San Fran wants to ban free lunch perk at companies

San Francisco, home of the metaphorical "free lunch," is looking to ban employers from offering on-site free lunch to employees.

The free lunch is a longstanding perk for employees at tech companies, but it has also had a negative effect on local restaurants.

CBS News:

"We see thousands of employees in a block radius that don't go out to lunch and don't go out in support of restaurants every day," said Ryan Corridor, owner of Corridor, a restaurant blocks from San Francisco's city hall.  "It's because they don't have to."

On the other hand, when Square, a nearby payment processing company, closes its cafeteria every other Friday, Corridor sees such a surge it sometimes has to increase its staffing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"You can't compete with free.  Free food is a wonderful amenity but doesn't do anything to extend the community around it," said Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Let's see if we can follow the logic of this proposal.  The city jacks up the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making it nearly impossible for many restaurants to make any money.  Instead of realizing their mistake and reducing the mandatory wage, city fathers have decided to coerce businesses into forcing their employees to travel off campus to eat.

All in the name of "supporting the community" of course.  And by God, if you don't want to "support the community," we'll force you to.

San Francisco Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin introduced legislation Tuesday prohibiting in-house cafeterias in new office buildings and tech campuses.  They insist the city has the legal right to do this through a zoning amendment using certain planning and public health codes.

"This is the beginning of a conversation," said Safai.  "We think it's an appropriate conversation to have now."

If passed, this new law would only apply to new companies, not existing companies in the city like Google, Twitter and Levi Strauss & Co.  There are currently 51 such employee cafeterias in San Francisco.

So the law wouldn't necessarily ban cafeterias.  It would change the zoning law to make it illegal to set up kitchen equipment in your place of business.

Safai painted the measure as a boon to work-life balance.  "This is also about a cultural shift," he told the Chronicle.  "We don't want employees biking or driving into their office, staying there all day long and going home.  This is about getting people out of their office," he said.

Welcome to our future under "democratic socialism."  Forget freedom of choice.  Forget freedom, period.  You will be required to spend money at local establishments to support someone's idea of "community" because city government has made it impossible for those businesses to turn a profit.

Tom Knighton at PJ Media spells out the consequences:

Part of the allure of on-site cafeterias is the cost and convenience.  You can get a good meal just steps away from your desk.

If you take that away, they're not going to flock to sit-down restaurants in the city where there's going to be a rush, possibly a wait for seating, then a wait for food.  Those are all things that take away that time from the workers.  Instead, they'll grab fast food just to avoid being rushed.

In other words, not only is this rent-seeking, it's not even well thought out rent-seeking.  It doesn't understand why these cafeterias are popular with employees.  Couple that with this being a perk employees enjoy that is economically feasible to the companies.  Companies will have to find new perks for their staff now, who may just decide to find a new job.

It should be noted that the companies could still offer free lunch by subsidizing employees who have to go off campus to eat.  Obviously, that's more expensive and time-consuming.

I worked in offices for fifteen years and used to brown-bag it every day, largely for the reasons Knighton mentions above.  When I worked in D.C. especially, bringing your lunch from home was a necessity.  Capitol Hill has many fine restaurants – all of them geared toward lobbyists with expense accounts.  It would have been impossible to live in the D.C. area if I was forced to eat at nearby establishments.

Remember: You will be forced to care.

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