The stereotypical computer geek works obsessively and eats crap, coding into the wee hours fueled by a diet of caffeine and junk food. If they think at all about food it’s to use a little multivariate calculus to optimize the pan dimensions for a box of brownie mix.
We got it half right. They do work long and strange hours, never saying no to a good all-night hackathon, but it’s not all instant ramen and Jolt cola. Not by a long shot.
Silicon Valley has a long tradition of feeding its employees. It dates back to the 1950’s when Hewlett-Packard was the place to work with its free snacks and company picnics. In the dot-com boom years of the 1980’s youthful entrepreneurs created a giddy post-college world of soda-stocked mini fridges and Friday beer blasts. These days it’s more cruise ship than dorm room, with midnight buffets of grilled-to-order kobe beef burgers and 3 AM French crêperie carts, and nobody does it bigger or better than the Valley titans Facebook and Google.
Google set the new standard when it hired the former chef to the Grateful Dead to oversee two dozen cafés and dining rooms scattered throughout its Mountain View campus. There’s tabletop hotpots and dim sum at the Asian-themed Jia, Basque-style tapas at Café Pintxo, and roasted black bass with parsley pesto and bread crumbs at the haute cuisine Café Seven, rumored to be the best of the Googleplex. There’s a classic American diner, a Mexican taqueria, a massive salad bar with count ’em three different roasted beet salads, and eateries dedicated to vegans and raw foodists. The grounds are planted with pick-your-own organic produce, and you can always pop out for a wheatgrass shot or roasted soybean snack mix from the numerous and strategically-located juice bars and kitchenettes. Free to all who work there, it’s estimated that Google spends an annual $7,500 to feed each employee.
Online, Facebook’s ‘like’ button is duking it out with Google+. In employment, the two compete fiercely for talent. And on their nearby campuses, Facebook is challenging Google’s long-standing claim to food service supremacy.
Facebook hired away one of Google’s top chefs to overhaul its previously humdrum cuisine. The kitchens have moved toward mostly organic ingredients from sustainable producers, and frequently turn mealtimes into themed extravaganzas like a recent Spanish lunch of braised rabbit with muscatel, cinnamon, and fresh cherries, Homer-pleasing deep-fried pork chops for a dinner based on The Simpsons TV show, and an all-chocolate menu with chile-ricotta-cocoa ravioli and asparagus with chocolate vinaigrette. There are ‘microkitchens’ scattered throughout the Facebook campus stocked like the 7-Eleven of a computer programmer’s dreams with Coke and Red Bull, Clif bars and fruit roll-ups, string cheese, Kit Kat bars, Reeses Cups, five different brands of yogurt, chocolate chip cookies, and Froot Loops. Serious Facebook foodies can explore the culinary world by interning in a company kitchen.
Part employee perk, part self-serving productivity booster
On-site gyms, dry cleaners, massages, car washes, haircuts—free and copious food is just one on a long list of fringe benefits. They all fit into the companies’ strategies to strip away anything that might get in the way of the overlong workday that’s part of the tech industry culture.
Don’t you want to know how you can eat there?
Make a friend.
Both Google and Facebook employees can bring guests.
Send a resumé.
Job interviews are nearly always scheduled around lunchtime so that the companies can flaunt this particular employee benefit.
Become a shareholder.
It just takes one share of Google stock (currently trading at about $650) to score an invite to their annual shareholder meeting. It’s held at the Googleplex, and shareholders are invited for that day to dine on campus.
Facebook’s stock is expected to begin trading in May. The company has yet to disclose the specifics of its shareholder benefits.