West-coast startups are famous for applying the best of undergraduate life to the professional world, including casual dress codes, flexible hours, and unplanned office decor. A few have even adopted the dining hall. These cafeterias are still free, buffet-style and pretty variable, but they've upgraded from pizza and Cheetos to shawarma and composting. Here's what they do—and how your office can try it too.
1. Google was one of the first companies to offer its employees free snacks, and about five years ago they developed a reputation for the "Google 15"—the web giant's version of the college student's first-year weight gain. Since then, though, they've moved small plates and fruit bowls front and center. Workers are still free to choose junk food, but the alternatives have saved an estimated 3 million calories so far.
2. Bloomberg L.P. took some flak when its founder, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, started legislating to protect his city's health. Large sodas aside, though, the company has a healthy reputation for sustainability: Employees buy lots of food in bulk and scrape their plates into compost bins when they're finished.
3. Facebook has downsized, too—the company only offers plates, not trays, for employees to carry their food. And according to their latest job posting for a food manager, the cafe serves dishes from a different culture every day, sometimes with locally sourced ingredients to match. The Palo Alto office also hosts local mogul Philz Coffee in its courtyard.
4. Instead of doing all its cooking in-house, LinkedIn is home to the "magic whiteboard" on each office door, where employees can list their lunch order and find it delivered that afternoon. In case that's not sufficient, though, the LinkedIn menu is every bit as varied as any other in the Bay: They do sushi Tuesdays, donut Fridays and an array of Asian bowls every week.
5. At this point, it shouldn't surprise you that meals at DreamWorks Animation in Glendale are also free, wildly variable and prepared by gourmet chefs. The company also parks a fruit smoothie truck outside for afternoon pick-me-ups. It's also got a wildly active fandom among Yelp reviewers—which probably speaks more to its quality than its desire to control portion sizes.
Each of these companies does the kitchen a bit differently, and that's great—variety is the spice of life, right? But they do have a few crucial (and easy-to-imitate) similarities:
1. Fresh fruit. It might be easier to get fresh-squeezed orange juice on the west coast, but there's no reason your Midwest office can't replace Oreos with strawberries. If you can't quite part with chocolate, buy a little to use as cream cheese or dip.
2. Freebies (or single-ticket pricing). Free food makes employees happier. Plus, when a salad costs about as much as a sandwich, it's easy to feel like the sandwich provides way more bang for five bucks. Try working with your cafeteria to institute a buffet-ticket system, where lunch costs the same amount no matter what's on your plate.
3. Shared catering. When the office orders together, you can try a little of everything without overdoing it on anything. Set up a weekly lunch pool with your team, so when you're all craving dumplings, you each get a third of an order rather than demolishing a whole one yourself.
This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at good.is/food and on Twitter at #chewonit.