Inside Google’s global canteen
Google famously provides free meals, drinks and snacks around the clock for its employees. Photographs: Eric Luke
The box hedge is trembling in its cartoon-coloured pots in a stiff north wind outside Google’s European headquarters in Barrow Street in Dublin, but the Googlers (sorry, but everyone here calls them that, like they’re Oompa Loompas) walk out without coats. Some of them are in T-shirts. Either these bright sparks have a different core temperature or they’re crossing to another warm building here at the heart of Google city.
At offices all over the country, workers are wrapping up to go out and buy a lunch that they will bring back and eat at their desks. Workplace lunches are a huge business. Cafes, sandwich shops and restaurants grow at the feet of office blocks like mushrooms under oaks – but not here. No one brings their food into this building. It would be carting coals to Newcastle.
I’m here to taste what Googlers eat, that famously free breakfast, lunch, dinner and an all-day all-you-can-eat buffet of snacks that’s a perk of the job. The company laminate clipped to the waistband of your jeans is a set of keys to the sweetshop, the fast track for some to the Google stone gained in the first few months.
The PR consultant who’s bringing me into the building says they have shifted things since the term was first coined. They put the high-calorie sweets at the bottom of the racks and are adding more fresh vegetables, fruit salads and diet drinks into the snack mix. “You can be as healthy or as unhealthy as you like,” she says. So a bit like life, then.
Here they colour code snacks with the traffic light colours: red for bad, amber for okay and green for good. Then it’s up to the Googler to decide between a Wispa bar and a plate of carrot sticks.
Tempting as it is to neck 10 bags of Skittles and see how long it takes to get the sugar jitters, we’re going for a sit-down lunch in the restaurant instead.
There are three restaurants across across the Google buildings and “micro-kitchens” on every floor with limitless drinks and snacks. They are all run by a young husband-and-wife team, Brian and Elena Begley.
Brian spent four years working in catering in Germany before setting up a small company in 2000 making sandwiches in an enterprise centre in Terenure. In 2004, the company was making one sandwich delivery a week to Google. As the internet giant grew, so did they. Now they feed an average of 2,500 Googlers a day and employ 85 people. In 2005, Brian went to Google US headquarters at Mountainview, California to see how they catered for staff there.
The Irish offering is based on some of what he saw there, but it’s not a McDonald’s model of homogeneity.
These days, Googlers make their own sandwiches at the deli counter if they don’t want to go to the restaurant, choosing wraps, rolls or bread, then filling them with ingredients before toasting their creation in a photocopier-sized panini toaster. The biggest buzz though is in the restaurant, which is a like a college canteen in an extremely well-heeled American campus.
Instead of the communal dining hall, it’s full of colourful cave-like spaces where people can sit in groups to eat. There are some padded cocoon chairs for the Greta Garbo option of dining with laptop or phone. Given where we are, it’s a surprise not to see anyone gazing at a screen while they queue.
People talk to each other or check out the food they’re going to put on their red plastic trays.
Brian Begley says they source as many ingredients as they can in Ireland. All their meat is Irish. Vegetables come from north Dublin grower Keelings and fish is sustainably sourced. Plenty of diners are opting for the broccoli and red cabbage today.