I came, I saw, I ATE…at Google.
When it comes to institutional corporate fun, Google has always reigned supreme – in fact, it invented the idea. Sadly, although “fun officers”, snooker tables and free food have become the norm in many workplaces – particularly in the US – they have stayed well clear of newspaper offices.
Which is why the expression on my face last week when I went to the Google offices for lunch went from childish awe, to infantile fascination, to pure infatuation and love, from the moment I took a seat on a green lego-like sofa with a can of (free) Diet Orange Fanta, until the moment I left with a mouthful of Minstrels grabbed from one of the many microkitchens (microkitchens!!), and a Lion bar for the road.
In between, I saw the primary-coloured light: offices don’t have to be dreary places from which one dreams of leaving from the moment one enters them.
Babyishly ogling my brightly coloured surroundings, I waited for my friend to meet me amid the clicks of reception’s Apples (macs), the snap of soda cans opening, the chatter of people moving between orange sofas and huge glass doors. Through the glass into the dining room I saw “workers” playing table football. I believe there might have been a clown or juggler there too; and maybe even a little ice-skating rink and a karoke machine. And Lady Gaga performing with Beyonce. Anything to increase productivity! Or is it creativity.
We went into the canteen. So paralysed by shock at this confusing valley of plenty, a heaving cornucopia, it took me a while to speak. “Why?” was my first question. What I saw went way beyond nourishing people. Google employees are paid enough to afford discounted canteen food – as most people in offices have to. So why the almost obscene plenty? Because Google, it was explained to me, earns more money than it knows what to do with. So it recirculates a fraction of it into things like this canteen- the Googleplex, Google’s headquarters in Santa Clara, CA, is on a whole other order of workplace extravagance. It’s plenty for plenty’s sake. It’s the Roman Abramovich of office canteens.
Every day the canteen has a theme; on the day I went it was something like Turkish. The hot food counter had top quality chargrilled meats, shwarma meat, aubergine stuffed with quorn mince, whole marinated roast chickens turning on spits. Couscous; wild rice salad. Corn on the cob, sitting under a heater. As if that wasn’t enough, next to it was “health food” – salads in varieties you can’t imagine, and low-fat meats; Thai stir-fry and curry. There was beef stroganoff too. I turned around and felt another food counter calling to me, through the magnetic field of attractive Googlenerds. This one had sushi – sashimi, nigiri, and more (pots for soy sauce, wasabi and ginger). It had smoked salmon, cooked salmon, smoked mackerel, chickpeas, cabbage-based salads, Middle-eastern salads. To the right of it, an elevated counter heaped with the finest British and French cheeses; a bakery heaped with rolls and every cold cut under the sun. I contemplated grabbing some Losley Valley yoghurt as I made my way to the table, but opted instead for a cupcake, passing the ice cream cart with attendant toppings cart.
When I left, I felt weird. Fuller than usual at lunctime, to start with. I also felt my childish wonder wither as I contemplated life in such an environment: a constant battle against greed and the desire to consume all because it’s free. If I worked at Google, I might be loyal to the company – possibly even more creative due to the hodgepodge of sushi and stirfry and rotisserie on my plate every lunchtime – but I’d be obese. Google is a bit like those farmers feeding up geese for foie gras. The product is most fine, but a lot of stuffing has to be done first.