December 18, 2013

A Lunch Date at Google's World Famous, Free, All-You-Can-Eat Cafeteria

How many times have you heard people say, "it must be soooo cool to work for Google..." Did you ever think about how cool it would be just to eat at Google?

Well that's what we did on a recent trip to San Francisco and it was pretty awesome. Call it one perk of being a food blogger since the Googleplex cafeterias are closed to the public.

Two reps at Google were nice enough to host us for lunch and a whirlwind hour full of interesting facts and figures about Google's food program, not to mention excellent food by any standard, let alone a corporate cafeteria.

Here are 11 cool things we learned.

1. It was Larry Page and Sergey Brin's founding philosophy to treat employees like you'd treat your family, so food has been a focus at Google since it's start-up days. An executive chef was hired as employee #51. Today a 20-person internal team manages Google's food program, from operations to communications to supplier relations. Philly can count one of the two PR reps we ate with as it's own, a UArts grad and NJ native.

2. Not once was a person working for Google referred to as an employee. They are all "Googlers," so that's what we'll call them from here. Subgroups that act almost like internal clubs include Nooglers (new employees), Greyglers (elder employees), Gayglers (gay employees) and so on.

Our delicious lamb biryani lunch at Baadal 
3. About 17,000 people work at the Mountain View Googleplex and 44,000 worldwide. With many Googlers eating more than one meal per day on campus, the company estimates serving 60,000 meals per day across the globe.

4. We got to try Baadal, one of the newer hip on-campus restaurants and the first to book by reservation. Baadal gives Googlers what internal surveys say they want more of - Indian food. Adding to the cool factor, you can also get the same grub at the Baadal food truck outside. No less than 50 people were in line that day. We're told the other most popular restaurant on campus serves Japanese.

5. Google is the greatest innovator in recent memory. Everything that surrounds a Googler at work, from the soccer fields to the colorful bicycles to the cafés is designed to foster their creativity and sense of community, not just to make it a cool place to work. The climbing walls, food trucks and on-site haircuts are intended to keep them happy and healthy enough to continue developing the next life-changing innovation. Offering all this for free and at work prevents Googlers from having to worry about many of the things they'd normally do off-hours.

6. Food in particular is seen as a vehicle to bring Googlers together to interact, share ideas and refuel. Inside Baadal, everything was served family style. Some people brought laptops and were clearly having a lunch meeting, others looked more like friends.

Small main dish to share among four people, but plenty.
7. One of the best lines we heard was that Google is particularly conscious of both "waste" and "waist." To reduce the former, a tremendous amount of analytics are applied (shocker) to Google's food programs in order to serve what people want and not over-produce.

Small batch cooking also enables fresher meals and reduces waste. Today's leftover butternut squash will end up in tomorrow's soup (a practice mocked by corporate and school cafeteria patrons all over but when Google PR puts it in context, it sounds so smart...).

8. To lessen the "Google 15" gained upon discovery of free food all day, Google deliberately offers controlled portion sizes. People can always go back for more, but analytics show a small brownie will satisfy them enough that they don't return for seconds. They've even done internal research on plate sizes to figure out what mental cues prevent over-eating. Color coded menus in the buffet-style cafés also tell you how much of each item is recommended based on food group.

9. Googlers get in on the action. Culinary internships enable Googlers to spend a few hours in the kitchen helping to prepare meals so they can learn what goes into the process. A detailed "foodback" program allows them to provide regular input on the food options. Last year's top requests? More bacon and kale.

10. They also want to be in the know. Internal communications and significant signage shares who Google buys ingredients from, how dishes are prepared, what is wasted and where it goes. Lists of ingredients are always front and center to accommodate for any/ all individual needs.

11. So where does Google source it's ingredients from? All over, it seems, but there is certainly a strong effort to buy from local farmers. In fact, by creating such a large demand, Google is able to influence its suppliers to grow their food at higher standards in order to be part of their program.

In the end, not only did we have a delicious lunch, but we learned about yet another way food plays a crucial role in innovation and collaboration. To hear that such an emphasis is put on what Googlers eat every day and where it comes from is a reminder that so much more good can come from a focus on our food culture.

Google doesn't offer formal tours of its campus but you can drive around it at your leisure. Or you can park and try one of the many colorful Google bikes just sitting around. If you're in the area, it's worth a quick stop and doesn't take more than 20 mins. Check out the Android mascot statues in the middle of campus if you want your photo with a 20 ft. Gingerbread Man or KitKat - see photos below.

For all our photos, check out our Lunch at Google Facebook album!

Giant android mascot statues and colorful Google bikes, two of the best sites on Google's campus.

Inside part of Baadal. It also had curtained off pods and a more casual, Bollywood-themed area. 

Signs above the cafeteria line dishes explain all ingredients and sources.
Line for the Baadal food truck on a gorgeous California Friday. We assume it moves quickly because there's no money exchange - all the food is free! Also lots of tables benches to sit at and eat outside.

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