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Five Corporate Cafeterias That’ll Make You Ravenous

As the clock hands inch toward noon on any given workday, employees of all walks and professions start tapping their feet and drumming their fingers in anticipation of the sandwiches they’ll eat, errands they’ll run, and other nonwork tasks that’ll keep them far from the office during that glorious hour. Yet among that group, there are those who are just as happy, if not even happier, to stay and sup on company grounds.

How can that be? you might wonder, eyeing the stale vending-machine snacks and cheerless overhead lighting in your break room with dismay. Then again, these workers who freely and gladly spend their lunches onsite don’t find sustenance from chips and weak coffee. They have access to professional chefs, varied menus, and many other perks you don’t find in the average office kitchen or cafeteria. If you assume that eating lunch at work is always depressing, check out how some companies are really changing the rules of corporate dining culture.

We’ve all heard the stories about Google’s in-house masseuses and doctors, multiple game rooms, and, yes, staff lunches. But to make you even more jealous, let’s delve into the lunches and dinners. Employees and their fortunate friends are free to dine at any of the Mountain View campus’s numerous cafés run by trained executive chefs. If you feel like anything from tapas to raw food to smoothies, there’s an eatery for that. Even if you don’t or can’t leave your desk, there are mini–coffee stations and vending machines filled with both healthful and junky goods. But tasty office bounty aside, there’s a lot of deliciousness and innovation happening in the campus cafés. For example, the Pure Ingredients café creates every menu option from scratch, right down to the root beer, and Café 150, which opened in 2006, uses only local ingredients found within 150 miles of Mountain View.

Cisco Systems
Google gets all the glory for its company perks, but Cisco offices in the United States and Canada boast an impressive dining scene as well. It’s run by Bon Appétit, a restaurant management company that works closely with farmers and organic companies to provide employees with locally sourced foods. In fact, Cisco started a Farm to Fork initiative with Bon Appétit’s help, bringing in produce grown 150 miles from each office and making sure it gets to employees’ plates two days (at the most) after harvest. To minimize the environmental impact of its food service even more, the North Carolina office transforms its used vegetable oil into biodiesel. Plus, Bon Appétit ensures that all the meat and dairy products served are free of antibiotics and hormones, and that the fish are sustainably caught.

Not only does the sprawling corporate campus in Redmond, Washington, hold basketball courts, hiking trails, and game rooms, but it somehow squeezes in forty-three cafés as well. Thanks to the company’s Local Brands program, a food court called the Commons houses outposts of fourteen favorite local restaurants, such as Flying Pie Pizzeria and Quincy’s burgers, as well as a post office, a bank, a bike shop, and a hair salon. Or workers can head to one of many cafés serving pizza, sandwiches, and international cuisine. Those looking for a peaceful setting opt for Redwest cafeteria, which looks onto a pond and waterfall. There are also several to-go options for people on deadline, like Wolfgang Puck catered goods, organic options from outdoor vendors, and even a line of specially made frozen meals. If someone can’t leave his or her computer, the Lunch Direct program will send someone to deliver it deskside. But clearly, the food is good enough to drive people out of their cubicles and offices—a 2008 Food Management story estimated that fifty thousand dining transactions per day occur on the campus.

The Hearst cafeteria (along with the rest of the Hearst Tower) debuted in October 2006 and soon gave Condé Nast’s famed eatery a run for its food money. The giant, natural light–filled Café 57 has a number of eating options, including two sushi chefs on hand every day to prepare fresh rolls for the hundreds of Hearst workers who roll through. There are the requisite salad bars and soup/sandwich stations, but kiosks featuring recipes from company publications like Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine abound as well. The café even has its own daily menu and a calendar of upcoming guest chefs, book signings, and other cool goings-on. But what’s perhaps most remarkable about the food is that it’s insanely cheap, given the usual price of lunch in Manhattan. You can get a decent-size gourmet lunch for around $7.

Skywalker Ranch
George Lucas’s four thousand acres in Marin County are home to Lucasfilm Ltd. and Skywalker Sound. Employees and guests at Skywalker Ranch can choose from three dining options on the premises: a salad bar and grill near the fitness center, a cafeteria in the Technical Building, and a fancily rustic dining room in the Main House, a Victorian mansion. The grounds are also home to various farm life, vegetable gardens, and entire vineyards, so many of the ingredients used in the dining establishment come from these convenient and sustainable sources. People can purchase the jams, wines, and other products of the surrounding land as well.

After reading about all of the amazing gastronomic benefits of working at companies like Cisco and Hearst, you probably won’t find the canned soup you brought from home today too appealing anymore. But there’s a reason why these corporations give employees such grand meal plans: they don’t want them to leave the office. At all. The corporate cafeterias are delicious incentives to stay onsite and keep working. Canned soup and freedom, or your pick of gourmet meals for the price of a long, grueling workday … which would you choose?