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Troubled Life of a Tech Company Chef
September 11, 2012 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Hungry? A former Google chef says, “They had no budget, it was foie gras and Kobe steaks every day.” The Semi-Charmed Life Of A Tech Company Chef
posted by wallstreet1929 (90 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
You mean "Kobe" beef?
posted by jessssse at 12:38 PM on September 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile, we had to look under our car mat for change last night so we could eat dinner.

To the bastille, I say.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:41 PM on September 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm starting to get rather hungry and this is making me all kinds of angry.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:42 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Foie gras, Kobe beef, and undoubtedly unlimited amounts of coffee or red bull?

I really pity the custodians who had to clean the tech company bathrooms.
posted by muddgirl at 12:45 PM on September 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


And it's all free? I worked at a place awhile back that put a bowl of fruit in the breakroom every so often and I thought that was pretty nice myself. There was a cafeteria on the ground floor - Sodexho, I think. The food there wasn't bad but it sure as hell wasn't free.
posted by jquinby at 12:47 PM on September 11, 2012


Sure, we don't have a free cafeteria at work here (or regular bathroom cleanings... but that's another story), but at least I can leave at 4:30 every day without dirty looks from everyone.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:51 PM on September 11, 2012 [22 favorites]


Interesting that there's no free lunch at Apple.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:58 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can leave at 4:30 every day without dirty looks from everyone.
And that's the exchange. Sure you can have quality food, but it's mostly to keep you from leaving the campus. Same with the free laundry, bus service, child care. They want you to stay there. If you do the math, they save money simply by letting the people work 12 hour days with no offsite lunch break.

I value my time. While I give it to my employer, I do so grudgingly, for it is a transaction that cannot be reversed, and payed with something that is a fixed quantity, of unknown amount.
posted by zabuni at 1:07 PM on September 11, 2012 [41 favorites]


I can't leave my place of my employment at 4:30 without dirty looks from everyone, and the food sure as fuck isn't free.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:12 PM on September 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


Interesting that there's no free lunch at Apple.

That's because there's no such thing as a free lunch at Apple.
posted by pmbuko at 1:12 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I actually have a lot of respect for Apple's position. This is a big boy world, and big boys pay for their own food.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:13 PM on September 11, 2012


From what I understand, Google doesn't pay particularly high wages, and the hours are long, so there's that.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:14 PM on September 11, 2012


The quote about Google is exaggerated. During Charlie Ayer's reign when I was there 2001–2006 there absolutely was a budget, albeit a generous one. Charlie was quite clever in working it. So we did have amazing Beef Wellington once, inbetween the more ordinary chicken breast, tofu salads, etc. And foie gras would never have made it; Charlie got all sorts of shit for serving farmed venison, much less something produced by gravage (so yes, a slightly downscale Wellington). But he sourced great salmon, amazing fresh vegetables, etc. Mostly the food was so good because the chefs worked their asses off cooking it fresh. I'd say only a quarter of the employees appreciated how good they had it.

And make no mistake, the current state of tech companies bringing in free lunch for employees is an amazing perq. Most of the Bay Area tech company chefs worked at Google at one point and several of them have gotten quite entrepreneurial setting up catering companies. A whole industry of tech nerds are eating well thanks to them. Last I heard it worked out well for the companies, too, it keeps people at work an extra hour a day and avoids people breaking out of the work mindset. It's a wonderful privilege for tech employees, make no mistake, but it's what the market bears.

BTW, Chef Charlie's cookbook about Google is pretty good for comforting, tasty food that's not absurd to make for yourself. Unfortunately I don't think his bacon cheeseburger soup recipe made it into the book.
posted by Nelson at 1:16 PM on September 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Along with on-site dry-cleaning, showers, etc. these 'perks' are a good way to have workers put in extra hours without monetary or other financial compensation. As enticing as free stuff might sound, this is only a step or two away from workers living in corporate dormitories.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:19 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's something to be said for a place that encourages you to meet up with work chums for lunch. It's a creative hothouse kind of atmosphere where you spend all day thinking about work.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:20 PM on September 11, 2012


Well, at least I can work unpaid overtime at criminally low wages and...uh...fuck.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:28 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Part of the reason I quit the Google was because of the over-emphasis on perks like free meals and on-site laundry. I remember receiving emails from HR in which they repeatedly emphasized that their salary ranges were below-average because these perks had a market value of ~$30,000 in salary and, therefore, we didn't need to make as much money in our checks.

That said, it was nice to have so much variety on campus. It did encourage coworkers to socialize over their lunch break because you could generally find one cafeteria that met everyone's dietary preferences. At my current job, some people pack lunches while other people scatter about to various take-away places and it's harder to meet back up and chat over food.

Of course, none of that matters if you didn't get along with your snobby, fixie-commuting, Mission District-living, $200-jeans-wearing hipster coworkers.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:31 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's something to be said for a place that encourages you to meet up with work chums for lunch. It's a creative hothouse kind of atmosphere where you spend all day thinking about work.

As far as I'm concerned the something that is to be said is "Fuck that shit."
posted by enn at 1:34 PM on September 11, 2012 [22 favorites]


No oven or stove in the Airbnb cafeteria? Yet they display roast pork? I'm sure they used a grill or something sensible, but I imagine an entire cafeteria full of in-the-moment fad foods/future failed businesses.

"We parked a taco truck inside the cafeteria!"

"Check it; we replaced our oven with a frozen yogurt shop!"

"Work at Airbnb; we got cake pops! (And people are only taking pictures of them instead of eating them! Maybe because they're gross!)"

That said, the fawaffle is giving me a waffle iron jones (if I had a place to store one).
posted by Turkey Glue at 1:36 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


From what I understand, Google doesn't pay particularly high wages, and the hours are long, so there's that.

The first is definitely not true anymore, and the latter depends on your team.

I work normalish hours and still get the food. To me its great because I spend way less time on meals, the money/free part is less important (but nice, certainly).

Food quality is still very good here but not quite at the level described here on a day to day basis.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:37 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


(A while ago Google changed from the whole "we pay below average and you make it back in perks and stock" to "we pay competitively" because the former wasn't working anymore...)
posted by wildcrdj at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am sure these are better chefs, but we tried using purple potatoes for mashed potatoes one Thanksgiving and quickly discovered they're better suited for things you use Red Bliss for (e.g., roast potatoes, potato salad). So I'm guessing that giant lump of food in the last photo didn't get touched. Especially given the anthropomorphism.
posted by yerfatma at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2012


Yeah, a lot of places think all the free soda you can drink and some granola bars and pop tarts in the break room beat health insurance and going home at a reasonable hour. And people keep falling for it. And it makes me sad.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


I can leave at 4:30 every day without dirty looks from everyone.

Except that most jobs these days don't give you free lunch and still expect 50+ hours a week from you. Given a choice, I'd take the lunch. 4:30? Really?
posted by octothorpe at 1:42 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


something that is a fixed quantity, of unknown amount.

yes, i haven't had foie gras in at least a month and i am also getting old. it tolls for me, i get it, i get it.
posted by twist my arm at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2012


Foie gras, Kobe beef, and undoubtedly unlimited amounts of coffee or red bull? I really pity the custodians who had to clean the tech company bathrooms.
posted by muddgirl

Eponysterical?
posted by zippy at 1:53 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


... beat health insurance...

Every tech company I've worked for has had great health insurance. Even the startups.
posted by aspo at 1:54 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


You've been fortunate, then. I'd say my career average was about 50% at startups. One of them we lost it every few months because the company would space on paying the bill, so it was like health care gambling to go to the doctor.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:59 PM on September 11, 2012


The problem with bathrooms at Google is that they weren't cleaned between Thursday night and Sunday night. So they were pretty nasty all weekend.

Very few people were around on the weekends, so I guess few were bothered. But I would often hang around the labs so I could use the equipment for personal projects. Sometimes the bathrooms were so bad that I would break into the mop closet and clean them myself. Eventually Google security got wise to my mop borrowing and installed a security camera outside the mop room. Fucking mop fascists.
posted by ryanrs at 2:01 PM on September 11, 2012 [16 favorites]



And that's the exchange. Sure you can have quality food, but it's mostly to keep you from leaving the campus. Same with the free laundry, bus service, child care. They want you to stay there. If you do the math, they save money simply by letting the people work 12 hour days with no offsite lunch break.

I value my time. While I give it to my employer, I do so grudgingly, for it is a transaction that cannot be reversed, and payed with something that is a fixed quantity, of unknown amount.
posted by zabuni at 1:07 PM on September 11 [11 favorites +] [!]


There's always a tradeoff. I worked for a tech company that kept us in food, ice cream and other creature comforts. It was a very nice place to work, very casual, and we were treated very well. We had a lot of freedom and were treated really well.

In that case, the tradeoff was low wages and job security. It wasn't enough to hold me for long, but it was fun while it lasted. But to be fair, it's not necessarily as cut and dry as that. These companies really are trying to create a "corporate culture," and from their perspective they're doing more than trying to more labour from you.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:13 PM on September 11, 2012


Every tech company I've worked for has had great health insurance. Even the startups.

Same with me, although it was a dealbreaker for me so I wouldn't have considered one that didn't. Also my startup experience is all from Bubble #1.

Nobody beat Microsoft in health insurance, though. Although I've read thats been scaled back a bit. When I was there (2003-2008) it was: no premium & no copay - 100% free for primary employee (maybe a few things not in there, but I never paid a dollar and had expensive knee surgery in addition to all sorts of routine things).

The problem with bathrooms at Google is that they weren't cleaned between Thursday night and Sunday night.

Thankfully that is not the case in my office!
posted by wildcrdj at 2:13 PM on September 11, 2012


BTW, Chef Charlie's cookbook about Google is pretty good for comforting, tasty food that's not absurd to make for yourself. Unfortunately I don't think his bacon cheeseburger soup recipe made it into the book.

Nelson, I've got Charlie's bacon cheeseburger soup recipe... Although the version he sent out was the version he actually made at Google, so it includes things like 50 pounds of potatoes and 15 gallons of chicken stock; I know I don't have a pot that big in my kitchen...
posted by grae at 2:20 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


4:30? Really?

Yes, really. I also usually get in by 7:15-7:30, so I put in my eight hours. I wouldn't say my company actively discourages overtime, but the culture is definitely a "40 and home" kind of a place.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:29 PM on September 11, 2012


from their perspective they're doing more than trying to [extract] more labour from you.

I'm sorry, but they can't have my soul.
I already sold it to Milhouse for five bucks.
And some ALF pogs.

posted by entropicamericana at 2:30 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every tech company I've worked for has had great health insurance. Even the startups.

You've been lucky. Startups with no health insurance are out there, either because it is very hard for the smallest of companies (like 5 or fewer people) to negotiate a good health plan, or because the founders made their money already and have forgotten what it is like to need a health plan.

I've seen both kinds.
posted by zippy at 2:39 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually I've seen startups that had crappy health insurance, but that was either "so early that they had nothing" or "sketchy sketchy sketch you don't want to work there". But the first is a different beast and isn't going to have free poptarts anyway, it has whatever's in the founders kitchen since you are working in his spare bedroom, and the second, well is sketch.
posted by aspo at 2:49 PM on September 11, 2012


Tech company health insurance is usually quite good, but the unfortunate thing is that contractors don't get covered at all. I'm not sure how good the plans that IT staffing agencies offer are.

I actually have a lot of respect for Apple's position. This is a big boy world, and big boys pay for their own food.

I suspect it's an old guard vs. new kids sort of dichotomy. Microsoft, or at least their Mountain View location, does not have free lunches at their cafeteria. Not sure if Amazon has it, either.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:52 PM on September 11, 2012


Tech company health insurance is usually quite good, but the unfortunate thing is that contractors don't get covered at all

is this surprising?

as far as I can tell, the most defining characteristic of contractors in the tech space is that they lose out on benefits in general. Health, ESPP, 401k, etc.
posted by rr at 3:00 PM on September 11, 2012


The #1 best thing about my career is that they feed us. In my particular line of work, it's not usually private chefs (for us it's usually comped takeout), but every time I consider doing something else for a living, I remember that my company pays me to eat a free -- and usually amazing -- lunch every day. And often breakfast. Sometimes dinner, too.

The year I worked for a TV show with offices attached to the soundstage was AMAZING, because of the whole "professional chef provides awesome free buffet" aspect. No fois gras, but there was good steak on the regular, sushi sometimes, and every once in a while they'd do lobster.

All of the above said, I'm aware that "free lunch" is because they don't want us to leave the building. I don't care. I'll fucking live here if it means I never have to buy groceries or cook my own food.
posted by Sara C. at 3:05 PM on September 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


we tried using purple potatoes for mashed potatoes one Thanksgiving and quickly discovered they're better suited for things you use Red Bliss for (e.g., roast potatoes, potato salad). So I'm guessing that giant lump of food in the last photo didn't get touched.

FWIW, there are a lot of different kinds of potatoes out there.

In the supermarket, the only blue potatoes you see are waxy potatoes. But blue floury potatoes definitely exist, and it wouldn't shock me greatly that the Google chef has access to them.

There's a guy in my greenmarket who sells 15-20 different potato varietals, in every color, texture, and size. Cooking on an institutional scale, and based in the Bay Area, the head chef probably makes his own relationships with local farmers.
posted by Sara C. at 3:12 PM on September 11, 2012


Microsoft has free soda but not free meals. I've worked at an isolated office where the break room was stocked with free candy and other snacks, but that was just because that site had no cafe.

Apple doesn't even give free soda. I think Apple management is so stingy because their attitude is that the employees should be grateful to work there. It's an ego thing.

I was at Google through the golden era of food decadence into the austerity that followed. I've had foie gras and kobe beef there, but that kind of stuff is unusual and people walk over to the cafeteria with that menu specially and swamp the place, as the article says. Typically a cafe on the wrong side of the street or otherwise bad location would do that kind of stunt to get attention.

The different cafes vary in quality a lot. I got totally sick of the food in American Table when my desk was 20 feet away from it, and still can't look at any food with "blackened" or "cajun" in the description. Luckily there was always another Google cafe within walking distance. Some people browse the menus of all the Mtn View cafes every day and will travel to whichever looks the best. Some people always eat at the closest and don't care.

I miss the people and the food from Google, and I'm still trying to lose at least 30 pounds of that food which became attached to me while I was there.
posted by w0mbat at 3:59 PM on September 11, 2012


I worked at Google, and I wouldn't say the free lunches are a devil's pact. The thing that I had trouble getting used to was the (self-imposed) expectation that I be a great engineer, which led to me working longer hours than I should have. The lunch was just this nice benefit. At my current job I've mostly bought my own lunch. I don't really mind.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:12 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I thought the taxpayer subsidised cafeteria under the Northern Irish parliament was good. I bet we had better scones though.
posted by knapah at 4:13 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worked at Google, and I wouldn't say the free lunches are a devil's pact.

Free lunches aren't. IMO Free dinners ARE.
posted by chimaera at 4:14 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I value my time. While I give it to my employer, I do so grudgingly, for it is a transaction that cannot be reversed, and payed with something that is a fixed quantity, of unknown amount.

Some of us enjoy our jobs. I would do mine whether or not I get paid, so getting paid is kinda awesome. Free pop-tarts and caffeine free soda: icing on the cake.
posted by bpm140 at 4:17 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Free lunches aren't. IMO Free dinners ARE.

Not when your work hours are later. I get in wayyyy too late for breakfast, lunch + dinner are well within an 8-9 hour day for me.

Setting my own hours is one of the great things about this job, and getting two free meals I don't have to travel to or cook myself means I can get home earlier than I would otherwise.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:24 PM on September 11, 2012


"I'll be grazing by your window
Please come pat me on the head
I just want to find out what you're nice to me for..."
posted by limeonaire at 4:42 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Along with on-site dry-cleaning, showers, etc. these 'perks' are a good way to have workers put in extra hours without monetary or other financial compensation. As enticing as free stuff might sound, this is only a step or two away from workers living in corporate dormitories.

A step or two million, maybe. Corporate dormitories are indicative of indentured servitude, free world-class meals prepared by world-class chef's is... not indicative of indentured servitude.
posted by kernel_sander at 5:00 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Google wants to build 1,100 apartments near its main headquarters in Mountain View.
posted by spanishbombs at 5:08 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never had foie gras at Google. I am almost positive it was never served during Charlie's reign. I do recall having lobster for lunch more than once (but perhaps no more than twice.) And I will echo what other Xooglers and Googlers have said: The kitchen staff clearly had a budget. Most of the food was quite standard fare, although the quality of ingredients was high. It was just well prepared and there always a good variety.

Gourmet industrial food preparation fascinates me. As someone who has a reasonable mastery over my kitchen, I find it easy to make a tasty meal given enough time. For one plate. To turn that into a couple hundred or thousand plates, with the same quality, is a marriage of art and engineering that I could certainly not do. I think you have to be someone unusual to have both sides of your brain firing like that.

When I was there, early on, everyone knew how good they had it. There was a lot of interaction between the cooking staff and the rest of the company since there was only one small cafe. It was a focal point for company bonding.

Charlie had an idea as to how to do things and, while he was open to suggestions, he was not open to bad ideas. I was never on his good side ever since, in my first few weeks, I had the gall to ask him where the ketchup was to put on my french fries. I will never forget his words, he said ketchup "kills cuisine." I had it easy. A co-worker had the audacity to ask for iceberg lettuce in the salads, which Charlie said was nutritionally empty. She returned after lunch one day to find heads of lettuce all over (and in) her desk, a Godfather-like warning.

You didn't fuck with Charlie.

Charlie (and his staff) was without a doubt the biggest contributor to the culture at Google. And by that, he had a massive impact on the culture of Silicon Valley.
posted by chemoboy at 5:43 PM on September 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


Some of us enjoy our jobs. I would do mine whether or not I get paid, so getting paid is kinda awesome.

Yeah, having had jobs that I loved I would've totally done them 7 days a week. Having kids/family sort of changes that calculus, though. Well, for some people it does.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:45 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Falafel waffle? That sounds awful.
posted by painquale at 6:27 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


To turn that into a couple hundred or thousand plates, with the same quality, is a marriage of art and engineering that I could certainly not do.

Heck, I think the Sodexho-run cafe on the ground floor of my building (BMC campus in Houston, if any other MeFites work in one of the other buildings) is pretty awesome; it's not GREAT, but it's the first place where I've had something other than cheese and crackers from a vending machine available. Certainly better than McDonald's or a microwave dinner.
posted by mrbill at 7:13 PM on September 11, 2012


Amazon most definitely does not offer free lunch as a regular benefit. A team might expense lunch occasionally but the cafeterias (while pretty good, though I'm a bit far from them now) most definitely cost money.
posted by R343L at 7:23 PM on September 11, 2012


I actually have a lot of respect for Apple's position. This is a big boy world, and big boys pay for their own food.

Adam Lashinsky (Apple's) position makes them sound like elitist snobs IMO. Free meals are an incredible perk and progressive to boot. IE: the guy making $15 an hour appreciates the free food a lot more than the guy making $150/hr. When I was in F&B Receiving the free food easily equated to 10-15% of my salary before taxes. Also I can't help but wonder if food is banned from reimbursement by executive expense accounts.

One of the annoying things about my current job is not only there no free food the place doesn't even have a cafeteria despite having hundreds of employees and being far enough out of town that a round trip in to town for some food wouldn't give you time to eat. Forget your lunch, just feel hungry or have to work some overtime unexpectedly and you're out of luck. I really should petition for some food vending machines. Even a bag of chips or some popcorn would be a nice option.
posted by Mitheral at 7:46 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll take the 15% salary bump and bring my own lunch.
posted by muddgirl at 7:57 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Free meals are an incredible perk and progressive to boot. IE: the guy making $15 an hour appreciates the free food a lot more than the guy making $150/hr.

More importantly, and what really made Google so progressive in this respect, is it gives you some control over the well-being of your employees. Without offering food, your employees are driving all over mountain view. Possibly getting into car accidents. Possibly getting a food-borne illness. Possibly going home early, coming in late or skipping work because their poor diet has made them feel lousy. Possibly even being out because of a serious illness their bad diet has caused them.
posted by chemoboy at 8:13 PM on September 11, 2012


t gives you some control over the well-being of your employees

This is true. Of course, this _has_ lead to Google trying to influence us to eat healthier, by changing what they stock in microkitchens and serve at meals. There is still plenty of junk food, but they do try pretty hard to push you into eating healthy.

I don't really mind it, and if it really bothers someone they can always just bring their own food. Some employees do get upset about it, but that seems pretty absurd to me, given that it's not like we're sacrificing anything for the food (at this point, Google pays at the top tier of tech companies, so you're not taking a pay cut to get this stuff).

At previous companies I ended up eating way too much junk/snack food and getting fast meals and such to avoid having to take too much time out of the middle of my day. Now I can eat here and get home sooner, having the whole rest of the evening free-ish (like most tech company workers, I'm sort of on email/IM all the time, but that happens whether you get free food or not...)
posted by wildcrdj at 8:41 PM on September 11, 2012


“They had no budget, it was foie gras and Kobe steaks every day.

That's why I don't work at Google. I'm morally against foie gras and don't eat beef for health and cultural reasons.

Or so I tell myself.
posted by the cydonian at 8:54 PM on September 11, 2012


Google wants to build 1,100 apartments near its main headquarters in Mountain View.

They're apartments, not dormitories!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:05 PM on September 11, 2012


as a hack, I can assure you that our lunches are far better, more fun and useful than any shiny little techie's.

That reminds me, we've got some intern journalists and we're taking them for lunch today. Poor dears look quite terrified at the prospect...
posted by quarsan at 10:24 PM on September 11, 2012


changing what they stock in microkitchens and serve at meals

I have noticed this. I may no longer work at Google, but I do work in the valley. And, inexorably this means I work with Google from time to time. I miss the giant bins full of Reeses' Pieces, but I think their absence is a good thing. Their wide variety of flavored waters is most welcome, since that's basically all I drink now.

At the time, Google could pay people less. Now, there is still a large demand for skilled jobs in the area and when I left Google was almost dangerously understaffed. After going public, there was no way they could keep paying people under the average and I would not be surprised if they are not one of the better paying companies despite the obvious perks.

I wonder who has the largest Google T-shirt collection now.

They're apartments, not dormitories!

I recall talking to my manager one day, must have been in 2006. I can eat, get my clothes cleaned, teeth cleaned, even get a haircut (although for some reason there was a stigma on this) but I couldn't sleep at Google. Why is this.

She looked at me and said: A bunch of idealists, fresh out of school ... why do you think we don't let them sleep here?
posted by chemoboy at 10:34 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sex. They would all be having sex with each other. It seemed obvious in my mind but is not so on review. Damn idealists.
posted by chemoboy at 10:36 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The cafeteria was the best part of working at Google. It wasn't always king crab and oysters on the half shell, but I think it was maybe twice during my ten months there that I ever felt motivated to leave the building for lunch. And why not? I'm a programmer, I like writing code, and to write code well I need to stay focused - it takes a long time to get all the state data back into my head once it's been flushed. So if I can go downstairs and eat lunch without having to break out of that codey haze, I'm happier and my employer is happier.

I wasn't actually happy, at all, but I probably wouldn't have lasted as long as I did without the cafeteria.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:42 PM on September 11, 2012


The sex was the best part of working at Google.
posted by benzenedream at 11:26 PM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Food on location means you can run down, grab food to go, run back up, eat at your desk, and leave the office 45 minutes earlier (to pick up your kids, say) while still getting the same amount of work done. It also means you're more likely to eat, if you're like me and would rather keep working than eat some days because you don't want to drive to where the non-office food is.

The sex was the best part of working at Google.

There's a joke here involving 'O's, but I'm not going to make it.
posted by davejay at 11:37 PM on September 11, 2012


I work in the CS department of a small campus of a state university. My food choices on campus are Subway and ... well, pretty much Subway. Twice a day the coffee cart has pizza that's almost as good as Little Caesar's. Except during summer break, when food is only available between 11am and 2pm. The nearest restaurant worth eating at is a mile walk away.

I love my job. But I miss lunch.
posted by hades at 11:43 PM on September 11, 2012


I only ever visited once, though it was a personally guided tour set up by some former students. I was alternately shocked, envious and surprised - shocked to the core when I first saw the lobby with the scrolling keywords on a screen (and realized how my searches would have stood out - this was in 2006) I ranted about privacy (ha!) and whatnot and then suddenly found myself catching the eye of a familiar looking fellow with high heeled sneakers so I FIAMO'd.

I was envious of the TOTO heated seats in the ladies loo. The food and all was nice but it didn't seem very different from what all the Valley startups were doing i.e. snacks and cola and whatnot. I was also envious of the space rocket hanging from the roof.

I was left with the feeling the whole campus looked like the CS dept of some research university rather than a for profit company.

Yes, I have pictures.
posted by infini at 11:51 PM on September 11, 2012


Infini: I'm 99% positive those "live" searches were tape delayed and scrubbed of outliers.
posted by aspo at 12:48 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed the article (and the comments here!) but this made me seeth with a white hot fury:
Charlie had an idea as to how to do things and, while he was open to suggestions, he was not open to bad ideas. I was never on his good side ever since, in my first few weeks, I had the gall to ask him where the ketchup was to put on my french fries. I will never forget his words, he said ketchup "kills cuisine." I had it easy. A co-worker had the audacity to ask for iceberg lettuce in the salads, which Charlie said was nutritionally empty. She returned after lunch one day to find heads of lettuce all over (and in) her desk, a Godfather-like warning.
I hate this sort of pretentious, holier than thou nonsense. Of course you want ketchup on your chips, chips are delicious with some ketchup (or mayonnaise!). Chef Whatshisface can get his chefly awesomeness on by providing really good, delicious ketchup - but to deride it is kind of pointlessly elitist, like copping some kind of superior attitude about plebs who like milk in their coffee.
posted by thylacinthine at 3:40 AM on September 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I have a friend who did temp work for the Google office in Tokyo. He described it as a veritable wonderland. For a single guy whose cooking ability starts with 'add boiling water' and ends with 'microwave for ~seconds,' he said the food was great, and (as he'd decided to start strength training) he was able to eat exactly what he needed due to all of the options available.

As for the company dorms, I get that it's a thorny subject in the States, but a lot of Japanese companies have dormitories for workers. Hell, my school has a couple blocks of apartments about 15 minutes from campus for married teachers with kids. The rents are heavily subsidized, and, given the costs of renting in Japan (4 months above and beyond the first month's rent is standard, and only two of that are deposit), it's a great system for young Japanese employees. Up until shortly after we moved in, there was a massive area (14 buildings) of apartment blocks serving as housing for employees of NTT, the national telephone company. Aside from pretty decent sized housing, there were several playgrounds around the complex, and it was about a five minute walk to the nearest elementary school. If you're thinking of the sort of monolithic 'never leave the building' sort of dormitory, that's pretty far off from the reality, here, at least.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:04 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apple doesn't even give free soda

Huh, I thought free pop was an industry standard. I've never worked anywhere without it. I guess that if you're Apple you can do what you want but that seems pretty cheap.
posted by octothorpe at 5:48 AM on September 12, 2012


I've worked a gauntlet of places - startups with health insurance, startups without, startups where they started with health insurance but decided to stop paying the premiums to the company, where checks bounced, where no checks came, where checks never missed. None lasted more than two years, but it might have been the nature of the industries they were attempting to change or edge into. Perks included occasional lunches, take home laptops, flexible work schedule, movie night, daily vitamins, and diet / weightloss pools.

One place that was past the startup phase had fresh fruit every day, lots of sandwich/catered in meetings, and free soda/water for engineering. Tech support got breakfast every day (or at least every friday), and everyone got bagels on Fridays. Dry cleaning wasn't on site, but was for pickup and delivery, and gym(s)+showers were onsite in most buildings; that also made biking friendly (as well as biking + public transit as most buildings were on major xportation lines).

There's good and bad, ups and downs. I miss the fruit, but not the commute. I can buy my own darn fruit and keep my daily driving (including dropping off/picking up kids) to ~10 miles, thanks so much.
posted by tilde at 5:58 AM on September 12, 2012


This is actually the problem with Google.

Google has become its own little world, impervious to outside influences (except for Wall Street, of course) and oblivious to its blunders-- which have made the services Google offers about half as useful to end users as they were, and made everyone nervous about its reliability and suspicious about its true motives.

Expect Mountain View to be under a dome by 2020.
posted by jamjam at 7:38 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Free soda isn't an industry standard because they want to control the way you consume things (as well as all your waking hours).

Back when I worked at a certain software company whose name rhymes with Schmepik, I drank nothing but Klarbrunn mineral water. The free vending machines were full of various flavors of mineral water and fruit juice, but sodas were rare and not free.

Apparently the founder of the company was tired of seeing her second-in-command drink Diet Coke all the time. She may have even kept all of his leftover cans and made a little wall, just to be cute. Finally, she said, "I'm tired of his soda!" and arranged for the non-soda options to be free.

Also, she didn't want veggie platters at the company Halloween party because she thought they were tacky. (Chips and salsa? not so much.)

I have had maybe two Klarbrunns in the ten years since. I drank a LOT of Klarbrunn.
posted by Madamina at 11:23 AM on September 12, 2012


On the bubble effect: it is quite noticeable once you don't work at HQ. Of course that is true for almost all large companies: working for Microsoft outside of Redmond, for example. In Mountain View you are surrounded by so many Googlers you will see them everywhere, at a remote office outside of work I never see coworkers.

This is even more true for the Valley as a whole. There's so many tech people that everyone forgets how most people view technology. I greatly prefer working in a more diverse area job-wise, where I can get exposure to people outside the Silicon Valley bubble (which would annoy me SO MUCH MORE if I were to go back there now --- a decade there made me forget how pervasive it was).

The reality for Google though is you don't HAVE to spend all your time on campus using all those services. Plenty of people come in, work, have lunch, and then go home to their families like they would at any other job. The ones straight out of college / in their early 20's are more likely to live like on college, but I can see the appeal of that at that age.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:09 PM on September 12, 2012


I expect Google to begin exploring employee breeding programs within 5-10 years. One of Google's biggest challenges is finding good employees, and they love unorthodox and hugely ambitious solutions to their big problems.

Employees with high perf scores will be encouraged to move into Google-owned apartment complexes, with many opportunities to meet and interact with their neighbors--neighbors who have been predicted by a slightly modified SmartAss system to have high romantic relevance scores. Google always takes the long view.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:14 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Some of us enjoy our jobs. I would do mine whether or not I get paid, so getting paid is kinda awesome. Free pop-tarts and caffeine free soda: icing on the cake.

I am not trying to be overly harsh, but no one cares. Literally ever single thread on working conditions for middle class jobs attracts one or two people who feel compelled to tell us how much they love their jobs. We care about people in the aggregate, not your special snowflake details. If you do not realize that you are an extreme outlier, please consider this your wake up call.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:02 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


adamdschneider that seems a little harsh, given that taz explicitly said personal experiences were OK to discuss here on MetaTalk.
Hey there. That conversation is actually going fine, and there's no reason to split the conversation over here. Feel free to discuss your personal experiences as they relate to the post topic in that same thread. It's cool. I'm going to close this up now.
posted by taz
Sorta seems like one of those "If you don't have anything nice to say..." situations.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:17 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, is this really a "working conditions" topic? The FPP is about the life and times of chefs at tech companies. Not about organizing middle class labor.

I mean, yeah, there is a degree to which employers paying for lunch gives them a slight advantage in terms of work hours, pay scale, and general perception as a good workplace worth being loyal to.

But by and large, there doesn't seem to be a tradeoff between "free lunch" and "go home sooner" or "make an extra $300 a month" or whatever. Arguing against the practice isn't going to fix anything, it's just going to result in an even stingier corporate climate. This is not really a labor issue, in the classic sense. If you want shorter hours or a raise, you should organize around those goals, not on taking away other benefits.

So, no, I don't see why it's such a horrible thing that some people are saying it's a tradeoff that works for them.
posted by Sara C. at 2:27 PM on September 12, 2012


Yes, you are correct, it was overly harsh. Although I don't think I was arguing against sharing personal experiences, and I do think this is a working conditions thread, it was still harsh and should be deleted.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:19 PM on September 12, 2012


Apple doesn't even give free soda. I think Apple management is so stingy because their attitude is that the employees should be grateful to work there. It's an ego thing.

Maybe, but I can say very confidently that they're not exactly treating the kitchen as a profit center, unless $4 for a giant plate of fresh sushi and $5 for a 10" wood-oven prosciutto and mozerella pizza is way above market price in silicon valley.

It's the same sort of arrangement that the Intel campus has; good chefs, wide selection, really low cost, and on-site for convenience. Some companies go one better and opt for "free," but it's a matter of degree more than anything else.
posted by verb at 4:47 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


muddgirl writes "I'll take the 15% salary bump and bring my own lunch."

Now I would too but 15% would buy several lunches for me now. I would however also subscribe to a 7-10 dollar lunch program if the company offered it.
posted by Mitheral at 5:41 PM on September 12, 2012


So, no, I don't see why it's such a horrible thing that some people are saying it's a tradeoff that works for them.

And I reject that its even a tradeoff: I don't work any longer hours at Google than I have anywhere else, despite getting free meals and massages and all that jazz. It's simply part of the compensation package, which is very generous because the competition for employees is insane right now in the tech world.

I actually worked much longer hours at startups, which typically have a few cases of soda and some chips.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:46 PM on September 12, 2012


octothorpe: "I guess that if you're Apple you can do what you want but that seems pretty cheap."

My office discontinued our water cooler service last month, and when they finally let us have a coffee machine, we needed to come up with the money for it ourselves.

Sorry, but this thread is just baffling to me.
posted by schmod at 9:23 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


schmod: "My office discontinued our water cooler service last month, and when they finally let us have a coffee machine, we needed to come up with the money for it ourselves. "

An employer should never balk at the opportunity to feed their employees cheap sugar and stimulants.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:23 PM on September 12, 2012


Falafel waffle? That sounds awful.

I was really hoping for someone to respond by writing 'ROFL'.
posted by painquale at 1:39 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since I operate at a level so far removed from all this as to equate with being Neanderthal, FutureGoogle sounds a lot like GATTACA, even without the foie gras.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:20 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This thread is making me crave foie gras.

Which is a problem, because I have a relationship to foie gras not unlike when your cat gets sooooooo excited that it's FOODTIME OH YAY that they puke.
posted by Sara C. at 7:56 AM on September 13, 2012


There's a certain symmetry to eating so much foie gras you throw up.
posted by Nelson at 9:20 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


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