Business lunch buffet

Big tech employees must eat lunch with locals, say San Fran authorities

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According to CBS San Francisco, San Francisco lawmakers have put forward legislation which would do away with the lavish free lunches acknowledged as a perk of working for Silicon Valley tech giants.

Big tech companies such as Google and Facebook are known for offering employee perks in order to attract the world’s best technical talent, including free transport, top-notch facilities and food. The lavish lifestyle associated with work at a big tech company was parodied in Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle.

Some companies make arrangements with local cafes such that employees can be given tokens to exchange for meals. However, nearby restaurant and café owners complain that they struggle to compete with subsidised or complementary catering provided by several large tech companies and that it is affecting their business.

“You can’t compete with free. Free food is a wonderful amenity, but it doesn’t do anything to extend the community around it,” Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, told CBS San Francisco.

As a result, San Francisco Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin have introduced legislation forbidding the inclusion of in-house cafeterias in new office buildings and on tech campuses, forcing employees to leave the workplace for lunch. According to Safai, the city authority has the legal right to ban the building of offices and campuses with integrated cafeterias via a zoning amendment.

“This is the beginning of a conversation,” said Supervisor Safai. “We think it’s [an] appropriate conversation to have now. We absolutely have that authorisation.”

He told the San Francisco Chronicle that: “We don’t want employees biking or driving into their office, staying there all day long and going home. This is about getting people out of their office, interacting with the community and adding to the vibrancy of the community.”

If the legislation is passed into law, it will only affect new companies and builds; the 51 employee cafeterias belonging to Twitter, Uber and other San Francisco-based companies will be unaffected.

Meanwhile, companies have been banned from fully subsidising meals for employees within their offices in Mountain View, which will become host to Facebook’s headquarters this autumn. The policy was introduced due to similar concerns by local restaurant and café owners.

The proposal is the latest case of San Francisco residents’ dissatisfaction with the arrival of big tech companies and their often unwelcome innovations, such as electric scooters and delivery robots. In 2013, local activists began blockading buses used by Google and other companies to carry employees to work; these bus protests spread throughout California and beyond.

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