Free Lunch

A visit to Facebook’s cafeteria

Photo: Marcin Wichary/Flickr

Working at Facebook come with a wide host of storied perks, but one of the most alluring — at least at face value — is the cafeteria. Or so I thought, until I read this dispatch from inside its headquarters in Menlo Park, from Joe Veix at Newsweek.

Eating at Facebook, where the food is free and the grease is plenty

The cafe and much of the campus sounds like what you’ve come to expect from companies that do their best to blur the line between work and life: there are rock climbing walls, free bikes, an all-you-can-eat ice cream bar and something called Ripstiks which I thought were those inflatable rubber things you bang together at a sporting event but is actually a strange snowboard/surfboard/skateboard hybrid.

All these perks are fine, I suppose, but it’s the free food that’s the most alluring. For a company with the kind of financial muscle that Facebook has, you’d think that their cafeteria would rival that of Google, but as per Veix and his experience there, it was less than impressive.

Heat lamps dangled like worms above containers of rapidly congealing foodstuff: Mixed quinoa with macadamia nuts and scallions; green tofu curry cups; sliders with beetroot and Thousand Island dressing; grilled “snags” (Australian slang for sausages) that looked like a pile of bloody, amputated fingers; assorted (apparently defrosted) vegetables; freshly cut steak with a lumpy neon curry sauce.

The variety of food is impressive, as is the fact that all of it is free. How’d it taste?

The sliders were overcooked and under-salted, ironic considering the cafeteria’s grand view of those thousands of acres of salt ponds. Both the tofu and steak were bland and rubbery. The snags were good but soaked in grease. My colleague asked to try some of the assorted vegetables I’d heaped on my plate. “It tastes better than it looks,” I said. She tried a few bites and said, “No it doesn’t.”

Does it seem silly to complain about the taste of a free lunch? Sure. But consider the fact that a free lunch is included in some jobs in part to make you feel like the company you’re working for is doing you a favor. A curry tofu cup that you didn’t pay for that you can get just two minutes away from your desk means you can eat your lunch without having to leave work at all. Yes, it’s for your benefit, but it’s also for theirs.

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