April 29, 2011 10:21 pm

The Corporate Diner: Lunch at Facebook

Café X, Facebook Engineering Building, 1601 California Avenue, Palo Alto, California

Food: International and mostly organic Monday-Thursday, American comfort food Fridays

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Value for money: Unmatched – three meals a day and limitless snacks are provided free for staff

Corporate mission: “Helps you connect and share with the people in your life”

The café in the engineering building of Facebook is a cross between a university dining hall and a Las Vegas buffet. Coders and programmers, for whom lunch is often the first meal of the day, fill up plastic trays with the assistance of a string of chefs - one hand-carving roasts of pork and turkey, another extolling the virtues of black eyed peas, collared greens and pulled pork. An unmanned salad bar and a make-your-own panini station round out the options. At breakfast, there is a waffle bar.

Employees in jeans and T-shirts (including the occasional Google t-shirt) eat their meals at simple white tables with plastic orange chairs, designed to complement Facebook’s overall décor – raw and industrial – which reminds employees that their work is only, always, “1 per cent finished.”

Executive chef, Josef Desimone, is currently overseeing the design of the new cafeteria at Facebook’s future headquarters in Menlo Park, but he has already turned down the first draft. “It was gorgeous,” he said, “which is a problem.” He has to anticipate the graffiti and handprints that will come to grace the walls over time, as employees make their own contributions to the industrial aesthetic. 

In addition to café design, Desimone is in charge of planning breakfast, lunch and dinner, five days a week, for the company’s 2,000-odd local employees. He entertains himself as much as his diners by experimenting with different themes, from Chinese to Haitian to an all-chocolate menu that featured chilli-ricotta-cocoa ravioli and asparagus with chocolate vinaigrette.

All meals are free of charge, and at the office’s many snack bars there is a bountiful supply of bananas, Snickers bars and Vitamin Waters. Even the reception desks are furnished with hefty bowls of Starbursts, Tootsie Pops and Peppermint Patties. It’s not surprising new employees are warned of the “Facebook 15,” the typical number of pounds gained in the first year of employment. Free toothpaste and toothbrushes are also provided in the bathrooms.

April Dembosky is the FT’s San Francisco correspondent

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