"That's business," said Balek when Valleywag reached him by phone.
Google's offices in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood are the latest to feel the pinch, with hours curtailed and snack service cut back, according to an internal memo. To understand what a shock to the system this is, remember how, when Google went public four years ago, cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin swore they would increase employee perks over time. Since then, Google PR has built the company's great-place-to-work reputation largely on its free meals. How fast things change: Just a year ago, the luxe perks of Google's New York office were a selling point, as the search engine courted the city's fashionistas. Now the food is just another cost to cut. Starving artists, don't count on mooching off free meals courtesy of your Googler friends: Google New York is also cracking down on guests. Here's the memo New York Googlers received Tuesday around lunchtime:
Food is at the center of Google's corporate culture, a sign of the company's Pollyanna worldview and the outsized financial success which enables this largesse. So why is Google is closing a café? Off The Grid, one of Google's 18 in-house eateries at its headquarters, abruptly shut its doors this week. Employees are being told the cut is "temporary," but workers are removing the café's fixtures, which suggests a permanent closure. What this means: Despite CEO Eric Schmidt's protestations, Google is being hit by the recession. And the blows are harder than the company has admitted to shareholders or employees.Off The Grid's closure is the harbinger of more cuts, a source within Google's kitchens we've nicknamed "Deep Fried" tells us. The building, 2350 Bayshore, is also having its "micro kitchen" snack stations closed. A large number of workers in the building were contractors, Deep Fried says, some of whom are losing their temporary jobs at Google. The closure also leaves a large area of Google's campus without breakfast service. Food is just one area where Google is slashing costs; under recently hired CFO Patrick Pichette, Google has been having a series of meetings about eliminating expenses, and Googlers have been implementing the cuts with the same slapdash speed with which it rolls out new websites. Google executives gave food-service operator Bon Appétit sharp budget cuts this year, which has only worsened the already troubled relationship between the companies. Google eliminated dinner at one café earlier this year. But the closure of Off The Grid was sudden, coming after a meeting between Bon Appétit executives and Derek Rupp, the café's executive chef, Deep Fried writes:
Food is part of the Google myth: All you can eat, three meals a day, with plenty of room for your friends and family. No more. Following the curtailment of dinner service, Google is now restricting employees to two guest meals a month. Contractors and temps will not be allowed any guests at all. Google HR chief Laszlo Bock announced this change in a memo obtained by Valleywag. Some Googlers, we've heard, treated their families to free dinner every night; others took large amounts of food home with them on Friday nights, to last the weekend. The move is consistent with Google management's war on abuse of the company's perks; cofounder Sergey Brin, especially, has complained about Googlers' sense of entitlement. Yet it's likely to spark grousing. Googlers outside engineering are often poorly paid, and sneaking food home amounts to part of their salary. Google seems caught in a vicious circle of worsening morale: Discontent sparks abuse of perks; crackdowns on perk abuse sparks discontent. Read the memo to see Google's latest schoolmarmish turn:
The brouhaha over Google's once-legendary, now troubled free-meals perk has bubbled up more charges of wrongdoing in the search engine's kitchens. An anonymous poster has taken to Craigslist to air charges against Google's former global food manager, John Dickman. (The post refers to him as "Dick," but it's obviously Dickman being discussed.) The Craigslist poster claims Dickman, left, who is married to Lisa McEuen, right, an executive at the parent company of food-service operator Bon Appétit, with leaking inside information which helped Bon Appétit win a contract to run Google's in-house meal service.The poster claims Dickman then arranged to get a kickback from Bon Appétit. Google, he goes on to write, investigated Dickman and Bon Appétit, going as far as testing fruits and vegetables, presumably to see if they met Google's high standards for organic and sustainable ingredients. The implication there: Bon Appétit had been feeding Googlers slop dressed up as fancy fare. The end of the Craigslist poster's story: Dickman was brought before Google's board and fired. All juicy gossip — but there's one thing that doesn't make sense about this whole tale. Dickman is now working at Apple, a company with close ties to Google. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is on Apple's board of directors. Apple directors Bill Campbell and Al Gore are important advisors to Schmidt. If Dickman left Google in a cloud, how could he possibly land a job at Apple? Either the poster's allegations aren't true — or something darker is going on here. One possible explanation: Google's leaders might have arranged for Dickman to get a job with their friends at Apple in exchange for buying his silence on other matters. Here are excerpts from the original post on Craigslist:
One of our sources with Google's ready-to-boil kitchens, whom we've nicknamed "Deep Fried," tells us that the employee-coddling search giant has a much bigger food problem than cutbacks on dinner — and a much bigger labor problem than a lack of work visas for its programmers. More than half of the contract workers who prepare and serve Googler's vast quantities of free food, our source claims, lack documentation that proves they have a legal right to live and work in the United States. Are they illegal aliens? The point is that Bon Appétit, the management company which runs Google's cafes, has turned a blind eye — as has Google, until recently. A former chef tells us Google would frequently let workers who didn't have proper credentials return to work with fresh documents, under new names.Undocumented workers chop vegetables and wash dishes throughout the food industry; why would Google's cafes be any different? The hypocrisy of America's immigration rules isn't the issue, though; it's the foolishness of Google's management. Even if everybody does it, Google executives claim that it runs its business differently — and better. Claiming the moral high ground may prove harder now. Google's chief people officer, Laszlo Bock, has lobbied Congress vigorously to expand the number of H-1B visas the company gets. Getting caught with an undocumented nanny has torpedoed many political careers. The next time he appears in Washington, D.C., don't you think Bock will get pointed questions from self-righteously huffy Congressmen why he doesn't think American citizens are fit to serve his employees' meals? Google, which has been feuding with Bon Appétit over the running of its kitchens for months, may be addressing the problem. "There are rampant rumors in all the kitchens that Guggenheim [sic] will be taking over the account come December," Deep Fried tells us — actually referring to Guckenheimer, a less highfalutin' food-service competitor to Bon Appétit. "Everyone is paranoid that when [Guckenheimer] comes in all the undocumented workers will get the can." If that happens, who will serve Googlers the free meals they've become accustomed to? We suggest Larry, Sergey, and Eric don hairnets and gloves. (Photo by midom)
Google's cafeterias have become such a point of pride for the company, even if it has to close a cafe now and again, that longtime AdWords customers recently received a spiral-bound copy of the Google cookbook title "Keyword: Delicious." If anything, the cookbook proves just how much fat there is to trim at the company's cafeterias — not one, but two of the recipes call for super-rich and expensive foie gras, or fatted goose liver. Included in the gift basket was a black apron emblazoned with Google's logo. Want to pick up a copy and eat like a Googler?Tough luck. They're not available to the public, yet. And we suspect this may be a limited edition. The introduction is written by John Dickman, Google's former director of food operations, who left the company amidst controversy in January, and now works at Apple.
Live by the fork, die by the fork. Now that Google is cutting back on its free food, where will its flacks woo journalists? Morale in Google's kitchens is rock-bottom, as leaderless workers try to keep understaffed cafes running, even as Google management insists they open new eateries. The last place Google's PR staff should want to entertain a reporter is in their cafes. The tragedy of it all: As we learn more about how the Googleplex's food operations fell apart, it sounds like Google executives' ego got in the way of thinking about the needs of employees — or the workers who keep them fed.The trouble started when Google hired John Dickman as its director of food operations. Dickman is married to Lisa McEuen, an executive at Bon Appétit. At the time, Bon Appétit and Google were two of the largest buyers of organic and sustainable food in the region; by picking up Google as a client, Bon Appétit gained considerable purchasing power. A source in Google's kitchens says that Dickman was "the reason Bon Appétit got the Google contract." But in exchange, Bon Appétit, a division of Compass Group, got a very testy client. A former Google chef who had his own ideas about how to run the cafes profitably said he tried to get founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and CEO Eric Schmidt interested, but they didn't listen "because I didn't have a Stanford degree." Google's ethics cops have never looked askance at, say, Schmidt hiring his girlfriend for a high-profile PR gig, or Brin getting Google to invest in his wife's startup. But Dickman's marriage to a Bon Appétit executive raised eyebrows, and he left the company in January. Two top chefs followed him out the door. Josef Desimone went to Facebook, in March. Dickman himself went to Apple, and Nate Keller, a protégé of Google's first chef, Charlie Ayers, followed him there. Both Desimone and Keller took several members of the kitchen staff with them. "All management staff has quit within the last three months," says a source at Google. That may be an exaggeration, but if so, not by much. One issue that's been underplayed: The behavior of rank-and-file Googlers. "Pride is all cooks and dishwashers have," says a former Google chef. But Googlers, whose sense of self-aggrandized entitlement is already legendary in the Valley, have been taking out their frustrations on the people who dish out their food. Kitchen staffers are "invisible" to them, says a Google food worker — except when they somehow displease Googlers who expect free meals and servile deference, too. Google's cafes have always been at the heart of its PR strategy, helping to portray the company as generous to employees, dedicated to doing things differently, and caring about Mother Earth. Google PR director David Krane took on the replacement of original chef Charlie Ayers as the task he worked on in the 20-percent time Google gives employees to work on side projects. I can't remember the number of times Krane cajoled me to enjoy a free meal, courtesy of Google. He wouldn't want me there now. A Bon Appétit executive said in May that the company was planning to drop Google as a client. Arrogant, tightfisted, and argumentative, the Googlers were more trouble than the food-service contract was worth. Even so, Bon Appétit has been scrambling to patch things up. "The two founders of Bon Appétit come on site at least once a week," says a Googler. "Other representatives from Bon Appétit headquarters are on site every day — as visitors. It's a very sticky situation. The kitchen staff isn't being told anything. When dinner is cut how many jobs will be cut, too? The thing that really gets me is that the Googlers have no clue and will be asking us questions when dinner and other programs stop. They won't know the truth either." The company seems uninterested in letting Googlers know the truth. It's telling that Google PR won't go on the record to deny the cuts, though they're happy to persuade reporters on background that the cuts are limited. A spokeswoman, conveniently unnamed, told CNBC's Jim Goldman that the company had no idea where the rumor came from. Here's an idea for Google PR: Go down to a kitchen, and talk to the people who actually make the food you love to eat while chatting up reporters. They seem to be better informed than you are. (Photo by Jeromy Henry/Fortune)
Google's food cutbacks are more targeted than we'd first heard. Dinner will still be served in buildings which house engineers, according to a former Google chef who's made his own inquiries about the changes at the Googleplex cafeterias. Google's only eliminating the evening meal in cafes frequented by nontechnical employees. Somehow, this strikes us as worse for morale. If there were any doubt that Google's non-engineers were second-class citizens, consider it erased. No comp-sci degree? No dinner for you. (Photo by brettlider)