State Spending on Catering and Food: Reasonable?

September 1, 2016

Investigative Reports

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By PHILLIP CEASE

lunch restaurant

A look at who you’re feeding, and how much it costs

In review of state agency expenses, The Nerve found that in fiscal year 2015-2016 the state spent over $989,000 on catering and meals. This total does not include charges from the S.C. Public Service Authority, the S.C. Education Lottery Commission, the S.C. Jobs-Economic Development Authority, and state-supported colleges and universities. (Spending at the latter agencies – colleges and universities – is available on a separate website, here.)

Eateries range from Beezers, a downtown Columbia sandwich shop, to Blue Marlin, an upscale Columbia restaurant whose offerings include “succulent shrimp, oysters, crabs, crawfish and catfish.”

At both Beezers and Blue Marlin the State Department of Education spent the most – $720 last year at Beezers and $408 at Blue Marlin. In fact, the Department of Education alone spent $170,669 in fiscal year 2015-16 on meals –  over 17 percent of the total state spending on catering and dining.

In one day (September 14, 2015), the Museum Commission, the state agency tasked with overseeing the State Museum, spent $5,000 at the swanky Main Street restaurant Bourbon. (From the restaurant’s website: “Bourbon is a whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole restaurant located just steps from the South Carolina State Capitol … We specialize in bourbon, whiskey, craft cocktails and the flavors of the Louisiana Bayou.”

On another day (October 23, 2015), Vocational Rehabilitation (an agency that “prepares and assists eligible South Carolinians with disabilities to achieve and maintain competitive employment”) spent $644 at Medieval Times. In addition to food, Medieval Times offers live “epic battles of steel and steed.” Patrons enjoy food “the King has commanded his royal chefs to cook” and “feast on garlic bread, tomato bisque soup, roasted chicken, sweet buttered corn, herb-basted potatoes, the pastry of the Castle.” Tickets start at $53.95 per person for general admission and go all the way up to $75.95 per person for the “King’s Royalty” seats. The agency also spent $231 at the South Carolina Aquarium on July 13, 2015 and $225 at Ripley’s Aquarium on April 7, 2016. All of these expenses were classified as catered meals.

Lizards Thicket, a restaurant chain that serves up country cooking – “Country cookin’ makes ya good lookin’” – made the most off the state last year, bringing in $131,421.44. That’s a lot of well-fed and attractive government employees.

To find out more about who taxpayers fed recently, click here.

Phillip Cease is director of research at the South Carolina Policy Council