San Francisco looks to ban free lunch at tech companies

San Francisco weighs ban on free cafeterias

Lavish free lunches are the stuff of Silicon Valley legend, and a treasured perk in the roster of on-campus benefits that tech companies use to lure workers. But two San Francisco legislators are looking to do away with the practice, saying it hurts local businesses who can't compete, reports CBS San Francisco.

"We see thousands of employees in a block radius that don't go out to lunch and don't go out in support of restaurants every day," said  Ryan Corridor, owner of Corridor, a restaurant blocks from San Francisco's city hall. "It's because they don't have to."

On the other hand, when Square, a nearby payment processing company, closes its cafeteria every other Friday, Corridor sees such a surge it sometimes has to increase its staffing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"You can't compete with free. Free food is a wonderful amenity but doesn't do anything to extend the community around it," said Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

San Francisco Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin introduced legislation Tuesday prohibiting in-house cafeterias in new office buildings and tech campuses. They insist the city has the legal right to do this through a zoning amendment using certain planning and public health codes.

America’s hottest workplace benefits

"This is the beginning of a conversation," said Safai. "We think it's an appropriate conversation to have now."

If passed, this new law would only apply to new companies, not existing companies in the city like Google, Twitter and Levi Strauss & Co. There are currently 51 such employee cafeterias in San Francisco.

Safai painted the measure as a boon to work-life balance. "This is also about a cultural shift," he told the Chronicle. "We don't want employees biking or driving into their office, staying there all day long and going home. This is about getting people out of their office," he said.

While unusual, the law does have a precedent. In nearby Mountain View, local legislators barred Facebook from fully subsidizing on-site meals for 2,000 workers in the tech company's new offices, according to the Chronicle. It's an attempt to avoid the problem of empty streets and struggling restaurants that has plagued some parts of Silicon Valley. (Employers are allowed to pay for worker meals off-campus, of course.)

"If we have all these restaurants, we want this to be a successful development. If employers pay for it, that's fine," Michael Kasperzak, a former Mountain View mayor, told the Chronicle.