Is Google's cafeteria a competitive weapon?

Is Google's cafeteria a competitive weapon?

If you’re a Google fan, here’s yet another reason to love this provider of really useful, reliable, and not to mention free computer tools – they feed their employees well!
That fact came to light a few weeks ago when the Internet was full of reports that Google is seeking to hire two gourmet chefs to prepare meals (free to employees) for its brainy staff.
It turns out that the incumbent chef, Charlie Ayers, will soon be leaving to start a chain of natural foods restaurants. Google is seeking two executive chefs to replace him.
The search has even garnered the attention of Google co-founder Sergey Brin who is quoted remarking, “These two chefs will play an important role in managing the company’s growing appetites.”
The company posted sample dishes from the cafeteria menu on its website that job finalists will need to prepare in an upcoming cook-off competition to be judged by a team of Google taste testers.
A review of those menu items indicates that the tastes of Google’s employees are as diverse as their national and ethnic backgrounds. The company is known for employing some of the best and the brightest people in the world and its menu offers no less of a global all-star lineup.
It includes scrumptious-sounding dishes such as Ahi Tuna & Avocado Poke, Eggplant Ratatouille, Pollo en Huerto, Seared Day Boat Scallops in Green Coconut Curry Sauce, Arugula with Dried Apricots, Sautéed Wild Mushrooms, Spinach Lentil Dal and Tropical Shrimp Bisque soups, Hazelnut Shortcakes with Plum Compote, Chocolate Coconut Cheesecake and Creamy Lemon Macadamia Nut Cookies. Not exactly your typical corporate cafeteria fare!
At this point, you may be thinking, this all sounds nice and is even making me hungry, but how in the world does offering such a menu of meals to employees confer a competitive advantage to a company? Well, let me assure you that this is by no means just another example of a big successful company heaping largesse on its lucky employees, but one with a solid business rationale behind it.
Now, I admit I’m a bit prejudiced on this topic since I am known for going to great lengths to sample gastronomic greatness. But the business researcher side of me has observed many seemingly unorthodox business practices that drive high performance in employees. In my view, feeding employees well is good policy and more companies should do it.
Providing good food in a corporate setting is not unusual. The executive dining room has been a fixture in many companies throughout this country for decades. What Google is doing is simply providing all its workers with the same top quality cuisine that other companies lavish on their top executives. If it’s good for the top brass why not do it for the rest of the company?
Food and dining in fact have long been a part of savvy competitive strategies. I have seen this work first hand on several occasions at two different consulting firms at which I was employed. Each one had its own kitchen, dining room, chef and wait staff. Lunches and dinners with prospects and clients proved to be quite an effective tool for building relationships.
Sure we could have taken VIPs out to a restaurant, and sometimes we did. But there is nothing more intimate than dining in a person’s home. So, inviting clients, prospects and potential business partners to dine with us at our offices was like inviting friends to a dinner party at home. This rarely failed to seal a deal or jumpstart a potentially lucrative new business relationship.
Feeding rank-and-file employees in company cafeterias has long been a part of corporate American life. But the fare offered at many of these facilities is more institutional than inspiring, greasy than gratifying, belly-busting than brain-building. Indeed, one suspects that most in-house eating establishments are deliberately designed to encourage diners to grab a quick bite and return to work. One poll by career website Vault.com found that one in four workers skip lunch breaks daily and quickly eat a sandwich or snack at their desks.
But Google uses a strategic approach to feeding its employees. Its people-based business strategy makes sure that the company’s stable of big brains is literally well-fed and nurtured.
This is not pampering – it’s a high-performance maintenance strategy. Would you think of filling up a Formula One racecar with 87 unleaded? Of course not! Then why let your Formula One-type talent nosh on institutional food? Google’s big brains need healthy, natural and delicious food and lots of it. And the company makes sure they get it.
Food is even a part of Google’s recruiting strategy for top engineering talent. Google Lab’s for example, includes a witty two-page primer in its recruiting kit entitled, “How to Care for Your Big, Wonderful High-Performance Brain.” At the top of the list of recommendations it makes is eating foods rich in amino acids such as salmon, mackerel, walnuts, green leafy vegetables and cold-pressed sunflower oil (all regularly found in the Google Lab’s cafeteria).
Other tips offered include avoiding exposure to brain-cell killing lead (Google is a lead-free work environment), wiggling your toes frequently to activate nerves that stimulate the brain (sandals are de rigueur fashion at Google Labs), taking short naps to enhance the information processing capacity of the brain (Google Labs’ engineers can take cat naps whenever necessary as long as they “refrain from drooling on their keyboards”), exercising to increase blood flow to the brain (Google’s campus offers a weekly “Wetlands Walk” among other exercise opportunities) and sharing your big brain with the world (Google Labs allows staff to spend 20% of their time working on projects of their own).
So if you’re a CEO of a company whose competitive success is reliant on the brain power of your talent you would be well-advised to spend some time in your cafeteria and kitchen facilities if you have them. Do an eating tour of the local food joints and convenience stores as well. If food is fuel for the brain, then make sure your best and brightest have ample opportunity to eat like champions not chumps.
Have a story about good, bad or outright awful workplace cuisine? We’d love to hear it! E-mail Tony at tdiromualdo@yahoo.com.

Tony DiRomualdo is a business researcher, author and consultant. His work focuses on how changes in global business dynamics, talent management practices and information technology-enabled tools and capabilities are transforming the workplace. He helps individual leaders and teams to create Next Generation Workplaces. He can be reached at td@nextgenerationconsulting.com.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.