Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. She also has a folder full of dog GIFs and uses them liberally on Twitter at @lhockenson.
When it comes to the high-flying perks at the top companies of Silicon Valley, nothing is more salivating than the food. Major tech campuses scramble to get their employees the best of the best in food and drink, often three square meals a day, for no extra cost. In short, it’s a level of workplace heaven that few can only hope to achieve, and one that has friends of friends asking whether they can bring any leftovers home in a doggie bag.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that companies are happily willing to cater to the gastronomic needs of their workers, because it actually helps their cause in the long run. After all, a happy worker is a more productive worker, and providing a steady stream of meals and snacks ensures that no one gets caught in the unforgiving office hunger spiral of hate that can consume a large chunk of otherwise decent work time. Free food is a glorious perk, and we should all be so lucky.
But, if you had an all-access pass to the Silicon Valley cafeteria culture and a gun to your head, where should you pull up a chair and affix your napkin bib? The Next Web has taken a survey of some of the best eats in town to get an insider’s opinion, including anecdotes from those who work there. Figure out which one suits your taste best and start practicing your ninja skills, because you can’t get reservations for these top grub spots.
It’s pretty much statistically impossible to eat your way through all of the free food offerings at each of the 29 restaurants and cafes located in the search giant’s Mountain View headquarters (not to mention the conveniently placed and enticingly stocked micro-kitchens that house everything from chips to dried fruit to chocolate), but Googlers are happy to try.
“I’m aggressively pursuing the Google 15 right now,” said one Googler, alluding to the multitude of offerings that are scattered about the company’s main campus.
It’s easy to get caught up in the options at the Googleplex, due to the sheer diversity of food cuisines and diet styles available. Employees can munch on bowls of ramen, gnaw on sliders and even partake in pork tacos. The company is able to produce the volume in large part due to its fully-employed team of executive chefs, who run the company’s food endeavors like clockwork. In addition to providing a variety of cuisines, Google’s food staff incorporates local and sustainable food throughout its offerings and encourages employees to go for healthier options via a “stoplight system,” which codes healthy foods green, less-than-healthy foods yellow, and the even-less-healthy foods red.
So what’s the most popular joint in the Googleplex? An insider said that it’s difficult to get a seat at Long Life Cafe, which slings handmade sushi rolls and other East Asian delights in the middle of campus. With maki rolls that include real crab and freshly stir-fried noodles, the restaurant is one to steer clear of during high-traffic times — or suffer the consequences of the long line.
With just an ancillary look at the culinary team’s expansive Facebook profile, it’s hard not to drool at the options served from the company’s two major cafeteria spaces on its year-old Menlo Park campus. Braised shortribs, cinnamon toffee muffins, steamed snapper and pork belly BLTs grace the menus that are carefully crafted by the company’s so-called “Culinary Overlord,” Josef Desimone, but the healthy stuff gets ample love, too.
“Tofu scramble in the morning, for the win!” exclaims one happy employee whose culinary choices would be approved by the health-conscious Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook’s cafeterias not only follow a similar stoplight system protocol to keep employees eating right, but it also offers mainstay vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options for those with dietary restrictions as well as a conscious foray into locally grown and sustainable food.
But the quality gourmet doesn’t end in the traditional cafeteria space. Facebook’s campus also has its own mini town center of sorts, specifically designed for a more downtown-esque feel. There, employees can order classic hamburgers, southern-style barbecue, and custom burritos, among others. The company also embraces the influence of outside vendors and chefs, recently hosting an authentic summer luau with a pig roast and incorporating a local coffee shop to bring artisanal roasted beans to campus.
Amidst all the options, Facebook’s employees also tend to prefer East Asian lunches — forming crowds when the cafeterias offer Thai and Chinese cuisine. Due to demand, the company is excited to roll out Fuki Sushi, a new fixture in the campus square that would offer sit-down and takeout Japanese cuisine. While it will cost employees a little extra (Fuki Sushi is a local vendor and will operate with a subsidized price scale), there’s a good chance it’ll be just as big of a hit as it is at the Googleplex.
An underrated fixture on the Silicon Valley food scene due to its interesting catering style: Instead of serving a fixed menu with an in-house staff, LinkedIn instead works with local vendors to come in and cater more than 850 meals that are served in the office every day.
“LinkedIn’s food program is diverse by design,” says Michael Nguyen, LinkedIn’s resident Food Guy. “Our employees ask for a range of dietary and flavor options, so we feature an ever-changing lineup of local restaurants to keep the food exciting, healthy and tasty.”
Vendors are hand-picked via reviews and local area reputation, and employees offer feedback to ensure that the food they love the most will come back around another time. With a handful of restaurants on rotation, the last two weeks of meals at the company’s San Francisco office has included herbed spiced turkey breast with a saffron cream sauce, Brazilian vegetable tofu curry, three-cheese enchiladas and vegetarian moussaka. In addition to the catering, LinkedIn pays attention to special “food calendar” days, such as National Cupcake Day and National Mac and Cheese Day, and tends to coordinate their food offerings with the spirit of the season; the company even ensures that kid-friendly cuisine is served on Take Your Child to Work Day.
But one of the biggest hits at the company has been Food Truck Friday, a weekly survey of local food truck options that commandeer the office’s lunchtime meals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest hit in the food trucks have been ones that specialize in Asian cuisine, such as CurryUp Now, Sanguchon and An the Go.
Though not as big in stature as the other three companies surveyed, this mobile payments company has received raves from insiders who appreciate the company’s smart work with vendors. And, while the company does not offer free food in their perks program, the meals are often so good that employees are happy to fork over the cash — in Square payment, of course.
“They seem to place a focus on healthier foods for the most part,” says one insider. “Also, their espresso bar is killer!”
Much like LinkedIn, Square works with outside vendors to cater the companies three daily meals. In addition to regularly featuring Square merchants, employees get to plan a special meal once a month with a local vendor in the area. Some of the cuisine offerings, which also are allergen-free and cater to a variety of diets, include Memphis-style barbecue, grilled steak, polenta and a fully-stocked taco bar.
As for favorite cuisines, Square’s Lindsay Weise says that the company pays attention to what flies off the shelves.
“Over time, we’ve gotten a feel for the type of food items that are popular with Squares,” Weise says. “For example, we tend to like brussel sprouts, grilled chicken, tacos, Indian cuisine, and cookies.”
Image Credit: Saul Loeb/Getty Images
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