Members' Dining Room
As far back as 1834, Congress made arrangements for food and drink in the Capitol. The relatively undeveloped neighborhood and Congress’s regimented work schedule made the availability of food on site a necessity. In a room referred to as the “refectory,” local restaurateurs served menus of popular favorites such as oysters, beefsteak, and partridge, along with coffee, tea, beer, and spirits.
The Members' Dining Room Today
Eventually, food service became more formal when it moved to rooms H-117-120, which included two dining rooms, a bar, and dumbwaiters to ferry food from the basement level kitchen. Today, the Members’ Dining Room continues to operate out of the same rooms used since 1858, when Speaker James Orr directed that the House use them to offer “wholesome refreshments.” The Dining Room has also provided a social space throughout the years, where Members meet with one another and with constituents.
The two largest dining rooms are named for Ernest S. Petinaud and Charles E. Bennett. Ernest Petinaud immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in the 1920s, when he first worked in the Members’ Dining Room as a busboy. He retired as maitre d’ in 1973, and the space on which he left his mark was named for him. Representative Charles E. Bennett worked in the Capitol almost as long, serving 44 years, outlasting any other Floridian Representative in the House. The chandeliers he donated to the House of Representatives in 1991 decorate the room that bears his name.
Lunch on Your Boss
Bill Goodwin began his service as a Page with the U.S. House of Representatives in 1953. In this interview he recounts his memories of arriving at the Capitol and dining with Representative George Dondero in the Members' Dining Room.