Dave, I appreciate and respect your intentions here, but I strongly disagree with your proposal and am disappointed by your negative stereotyping :(.
First, the agreement part: you’re absolutely right that people should be engaged with their communities. While folks associated with the tech community tend to get disproportionately blamed for society’s pre-existing ills, it absolutely still makes sense for those folks (and others) to spend more time interacting with a diverse group of people. Doing so is good all ‘round, because everyone has something to teach and learn from each other and spending time with people unlike oneself helps break down barriers and misperceptions.
But company catered lunches are not the problem, nor is canceling them anything close to a useful solution.
Take a step back for a moment: how well do you know your neighbors? If you’re like most Americans nowadays, sadly the answer is probably “not well.” Does that mean you should stop having dinners with your families and instead eat with your neighbors every night? No, it means you should make more of an effort to get to know and at least occasionally socialize with your neighbors in general :-).
And here are many reasons off the top of my head why forgoing company-planned lunch programs is penny-wise, pound foolish:
- Lack of nearby restaurants: In many places (especially in suburbia), there aren’t enough restaurants within walking distance, and it’s unlikely a bunch would magically crop up just to serve mostly a corporate lunch crowd.
- Wasted time: Employees at catered-lunch companies in non-urban locations save an enormous amount of time; they don’t have to drive to where there are restaurants, find parking, order, wait for their food, drive back to work, and find parking there. And those many minutes saved is time that can be spent with friends, families, and (ideally) neighbors :).
- Bad health: Eating out in an even somewhat-timely manner is likely to be a lot less healthy than eating food that’s part of a well-planned corporate program. Less healthy employees = less productive employees AND less social people (because who is going to hang out at the bar with friends when they’re feeling like crap?)
- No net win for small businesses: You make the assumption that people can and will eat at Marge’s Delicafe. What’s more likely is that — due to limited time and budget — people will instead snarf down McD’s, Chipotle, etc. And is that any better than having money go to the often tons of people associated with a corporate food program?!
Also, as I mentioned above, I was bummed to see your hackneyed stereotyping of us, er, pasty-white techie losers. Afraid of human contact, red-eyed, stock-spoiled, etc. Come on, man. There’s plenty enough of the stupid us vs. them in the Bay Area and beyond, we don’t need more of it. It just further tears people apart.
If you really want to do something to improve the social and economic divide, think beyond lunch. Insist on greater housing density. Establish weekend sports leagues and music groups that welcome a diverse group of folks. Support politics and politicians that offer smart policies on infrastructure, education, safety nets, and so on.
Mixing “techies” and teachers at Burger King won’t do squat. If anything, people will just rue the longer wait times and more crowded parking lots. Instead, please think of the big picture. And ideally minus the stereotyping, okay? :)