Growing up, my Pappy Albrecht used to say, “Life’s not fair and there are no free lunches.” This bit of wisdom will be especially true for some Facebook employees moving into their new offices this Fall, as Mountain View, CA passed a rule that will prohibit the social network from offering free lunches inside their new location.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that as Facebook settles into its new Village at San Antonio office park:

“Under Mountain View’s rules for the Village complex, meals within the offices can’t be subsidized by more than 50 percent on a regular basis. Facebook can fully subsidize employees if they go to restaurants that are open to the public.”

This is, of course, about money. Rather than cloistering up in their shiny new offices, Mountain View wants those thousands of employees interacting with and buying meals from local businesses. Though the rule was enacted back in 2014, it’s even more relevant today as part of a larger discussion about income disparity, especially in the Bay Area, which has become all but unaffordable unless you’re living large on stock options.

Free lunches are table stakes anymore for tech companies competing to attract talent. Offering free meals intentionally keeps workers in the office so they can theoretically be more productive. But is effectively banning this perk the right solution?

I’m honestly not sure. There is something unsettling about the government making rules about where and how a private business’ employees can eat. But at the same time, tech companies have exacerbated wealth inequality, don’t really seem to be doing anything about it, and keeping employees inside office walls on purpose keeps them from going out into the world and supporting local communities. Maybe they need a little nudge.

So far, other Bay Area cities are shying away from their own free lunch bans, but if Mountain Views’ move winds up generating substantial income, other municipalities might look to follow suit. If so, this could have a ripple effect on the rapidly maturing corporate catering market, which has seen real money flow into it. A number of corporate catering companies such as Hungry, ZeroCater and ezCater have raised millions of dollars just this year. A widespread regulatory revolt would negatively impact the sector.

Who knows? Maybe Facebook will embrace this new rule and use, or more likely create, a service like AllSet, which helps companies facilitate buying lunch for employees at nearby restaurants. This in turn could spark a new way of offering the free lunch perk while supporting local communities.

What do you think about the future of free lunches? Leave us a comment and let us know, or come to our Smart Kitchen Summit in October where one of our discussions will be “Leave The Lunch Box Behind: How Tech Is Changing How We Eat At Work.”

Leave a Reply