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San Francisco Bay Area to ban free food at Facebook, tech companies



New Facebook HQ
Facebook employees eat for free at the company’s
headquarters in San Francisco, California.


  • Mountain View, a city in Silicon Valley, says that a
    new office development — where Facebook
    will move to this fall — will not be allowed to have a
    cafeteria with free food for employees.
  • The legislation aims to increase business for local
    food retailers.
  • San Francisco — home to Twitter — is
    proposing a similar rule that would ban new workplace
    cafeterias for the same reason.

It’s no secret that Facebook employees love their office meals.
On Instagram, there are countless photos
of free meals — from sushi
to tacos
to coffee
 — served at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park,

But come this fall, when the tech giant moves to a new Mountain
View office complex called the Village, that perk will no longer

That’s because the city is prohibiting companies from
fully subsidizing meals inside the Village, a rule that could
spread to other Bay Area cities in the future. On Tuesday, San
Francisco legislators proposed a similar ban, the Examiner

If passed, it would adjust zoning laws to bar new
construction of on-site workplace cafeterias. (The ban wouldn’t
be retroactive, however, so on-site food at companies like Google
and Twitter would still be available.)

The Village is part of the larger San Antonio Center
development, which features a number of restaurants open to the

Mountain View passed the project-specific requirement in
2014, but as the San Francisco Chronicle notes,
the decision attracted little attention at the time because its
construction still had years to go. 

Facebook declined to comment on the ban, but spokesperson
Jamil Walker added that the company found the new location
attractive due to its proximity to public transit, housing,
shops, and restaurants. 

In both San Francisco and Mountain View, supporters of the
regulations argue that the cafeterias take away business from
local restaurants and cafés, because they discourage workers from
leaving their offices.

In San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood, local food retailers
have especially struggled to gain foot traffic due to the
prevalence of free workplace meals, according to Gwyneth Borden,
Executive Director of the Golden Gate Restaurant
, an organization supporting
the rule.

“Restaurants often provide the anchor to get people on the
street, and while they’re out, they patron other retail,” Borden
told Business Insider. “While there will always be competition
for the food dollar, it goes without saying that it’s hard to
compete with free.”

Twitter, which employs around
2,000 people
in San Francisco and is one of the biggest tech
employers in Mid-Market, opened
its headquarters in the neighborhood in 2012. Since the new rule
wouldn’t apply to existing on-site food, it would only affect
Twitter — and other tech companies like it — if the company
decided to expand its footprint in the city. Twitter
declined to comment regarding the proposed

Some San Francisco residents have argued on
Twitter that the regulation wouldn’t achieve what it intends,
since it would only technically ban on-site cafeterias. Companies
could still strike up deals with off-site caterers to feed
their employees.

Regardless, supporters of the proposal argue that local
brick-and-mortar retailers are hurting, and any changes would
help them. Borden added that several restauranteurs that have
tried to revitalize the Mid-Market food scene have closed in
recent years. As Eater has also
pointed out
, it can take hundreds of thousands of dollars
just to get a restaurant off the ground.

“With food being provided for free … there’s no competition in
terms of choice nor a reason for employees to leave their
building,” Borden said. “Perhaps that’s great social engineering
to get employees to work longer hours and never leave their
offices, but it doesn’t do much to support the city around them.”

This latest proposal from San Francisco follows
the city’s recent call
for tech companies to help with rising
housing prices, which are exacerbated in part by the local tech
industry’s growth. In November, the city of San Francisco will

vote on a business tax for large companies
 which would
go toward projects that aim to address homelessness.

Mountain View will have a similar initiative on the November
ballot. There, the tax would go primarily toward transit
projects, and a sliver of the revenue would help finance
affordable housing developments.

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