The Bay Area city of Mountain View is effectively banning Facebook from providing staff with a free cafeteria at a soon-to-open office. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the city is banning companies from fully subsidizing meals for their employees, in a move likely designed to help boost small businesses in the city. In other words, the idea is that tech workers who can stay inside for a free lunch aren’t likely to spend their hard-earned dollars at nearby restaurants.
The rule — which was actually passed in 2014 — states that companies cannot routinely fund more than 50 percent of employees’ meals, but it can fully subsidize meals if they come from open-to-the-public restaurants. Mountain View is already home to Google’s headquarters, and it’s likely that the tech giant’s policy of providing lavish free meals prompted the rule. The search giant itself is not subject to the ruling, which only applies the Village at San Antonio Center, a development that houses a large WeWork space, which Facebook is taking over.
With the move, Mountain View is trying to prod tech giants to be less insular and to engage with local businesses and residents — something that the city knows all too well, given Google’s plus-sized presence on its territory. When a company serves three full meals a day to staff, with plenty of choices to make sure they’re not bored, it seems to get a little close to a monopoly — especially given that the flashy on-campus cafeterias don’t just serve mediocre food court slop; they serve food that would genuinely compete with small businesses that are much more limited in terms of resources. Those against the proliferation of giant tech-corp campuses might argue that free lunches resembles another step towards a two-tiered society in the Bay Area, where tech workers get their own hermetically-sealed everything, from gyms to restaurants to transit.
Mountain View required Facebook not to fully subsidize meals at the company’s new office there in order to support local businesses. Cities are requiring tech companies to be better local citizens. https://t.co/FiRjPU5PJV— hk (@hassankhan) July 23, 2018
Then there’s the flip side (mostly on Reddit) that Mountain View is being protectionist and trying to force companies to cut benefits. “Maybe restaurants should try a little harder and just earn tens of millions of dollars per day,” such a libertarian might say. All this ignores the obvious fact that nothing is stopping Facebook from providing free food from outside, as long as those restaurants are open to the non-tech normals, so such an argument is more about tech companies being allowed to own everything, rather than employees being guaranteed a meal.
In any case, the new office is not a massive campus isolated on a distant plot of land, but rather, a pair of eight-story buildings. And since the Village development is mixed-use, there are dining options within close walking distance. It just means that — oh no — Facebook staff sent to the new office will have to actually talk to a non-employee of the company to obtain a meal.
• Mountain View’s unusual rule for Facebook: No free food [SF Chronicle]
• In twist, Facebook agrees to occupy all of WeWork’s largest-ever outpost [Silicon Valley Business Journal]