The Golden Age of Tech Cafeterias Is Over
Bloomberg Businessweek|January 11, 2021
The pandemic threatens to permanently upend a unique attribute of the Bay Area’s food service industry

Mohammed Badri became a cook at the Tuck Shop, Dropbox Inc.’s corporate cafeteria, early in 2019. By most measures, the gig in what was then known as one of Silicon Valley’s best cafeterias was a dream job. He made such dishes as marinated ahi tuna with spiced watermelon water and pickled vegetables, and kofta flatbread with arugula salad— and never had to make the same thing twice.

Badri wasn’t a Dropbox employee, having been hired instead through a third-party contracting firm. Still, working in a tech company’s kitchen paid competitively and offered more stability than his previous restaurant jobs. He also didn’t have to do the brutal 12- to 15-hour shifts he’d endured in the conventional food industry.

Everything changed last March, when Dropbox Chief Executive Officer Drew Houston tweeted that the company would ask employees to work remotely for two weeks to help slow the spread of Covid-19. Dropbox continued paying Badri until late April. He’s been at home ever since.

Badri, 31, hesitated to take a new restaurant job, even when the Bay Area’s restaurants were largely locked down because of the pandemic, because he had a baby at home and was worried about safety protocols in unfamiliar kitchens. “It’s a scary disease,” he says.

Over the past decade, the over-the-top cafeteria has become one of the hallmarks of tech office culture, along with hoodies with corporate logos and permissive bring-your-dog-to-work policies. Tech companies have hired thousands of workers from some of the best restaurants in the Bay Area to staff their kitchens, providing them with a bounty of local produce from which to churn out breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The free meals became such a fixture in tech offices that San Francisco has considered banning or restricting new employee cafeterias, because some officials worried that in-office dining options were damaging local restaurants. At the same time,the boom in corporate dining created a new class of jobs that offered more stability than typical restaurant positions and could pay over 20% more.

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