Food wars in Silicon Valley

“I was at Microsoft the other day to have lunch with a friend who works there.  I had a Kobe Beef hamburger, it was really delicious.”  This is an actual quote from one of my friends, and something absolutely not surprising to overhear in Silicon Valley.  Gourmet food is a key way that Silicon Valley firms compete to attract and retain employees.

This situation is the confluence between two special characteristics of Silicon Valley.  One is that people in this area tend to be devoted foodies, living as they do near rich farmland that produces an abundance of fruit and produce, and also in a concentration of talented chefs such as Alice Waters of the famed Chez Panisse.  The second is that Silicon Valley’s tech firms have voracious appetites for talented tech employees, and will do anything they can to get an edge in the competition for the best staff.

Google was the firm who really upped the ante when it came to food offerings for employees.  The founders decided that they wanted restaurant-quality food, and hired excellent chefs to prepare fresh offerings. There are now 29 different restaurants and cafes at the search firm’s headquarters in Mountain View, serving everything from freshly rolled sushi to pork tacos, using organic and local ingredients.  One of the chefs left to start a local restaurant serving the same food he dished up at Google, to rave reviews from the critics.

Other firms have now followed suit, and offering delicious free food to employees is now considered de rigueur among tech firms.  Although not everyone provides breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks like Google does, free lunch and snacks are very common, and many firms also provide either breakfast or dinner.  Smaller firms that can’t afford to have their own kitchen facilities may have a catering company bring in food.

Firms compete to have attractive food offerings, and to cater to the many food preferences of employees.  Special diets, such as vegetarian vega, gluten-free, or Paleo, are available.  To please the many employees of Indian or Asian origin, foods from those cultures are often offered.   If the meals are not free, they are usually highly subsidized and keep to the high gourmet quality that employees in Silicon Valley have come to expect. The following gives an idea of the gourmet level of food that Silicon Valley companies routinely provide for employees:

  • Facebook: Braised shortribs, cinnamon toffee muffins, steamed snapper, pork belly BLTs
  • Linkedin: herbed spiced turkey breast with a saffron cream sauce, Brazilian vegetable tofu curry, vegetarian moussaka
  • Zynga: chicken vindaloo, beef tenderloin with fig balsamic reduction, lobster mushroom bisque, chicken mole, fried plantains
  • Apple Computer: wood-fired pizzas, made-to-order smoothies, soba noodles, panna cotta

On a typical recent day at one of my clients’ offices, we sat down in the kitchen area next to a wall of baskets offering approximately 50 different snacks, ranging from fresh fruit to beef jerky to granola bars to dried fruit and nuts.  Periodically an employee would stop by to grab something.  Then at noon, everyone in the firm lined up to get some of the catered lunch of the day — this time it was barbecue with all the accompaniments.

There’s a method behind the madness in offering such culinary riches that goes beyond recruiting.  By providing good food onsite, companies discourage employees from going offsite for meals which wastes time. When snacks and dinner are available, employees are likely to work longer hours. And when staff are well fed, they are likely to be happier and more productive.  Indeed, the way to an employee’s heart is through their stomach.


Japan Intercultural Consulting                                                                                                                  


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