all bodies concerned.

Strangers' Bar

  31. The layout of the new Strangers' Bar is seen by many Members as being not as congenial as that of the old Bar, and it is difficult to prevent overcrowding at the bar itself. If it proved possible to implement plans for a riverside restaurant, as described above, the Strangers' Bar could be relocated in what is now the Churchill Room, which we believe would be much better suited for the purpose.

Opening up access to press facilities

  32. Alternative provision should also be made for House staff and Members' staff who want to eat in the main building. It was suggested to us that more use could be made of the refreshment facilities provided principally for the Parliamentary Press Gallery.[43] These consist of a Press Dining Room (for formal dining), a Press Cafeteria and a Press Bar. Access is restricted to Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and to staff of the Official Report (Hansard).[44]

33. Witnesses representing the Parliamentary Press Gallery told us that they had no objection to opening up access to their facilities. On the contrary, this was seen as potentially beneficial, as an increase in covers served would help to justify the existence of the Dining Room and would generate a faster turnover of food in the Cafeteria.[45] We can see no reason why the existing access regime need be retained, and we recommend that all restrictions on access to the Press Cafeteria, the Press Dining Room and the Press Bar should be lifted. We further recommend that the Director of Catering Services should monitor usage of the Dining Room to ensure that an adequate level of access is preserved for members of the Press Gallery.

34. Witnesses were very critical of the quality of the food served in the Press Cafeteria, pointing out that very few of the potential users saw it as their first choice of eating place.[46] It was said that the cooked food (particularly pasta dishes and vegetables) lost its freshness and that the "rather eccentric" menu put people off.[47] We visited the Cafeteria and found the surroundings somewhat dated and uninspiring. We note that the Cafeteria is due for a refit as part of the 2003-04 works programme and that furnishings and fittings are to be replaced. We welcome the plans to modernise the Press Cafeteria, thereby improving the quality of the food.

The Debate Cafeteria

Outline of the Debate

  35. We have already noted the popularity of the Debate, where the food on offer is a definite attraction. It is to some extent a victim of its own success, with long queues often forming at lunch times, even during recesses. For some, this detracts from its appeal. We heard that it was "always busy" and that it "seemed to be getting busier"; another commented that eating there was "not a relaxing experience, as you feel that you have to move on to let others eat".[48] We were told that seating was sometimes so scarce that people took trays to their offices and ate there.[49] Others avoided it simply because they were reluctant to spare time queueing.

36. There is little scope for providing more seating either inside or directly outside the "Debate". Any increase in the number of tables and chairs in the covered courtyard would, we believe, make the surroundings appear unduly cluttered. In any case, the kitchens and food preparation areas serving the Debate are already operating at full capacity at peak times. We therefore believe that the Refreshment Department should concentrate on developing new facilities north of Bridge Street to attract people away from the Debate. The re-occupation of the Norman Shaw South building will make this imperative.[50] We make a number of proposals, which are set out below.

A sandwich bar in Portcullis House

  37. We note from the evidence the popularity of the made-to-order sandwich service offered at the Portcullis Cafeteria in 7 Millbank.[51] We also note that this is the one Commons outlet where more customers buy food to take away than buy to "eat in".[52] We therefore recommend that the Refreshment Department provide a made-to-order sandwich bar (perhaps with delicatessen, if space allows) somewhere at the northern end of the Parliamentary Estate. Our preferred site for such a facility would be a unit on the ground floor of Portcullis House, using part of the space currently occupied by the Post Office. We suggest that space could be released if the Post Office counter were to face into the courtyard rather than be contained within an enclosed room. We invite the Accommodation and Works Committee to consider these proposals.

38. Although the sandwich bar would be primarily a take-away facility, the seating provided for Despatch Box customers could also be used for sandwich bar customers. The lounges on the upper floors of Portcullis House could also be used,[53] as could the outdoor area between Portcullis House and Norman Shaw South (known as the North Terrace).[54] We are not convinced, however, by suggestions that an awning or other all-weather covered structure should be installed in the North Terrace.[55] We doubt that such a structure would be aesthetically acceptable, and the costs of heating it in winter could be high. Unlike the Terrace in the main building, the views are not inspiring. The Portcullis House architect has, however, drawn up a modest planting scheme for the North Terrace, and we recommend that it be implemented in the next planting season.

Norman Shaw buildings

  39. No space has been allocated in either of the Norman Shaw buildings for a manned Refreshment Department outlet. The Serjeant at Arms doubted whether Norman Shaw South would lend itself to anything other than office accommodation,[56] but a number of suggestions were made by witnesses for new facilities, including the roof space of Norman Shaw South and the inner courtyard of Norman Shaw North.[57] Norman Shaw South is currently undergoing a substantial refit in order to provide new offices for 150 Members and staff. The roof space area alluded to by witnesses has already been set aside for two Members' offices. At the time of the inquiry there was only limited access to the site because of building works, but we understand that there is limited access to the roof space, there is not a great deal of floor space, and the ceilings are comparatively low. We do not therefore believe that this would prove to be a congenial or practical site for a refreshment facility.

40. The inner courtyard of Norman Shaw North is currently occupied by temporary huts providing training rooms for the Commons Library. It is certainly possible to picture a glass-roofed refreshment facility in the courtyard, but it was suggested to us by the Director of Estates that such a structure would be expensive and not in keeping with the Norman Shaw building which would surround it. Vehicle access would be very restricted. For these reasons, we do not see that the Norman Shaw North courtyard is a viable site for a refreshment facility, at least until there is a demonstrable need for a new cafeteria.

Vending machines

  41. The only facilities within the Norman Shaw buildings will be vending machines. Until the closure of Norman Shaw South for refurbishment, there was a total of six vending machines at two different sites in the Norman Shaw buildings. Three of these machines had to be put into storage during the refurbishment of Norman Shaw South. Before Norman Shaw South re-opens, we recommend that the Director of Catering Services and the Director of Estates identify suitable and convenient sites in the Norman Shaw buildings for the installation of new vending machines, ideally where communal seating is available. Witnesses suggested that microwave ovens might also be provided for staff to heat up simple foods.[58] We urge the Serjeant at Arms Department to ensure that fridges and microwave ovens are provided in the Norman Shaw buildings for communal use.

42. The Secretaries' and Assistants Council told us that vending machines "should not be considered as an alternative to a proper meal";[59] that machines tended to "run short"; and that the choice of sandwiches was limited.[60] We note that the Director of Catering Services is examining the provision of vending machines throughout the Estate.

Facilities in 1 Parliament Street

Outline of the facilities in 1 Parliament Street

  43. Refreshment Department premises in 1 Parliament Street consist of Bellamy's Cafeteria, essentially two adjoining areas with a total seating capacity of 159 (smoking is permitted in one of these areas); Bellamy's Clubroom, offering the same dishes as in the Cafeteria but in a more exclusive setting, accessible to Members and Officers throughout the week with up to three guests, and to all other passholders on Mondays and Fridays (with up to two guests for full passholders); Bellamy's Bar, which occupies a superb site overlooking the Palace and Parliament Square, and which is the only bar on the Estate operated by the Commons Refreshment Department open to all passholders;[61] and the Astor Suite, providing banqueting facilities for Members and Officers.

44. The Committee undertook a tour of the premises in 1 Parliament Street to see how they might be made more attractive, thereby helping to relieve pressure on Portcullis House. The first floor of 1 Parliament Street has an intricate layout consisting of a muddle of fairly small rooms, interconnecting doors and corridors. This layout, together with structural considerations (including a lift-shaft sited in an awkward position), would restrict redevelopment.

Bellamy's Cafeteria

  45. The Refreshment Department Survey showed Bellamy's Cafeteria to be operating below capacity, and witnesses told us that it was less busy now than previously.[62] Fewer covers are served in Bellamy's than in any other cafeteria, even though it is convenient for approximately 150 Members and staff working in 1 Parliament Street[63] as well as the Commons Library staff working in Derby Gate.[64] To some extent Bellamy's suffers because of its proximity to the Debate; but the fittings are now somewhat dated and the servery has the "feel" of a canteen.

46. Until new facilities in 1 Parliament Street or in Portcullis House are introduced, efforts need to be made to attract custom to Bellamy's. We note that financial provision has been made for a refit of the kitchen and cafeteria areas in summer 2003. We welcome the plans to refurbish Bellamy's Cafeteria. We make one specific suggestion, that curries (for which there is considerable demand) should be made a speciality at Bellamy's.

Bellamy's Club Room

  47. Many House staff told us that the Club Room was under-used and that either access restrictions should be lifted or the room should be put to a different use.[65] We note that the room seats 44 but that only 16 covers were served in the Club Room at lunch time on the sitting day used for the Refreshment Department survey. Nonetheless, the Club Room is the only place north of Bridge Street where Members and their guests can be sure of getting a seat at lunch times without booking in advance. Given the steady concentration of Members at the northern end of the Parliamentary Estate, we expect that the Club Room will become more popular. We recommend that the existing service in Bellamy's Club Room should be retained and that no change should be made to the regulations for access.

Sandwich counter

  48. The Souvenir Kiosk in the lobby on the first floor of 1 Parliament Street is closed except in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The kiosk and lobby look rather forlorn for the rest of the year and we suggest that better use could be made of the area. The kiosk, for instance, could sell ready-made sandwiches, juices and hot drinks,[66] and tables and chairs could be placed in the lobby. We invite the Director of Catering Services to consider installing a sandwich counter in the space occupied by the Souvenir Kiosk on 1 Parliament Street.

Facilities in 7 Millbank

49. Little of the evidence submitted to the inquiry related to facilities in 7 Millbank. The building is populated largely by House staff (and will be exclusively so from early 2003), and this is reflected in the profile of usage sketched by the Refreshment Department survey.[67] The cafeteria is busy but not excessively so, and the made-to-order sandwich facility is justly popular. Hansard staff are due to move to 7 Millbank later in 2002, and there will be more late-night working in the building as a result.[68] The Director of Catering Services has drawn up proposals to provide an evening service in the cafeteria but to close the waiter-service restaurant on the sixth floor of 7 Millbank—the Millbank Room—in the evenings, except for special "themed" events. A number of Members with offices in 7 Millbank were anxious about these proposals, but we note that no change in provision would be made before Members with offices currently in 7 Millbank had been transferred to other parts of the Estate.

31   See Ev 46 for precise access provisions. Back

32   Refreshment Services for the House of Commons, First Report from the Catering Committee, HC 75 (Session 1993-94). Back

33   Q 8, also Ev 12. Back

34   See Annex Back

35   Ev 40. Back

36   See Annex. Back

37   See Ev 30. Back

38   QQ 36 and 146; Ev 54. Back

39   QQ 41 and 142-3. Back

40   Ev 1, 30, 54, 55. Back

41   Q 42. See also Ev 18 (CPA). Back

42   See Ev 7. Back

43   Ev 30. Back

44   Press Gallery Doorkeepers have access to the Press Bar and the Press Cafeteria. See Ev 46 and 50. Back

45   QQ 121 and 127. Back

46   Q 116. Back

47   QQ 128-130. Back

48   See Annex. Back

49   Q 41. Back

50   Q 6. See also Ev 6, 12 and 30. Back

51   Annex; also Q 85. Back

52   Ev 42. Back

53   Q 8. Back

54   Q 148. Back

55   QQ 52-4 Back

56   Q 61. Back

57   Ev 30 and Q 159. Back

58   Q 42. See also QQ 64-5. Back

59   Ev 6. Back

60   QQ 41 and 44. Back

61   The Sports and Social Club provides a Bar for Club members, situated in Peers' Inner Court. Back

62   Q 41; Ev 42. Back

63   Some 30 House staff also work in 1 Parliament Street. Back

64   Approximately 165 Library staff. Back

65   Q 1; Ev 30 and 54. Back

66   Q 42; Ev 30 and 54. Back

67   Ev 37. Back

68   Q 71. Back

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