Aside from the high salaries they pay, San Francisco-area tech companies are also renowned for the perks they offer their employees. From free commuter shuttles to indoor climbing walls, there’s probably not a perk in the world that hasn’t been offered by some company at some point. Among the most popular perks is free food offered by many companies, enabling workers to eat high-end healthy food without having to leave the office. But if many California cities have their way, that free food may soon be a thing of the past.
Mountain View, CA, home to Google, LinkedIn, and Symantec among others, has already banned the construction of new workplace cafeterias that offer free food, in a bid to boost business to local restaurants. It’s a purely protectionist measure that is just plain wrong on so many levels.
For one thing, companies will easily be able to get around the ban. They can build cafeterias that offer heavily subsidized meals, or they can have caterers bring food in, or they can build an area for food trucks to rotate in every day. In each of those cases local businesses and workers will still benefit from the increased business, it just won’t be brick-and-mortar restaurants that gain that business.
Furthermore, given the continued push in California towards a $15 per hour minimum wage, any such increases will put more and more restaurants out of business. And then what will happen? The restaurant workers these governments claim they’re trying to help will be out of work. Tech firm employees will be in a bind because their employer isn’t allowed to offer them free food and the restaurants are going out of business. So now employees will have to go back to bringing their own lunches, taking more time out of every day to prepare food, time that could be spent more productively on other endeavors.
The effects of this legislation are typical of efforts the government takes to benefit certain industries at the expense of others. The reality of the workplace today is that many people don’t want to leave the workplace to go to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, or even to get carryout food. Leaving the office, traveling to the restaurant, waiting for food, waiting to pay, then rushing back to your desk, all of that takes up valuable time. That’s not to mention policing every word you say lest you inadvertently spill proprietary information that can be overheard by competitors, so you can forget about working lunches.
Workers today enjoy being able to just pop downstairs for a quick bite to eat, or to take a break every couple of hours to snack on good food. Why shouldn’t they be able to do that, and why shouldn’t their employers be able to provide them with that benefit? This is yet another example of the nanny state at work, trying to micromanage even something as mundane as where and what people should eat. But it’s all too typical of California, which seems intent on throttling the goose that’s laying the golden eggs.