At Google, Hours Are Long, But the Consomme Is Free
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. --
Foie gras egg rolls. Just-shucked oysters. Bay scallop seviche. This is the lunch menu at Google. And it is free if you work there. That goes for breakfast and dinner, too.
The world's most pampered employees feast on meals prepared by chefs hired from some of the top Bay Area restaurants. Just before noon, workers are e-mailed the daily menus at 11 themed "cafes" scattered across the company's suburban campus.
One cafe (don't call it a cafeteria) features fresh sushi every day; another, fresh-squeezed juice and "raw" food. One serves a rotating menu from each of the seven continents, another, food from different regions of the United States. Depending on which cafe you choose, lunch can transport you -- or at least your stomach -- to an exotic locale far from the bland office park: Will today be Indian tarka dal or Mexican carnitas tacos? Basque tapas or Beijing-style braised ribs?
I know what you're thinking: We should all be so lucky to eat like the kings at Google. There must be a catch. And there is. In fact, there's more than one.
As The Washington Post's reporter covering Google, I had heard rave reviews about its kitchens well before I sampled the food myself. After the company's skyrocketing stock price, the food at Google is the second-favorite topic among journalists, consultants and others who have been there. Dare ask an employee about it, and they'll go on and on until you are sorry you did. You can hear it in their voice: Nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah! I eat at Google!
Like my own employer, most large U.S. companies still operate cafeterias that offer a mainly practical appeal: proximity, not quality. For years, firms and universities have used standard buy-in-bulk food products that deliver to the masses but often disappoint the palate.
For the 10,000 employees of Google, most of whom work at the Mountain View campus, the food has become deeply entwined with the company culture and identity. The search engine, which prides itself as an innovator in technology, takes the same approach with its food: It won't settle for ordinary mashed potatoes. No; Google supports local farming, organic produce, hormone-free meats and healthful eating.
"The quality of the food is almost unbelievably good. You tell people, and they don't believe you," said Charles Haynes, an engineering manager.
Another Googler, 29-year-old Brett Lider, is such a fan of the food that he has taken more than 100 digital photos of his meals and posted them to his blog and Flickr.com, the photo-sharing Web site at http:/
"I have a rule: I don't eat more than two meals a day at Google," Lider said. "I don't want to get sick of it. Also, I live in San Francisco, and I love my restaurants there. I like to save one meal a day for my home town."
Now for the catch. Not leaving for meals means the employees work longer hours. Executives are honest about the fact that their goal is to keep workers productive. Google would not reveal a total figure, but executives said they spend $10 per person per day for food, plus they pick up the tab for a significant number of guests and contract workers, meaning the corporate cost easily amounts to more than $100,000 a day.