Business & Real Estate

No free lunch for FB: Employees loss proves restaurants gain

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Employees of Pacific Catch restaurant in The Village at San Antonio Center, above, hope that Facebook’s new offices in the center and its lack of a corporate cafeteria will bring in more business.

When Facebook Inc. moves into its new Mountain View offices at The Village at San Antonio Center this fall, one perk used to attract and retain employees at many Silicon Valley companies will be missing – the corporate cafeteria.

While Facebook employees may lament the lack of in-house grub, a spokesman for a local restaurant chain with a site in the center said the city’s ban on companies subsidizing more than 50 percent of their employees’ meals attracted his eatery to sign the lease.

Tom Hanson, chief operations officer of the Northern California-based Pacific Catch, said he looks forward to Facebook moving in, and his restaurant’s employees are busy planning lunch and catering options for their new neighbors.

“We were told when we leased our space that the office tenant would not be able to have a subsidized food service operation, and that it was restricted from doing so,” Hanson wrote in an email to the Town Crier.

Facebook will soon operate out of the WeWork space in The Village at San Antonio Center, with approximately 400,000 square feet of office space split between two buildings.

The city’s limit on companies providing free food was an effort to “foster synergy between office, restaurant and retail uses in the center and realize the economic vitality of the project,” said city spokeswoman Kimberly Thomas.

The city council finalized the provision in 2014 as part of the ongoing conversion of the old shopping center, located at 645 San Antonio Road, to a mixed-use complex with a range of residential, business and commercial uses.

Thomas said the office tenants, including Facebook, can still subsidize or pay for employees’ meals, as long as they are patronizing restaurants in the center.

Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel said the council did not add the condition to be hostile to corporations, but rather to encourage the growth and vitality of neighboring businesses.

“We wanted to encourage businesses to be more open to the public,” he said. “We are getting something worked out with Facebook.”

Siegel added that there is a possibility the city and the tech giant could collaborate on a food hall on the ground level of the WeWork facilities, which would be open to the public. He noted a concern for capacity as the reason for exploring the option.

Hanson said Pacific Catch would not support a subsidized marketplace, as it would defeat the purpose of boosting the business of surrounding restaurant tenants.

“There are many new restaurant options coming in to compete for their business,” Hanson said of the impending flood of Facebook employees. “Our business has been greatly affected by the years of construction, and we have been relying on the new office tenants and the hotel to activate the center and sales.”

Facebook footprint

Facebook spokesman Jamil Walker said Facebook had no comment on Mountain View’s free-food policy, as the company had yet to move in to its newest offices.

“However, we found the location attractive because of its proximity to public transportation, housing and public-serving amenities like shops and restaurants,” he said.

It is unclear which Facebook divisions will fill the two buildings in The Village, Siegel said. He heard a rumor that when founder Mark Zuckerberg promised Congress during his hearing regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal that Facebook planned to hire more employees to work on tampering prevention, company officials realized they needed more space.

Siegel said he’s unsure of the veracity of the rumor, let alone whether any additional employees have been hired. On Facebook’s Career page, there was just one open position listed as of last week: help desk assistants for Facebook’s Mountain View, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago offices.

Regardless of the type of workers who meander through the sprawling facilities, the lack of a free, centrally located cafeteria will be an adjustment for Facebook employees, chiefly those who may have had the privilege prior to being transferred to the new site.

Employees and their visitors sign a sweeping nondisclosure agreement when they visit any of the Facebook campuses, even if it’s just to eat lunch. The menu is somewhat of a mystery, with hints visible on the Instagram posts of diners. Inquiring minds can search “Facebook HQ” or “#facebook” to find such images, which reveal the unusually lavish street food served at Facebook’s London offices or the handcrafted swirl of a Verve latte at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters at 1 Hacker Way.

Most of the eateries in The Village at San Antonio Center are national chains, including Chili’s Grill & Bar, The Counter, Veggie Grill and Paul Martin’s American Grill. However, even regional chains like Pacific Catch should benefit from Facebookers frequenting their establishments.

Facing flak from the public for its subsidized food ban, officials have taken to the city’s Twitter account to address the criticism.

In response to the concern that restaurant food isn’t as healthy as Facebook-affiliated cafeteria options, a city spokesperson responded via the handle @mtnviewcityhall that it is not fair to make a blanket statement about all restaurants or food providers.

“Again, if you know the space, there are several options and a fresh market,” the spokesperson fired back.

To a person who contended that making employees leave the office to buy food would stall productivity, a city representative replied that both work cafeterias and restaurants require employees to leave their desks, and because both options would be located in the same center, there wouldn’t be a significant difference in distance.

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