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San Francisco Wants To Ban Multi-Million Dollar Corporate Cafeterias

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The measure will funnel enormous funds into local restaurants

Workers look at a quail prepared at the Intel cafeteria in Santa Clara, CA
Intel Free Press /Flickr

A new San Francisco law seeks to ban the “insanely awesome” subsidized corporate cafeterias that have grown up in the Bay Area. If the law passes, companies like Google and Facebook won’t be allowed to operate cafeterias in any future office buildings in San Francisco.

The law, which is endorsed by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) and Supervisors Asha Safai and Aaron Peskin, follows the city of Mountain View’s recent similar ban on a cafeteria in a new Facebook office. The new San Francisco legislation wouldn’t have an impact on the existing 51 corporate cafeterias across San Francisco.

It’s all a direct reaction to the glaringly negative impact of corporate cafeterias on existing and new local food businesses in the city’s mid-market district. The late Mayor Ed Lee’s controversial central market tax exclusion, colloquially known as the “Twitter tax break,” enticed technology companies like Twitter, Square, Uber, and Spotify to build office buildings in a clearly defined area of mid-market. This allowed real estate brokers to truly sell the area to restaurant owners and many seasoned operators hedged their bets on the historically troubled neighborhood. But under a year later, mid-market saw a restaurant bloodbath. High-profile spots like Bon Marche, Oro, Cadence, and more closed in quick succession. All of the restaurants that shuttered cited corporate cafeterias as one contributing factor to the lack of business needed to stay open.

The remaining restaurants can now imagine what business would look like when millions of dollars are diverted from the “billion dollar palace” cafeterias into alternatives that stimulate the local community. According to GGRA executive director Gwyneth Borden, some companies may also consider implementing alternatives like paid onsite cafeterias, catering-in food from outside business, and offering a daily food stipend for employees to use as they wish. To give a rough idea how much money will be involved: Former executive head chef at Google, Nate Keller, estimated the company spent $80 million on food costs in 2008. Imagine how much that figure has inflated in ten years time.

Some companies are already opting for some subsidized food alternatives. Square, for example, shuts down its cafeteria on Fridays and provides a stipend for employees to use as they wish. ZeroCater and Zesty work with restaurants to provide larger scale catering for corporations.

Detractors of the amendment might fear big government. Proponents could argue that if you don’t get people outside, interacting and spending money on the streets of the city, you’re not going to have much of a community to speak of.

It’s an especially timely proposition considering the impending availability of 6 million square feet of new office space when the newly approved Central SoMa plan is completed.

This is a legislative measure which would amend the San Francisco Planning Code. It will be heard in Committee at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in September and, according to Borden, would become effective likely 30 days after passage.

City hopes SoMa development will pump millions into land values—and public benefits [Curbed SF]

No soup for you: San Francisco weighs ban on companies’ in-house cafeterias [SFBT]

Lunch at Google HQ is as Insanely Awesome as You Thought [Serious Eats]

Googlers Eat Way More Than 40,000 Free Meals Per Day And $1 Million Worth Of Chicken Per Month [BI]

Central Soma Plan [SF Planning Dept.]

Central Market Tax Exclusion Borders [OEWD]

Why Should Twitter Get All the Tax Breaks [Curbed SF]