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Why San Francisco Bay Area cities may ban free food at tech companies



silicon valley homeless
this photo taken Oct. 5, 2017, a man skates past a row of RVs
where people live and sleep in the heart of Silicon Valley in
Mountain View, California.

Marcio Jose

  • Mountain View, a city in Silicon Valley, will not allow
    a new office development where Facebook is
    set to move this fall to have a cafeteria with free food for

    The restriction 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. 
  • Harry Glaser, cofounder of the Silicon Valley-based
    data visualization company Periscope Data, says that
    the ban could be a good idea, arguing that tech companies have
    a responsibility to engage with and support their

When Facebook moves to a new office complex in Mountain View
called the Village, workers will not be able to enjoy a
beloved perk
: cafeterias with unlimited breakfast, lunch, and

The city prohibits companies from fully subsidizing meals in the
Village, and the rule could spread to other Bay Area cities in
the future. Free food is a popular benefit at tech companies
throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

This week, San Francisco legislators proposed a similar
the San Francisco Examiner reported.
If passed, it would
adjust zoning laws to ban 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

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

Harry Glaser, a cofounder of data visualization platform startup
Periscope Data,
argues that banning workplace cafeterias in the Bay Area might
not be such a bad idea. 

Tech workers have a tendency to live in a bubble, making it easy
for them to not engage with their city, he said.

“In San Francisco, the supervisors are worried about what they
call ‘app culture,’ which is: tech employees take a private bus
to work, get off the bus, eat lunch in the cafeteria at work, get
back on their bus and go home, and then order dinner from an
app,” Glaser told Business Insider. “And so while they’re living
in a community, they’re not engaging in that community, and I do
think that’s unfortunate.”

While Periscope Data doesn’t have an on-site cafeteria, the
company caters all of its food from local businesses, which he
sees as a better alternative to hiring an in-house chef or
working with a non-local supplier. Glaser added that he thinks
it’s positive that the Bay Area is having an open conversation
about how tech companies can affect their cities, for better or
for worse.

“I do think it’s reasonable for the community to expect us to
engage,” he said, whether that’s voting, volunteering, or buying
lunch at an independent café down the street.

Mountain View’s legislation — and the proposal in San Francisco —
is part of a larger debate about how large tech companies may
have contributed to urban issues, like homelessness, high housing
prices, and traffic. Mountain
and San
California, are now considering “head taxes,”
which would tax big companies based on their number of employees.
The revenue would go toward projects that address transportation
and housing isssues.

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

Twitter, which as of 2015
employed about 2,000 people in San Francisco
and is one of
the biggest tech employers in the Mid-Market area,
opened its headquarters
in the neighborhood in 2012. Since
the new rule wouldn’t apply to existing on-site cafeterias, it
would affect Twitter — and other tech companies like it — only if
it decided to expand its footprint in the city. Twitter declined
to comment on the proposed legislation.

Facebook also declined to comment on the ban, but a
representative, Jamil Walker, said the company found its new
Mountain View location attractive because of the proximity to
public transit, housing, shops, and restaurants.

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