When people hear about the free food in Silicon Valley tech companies, they usually picture copious amounts of dishes elegantly prepared by Michelin starred chefs. My friends outside the Silicon Valley bubble love asking me about the free food, but is it really as delicious and sumptuous as they imagine it? For whatever reason, white collar workers all over the world love the idea of getting free meals from their employers, in spite of the fact that plenty of articles have shown that free food at work actually benefits the company more than the employees.
That being said, there’s an undeniable convenience to have food ready and waiting for you in a corporate cafeteria. After all, there’s a rotating variety of dishes to keep things interesting, the menus have been designed by expert nutritionists to be healthy, and the free soda station lets you relive your childhood Chuck E. Cheese experiences. Perhaps most importantly, after a long day of coding, sometimes you just don’t have any more mental bandwidth left to figure out whether to get groceries or head out to a restaurant. Free food at work makes lunch and dinner one less thing to worry about.
Of course, not all the free food in Silicon Valley is created equal. If you’re visiting the area and want to see what the free food hype is all about, which company’s delicacies should you try?
Not to worry! Here at The Silicon Valley Post, we have driven all over the Valley mooching off our friend’s free food benefits. Here’s a completely biased but entertaining ranking of the three best cafeterias in Silicon Valley — as well as a few companies that need to level up their food game!
First, A Few Dishonorable Mentions…
No free meals. Bland food that doesn’t stray too far from generic options like burgers, fries and pasta, with the occasional haphazardly bastardized renditions of ethnic food. It’s apparent that “Think Different” doesn’t apply to the food at Apple. Maybe Steve Jobs’ “fruitarian” tendencies left him unable to appreciate good cooked food…
Many ex-Intel employees have horror stories from the Robert Noyce Building Café (better known as the RNB Café). While Robert Noyce was an amazing innovator who was an instrumental part of the founding of Silicon Valley, the cafeteria that bears his name is just a sad collection of flavorless taco salads and overripe fruit. I’ve heard that in recent months, employee complaints have actually elevated the RNB café from “terrible” to “acceptable,” but it’s still not a great place for lunch.
No free food, along with boring and bland meals oddly well suited to a boring and bland company.
Next, Two Great Runner-Ups…
The food at Microsoft sits somewhere between “passable” and “actually tasty”. It usually leaves me with the impression that if the cooks just put a little more effort into seasoning the food or preparing it well, the food would be as good as a mid-tier restaurant. Providing employees with free food at both lunch and dinner is a nice touch, though it’s on an individual entrée basis instead of buffet style.
Any company that uses Eat Club
Ah… Eat Club. The go-to option of every start-up that wants to advertise free food but can’t justify the cost of having an industrial kitchen on-site. The daily meal options are diverse, well prepared, tasty, healthy, and inevitably leave you pretty hungry. It’s like Eat Club decided that everyone should eat an appetizer as a main course in the name of being “healthy”. That being said, they provide a useful service to start-ups still dreaming of having an industrial kitchen right in the office.
And now, without further ado…
Finally, The 3 Best Cafeterias for Free Food in Silicon Valley
Of course they would make this list. The granddaddy of them all, the company that practically invented free food at work, the legendary “all you can eat meals with dessert at the end”. And what’s not to like? Delicious iced teas and freshly made fruit punches. Soft serve ice cream at the end. The free all you can eat buffet style meals for lunch and dinner has lead to the infamous “Google 15”, referring to the amount of weight (in pounds) that new hires often inevitably add to their bodies. And how could they possibly avoid the Google 15? Those cafeterias have options galore, with a rotating menu of French, Indian, Chinese, and numerous other cuisines. The Google employees I know will even check the menus at different cafeterias around the campus (or even at other campuses in different parts of the Bay Area), and drive to whichever place has their favorite meal on any given night.
As amazing as the Google cafeteria still is, the quality of their food has gone down a bit since the glory days of the mid-2000’s, when three star chefs plied their craft for row upon row of hungry nerds. They also haven’t added many interesting new wrinkles to the free food game since they first popularized it, and here at The Silicon Valley Post we like to reward innovation and pushing the boundaries. That being said, like an aging Olympian who can still compete with the young guns, Google should be proud for finishing with the Bronze Medal.
A surprise upset finisher for second place, Samsung doesn’t have the free food rep of other companies, but it scores big for consistently delivering on excellent authentic Korean and Indian food. Instead of trying to cover all their bases and cooking up every type of cuisine imaginable like Google, Samsung really focuses on two cuisines, with actual chefs who have worked in Korean and Indian restaurants preparing those meals. As a result, there’s almost always a galbi, bulgogi, paneer or masala dish at Samsung that’s as good, or better, than most local Korean and Indian restaurants. The Indian salad bar and kimchi bar is an added nice touch. We wanted this ranking to value “quality over quantity”, and on those counts Samsung definitely delivers. If you aren’t in the mood for Korean or Indian, they still serve passable sushi, pizza, noodles, and other options. As an added bonus, anyone, employees or visitors, can walk into the Galaxy Café at Samsung and grab a meal (though they have to pay a pretty hefty full price for those meals). One downside is that Samsung only provides one free meal to employees each day, with all additional meals costing a greatly reduced $2. That’s enough to knock them from number 1 in our rankings.
Finally, we get to our champion. If you have a friend who works at Facebook, have them hook you up with a meal there as soon as you can. Maybe you’ll hit up the main cafeteria, the Epic Cafe, and get some surf and turf that rivals what you get at most fine dining establishments. Or you can try a bacon kimchi hot dog, or some duck confit, or swing by the ramen bar, or go to the build your own pita station, or even check out some inventive new fusion dish that the chefs just came up with. Or maybe you can head across campus to “Living the Dream”, another eatery on the Facebook campus, which features authentic Indian food and healthy salads. Or if that’s too healthy for you, stroll over to the Burger Shack and have an excellent burger or a pretty legit Philly cheesesteak (I’m a Philly native, and it certainly has my vote of approval). Or check out the pizzeria, or the barbeque shack, or the Mexican spot, or the sushi joint, or the ridiculously decadent desserts at the Sweet Stop, or… well, you get the idea.
All hail Facebook and their incredibly well fed employees! Our collective data has allowed your cafeteria to reign supreme among all the Bay Area campuses. Now please hook me up with one of those cheesesteaks!
*** Final Note ***
Feel free to comment below on what you think are the best and worst cafeterias in Silicon Valley. This article is dedicated to my friends at Flow House. They run a stellar set of homes made for cohabitating with some of the most amazing individuals from all over the world. From software engineers, to researchers, fortune 500 counterparts, startup founders, interns, directors, PhD candidates, post-docs, designers, investors and more… Flow House is a new way of common living created for those on a mission to get things done in Silicon Valley and meet amazing people along the way. Check it out: https://flow.house/