Silicon Valley bans Facebook from giving staff free food


Something for the weekend: Silicon Valley, the US home to technology giants Google and LinkedIn, has banned social media organisation Facebook from providing free food on-site for its 2,000 employees.

City officials have implemented the unusual mandate, which aims to generate business for local restaurants, in preparation for when the organisation’s employees move into a new office at the San Antonio Center in Mountain View later this year.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Silicon Valley city officials and Facebook reached an agreement in 2014, long before the new offices became a reality, stipulating that tenants of the San Antonio Center development cannot subsidise employee meals on-site by more than 50%. The only alternative, therefore, is for Facebook to fully fund meals at local restaurants that are open to the public.

The agreement was enforced after Silicon Valley restaurants complained that free meals at Google had damaged their business. The ban on on-site canteens also aims to encourage employees to integrate with the local community, rather than simply staying in their offices during the day.

Facebook employees may struggle to get to grips with the old-fashioned packed lunch moving forwards, as free food at the organisation is currently a popular employee benefit. Many employees, according to The Guardian, joke about the ‘Facebook 15’, referring to the pounds of weight gained by staff thanks to the abundance of free foodie treats.

San Francisco is also looking to implement a similar proposal, as city officials suggested a ban on on-site workplace cafeterias on Tuesday 24 July 2018. If the mandate is approved, this would mean city planning laws would be altered to ban workplace canteens in any new developments.

Employers could instead consider giving employees vouchers to buy food from local restaurants, to allow them to still cover the costs of staff meals.

Gwyneth Borden, executive director at restaurant trade group Golden Gate Restaurant Association, told The Guardian: “It’s great we’ve had an amazing economic boom where jobs have located into San Francisco over the past several years, but many of these new jobs come with full-scale kitchen operations that make it difficult for restaurants to have a good lunch business and find [employees].

“This is not a prohibition on catering or providing free food. Yes, we want the jobs but the whole point is [the city gets] more foot traffic, restaurant and retail patrons and overall vitality in the streets. But if people are bussed in, go to work and never leave the office, the effect isn’t felt.”

Here at Employee Benefits, we rather like the sound of employers opting to provide free food options for their staff. As we’re based in Soho, there are certainly plenty of local eateries we would love to try out in our lunch hour without breaking the bank…