(ps sorry in advance for giant wall of text… just trying to get my thoughts in order)
I’m working up some scenes set in a cafeteria on a small, obscure military base, contemporary timeline. The base is one of those sci-fi staples: a mothballed post-Cold War underground setup, repurposed for a secret international project, blah blah blah. (The location of the base is a running joke, even most of the people who work there don’t know exactly where it is.) It’s probably got some radioactive missiles laying around in storage, and rumor has it the cockroaches are attracted to red flags.
About 200 people work there, including soldiers, scientists, and maintenance crew. Most personnel work the “daytime” schedule, a few are on duty during nights and weekends, although it all looks the same underground.
My experiences of dining in large groups mostly consist of school and summer camp, so I’m wondering what (if anything) is different on a base. (For starters, do they even call it a mess? Or is that just the navy?)
I understand a lot of military bases these days hire a contractor to do the food, but since this base is a secret, everybody who works there is part of the organization, even the cooks. So let’s just pretend it’s a little old school.
What kind of food is served? I’m sure it depends on budget and availability, but I’m picturing dishes with cheap ingredients that are easy to produce in large quantity: eg casseroles, rice and beans, etc. Is the food the same a lot?
How are tasks assigned re: prep, service, and cleanup? Does everybody serve themselves buffet-style and clear their own dishes? Is there a “lunch lady” who doles out servings as you pass by her with a plate? Is there a protocol for cutting the line based on rank?
Do you have to pay for the food, or is it included in your wage? What about specialty items like candy and alcohol? Would those be sold at a separate place?
A possible problem I may bring up during the story: different people on base have different nutritional needs. For example, the active soldiers need to eat a lot of high-calorie food, but the computer tech guys are more sedentary and they’ll get fat if they’re not eating a lot of vegetables. How do militaries normally handle this problem?