One of the perks of being a Slovenian MP is also having access to what is popularely known as the “parliament kitchen”. Today a canteen, it was a full-blown restaurant until a couple of years ago, but still retains some of the best cooks and a very experienced chef.
The food in the parliament kitchen (source)
But apart from being good (and I mean really good), the food in there is dirt cheap. And it is precisely that fact which periodically draws cries of outrage by journalists, blogers, Facebook users and other fine people of this country. I mean, they do have a point. Three-course menu for 4 euros? Coffe and a sandwich for 1.20 eiuros (approx.)?
Compare that with some 12+ euros for a two-course quickie in a nearby diner, or 2.20 euros for an espresso and croissant pengovsky pays almost every morning in one of his watering holes and you start thinking someone is charging dumping prices. The usual argument goes along the lines of MPs earning some 3000+ euros monthly for just sitting there and pressing buttons, so why the fuck shouldn’t they pay proper prices for their food? In the eyes of many this is just another example of MPs making their life comfortable whitout giving a pair of dingo’s kindeys about anyone else.
While popular, the reasoning is both wrong and demagogical. Namely, the “parliament kitchen” is not suppose to make profit. It is not a company but a service the institution provides to the people working there. Also, the staff are on the parliament’s payroll and are not employed by the kitchen itself. In short, their salaries are financed by the budget and not by income the kitchen makes. Therefore it is only correct, that meal prices in there are lower, as they only need to cover the actual cost of production, and do not include labour cost nor a profit margin.
In fact… If the prices in the parliament kitchen represent the basic cost of meal production, it is entirely reasonable to ask how big a profit margin bars and restaurants really charge. Take coffee, for example, since prices of a single cup of coffee very wildly in Ljubljana. Naturally, in “normal” bars and restaurants prices include the cost of labour as well. The hourly wage is around four euros, and the lowest price of an espresso is around one euro. Knowing that the production cost of a cup of espresso in the parliament kitchen in half a euro, we can roughly calculate that a waiter has to serve eight espressos every hour to make his or her hourly wage. Anything beyond that goes to the owner. And that’s only selling espressos. If you consider food (normal price 12 euros), the profit margin is even greater, as a watier would have to sell one menu every two hours to make his wage. Anything beyond that again goes to the owner.
So – it’s not that the parliament kitchen is dirt chip. Rather it is the fact that bars and restaurants are charging attrocious prices for product and service that often leave a lot to be desired. And one more thing – contrary to popular belief, the parliament kitchen does not serve only ninety elected representatives of the people. It also feeds almost four hundred parliament employees and most of them don’t make 3000 euros per month. Besides, most MPs don’t eat in there. Not classy enough. They rather go to the nearby Maxim, where their wallets will endure a proper degree of abuse.