Google Turns 25: Tech Giant Is The 'Headquarters' Of Good Food
Image Credit: Via Shutterstock. The Googleplex: Google's headquarters at Mountain View, California.

ON 4 September 1998, two students at Stanford University founded one of those companies whose names, over time, become synonymous with their functions. The students — Larry and Sergey — called their enterprise Google. And the 51st employee they hired was an executive chef. 

Reams have been written about the free meals that are part of the perks enjoyed by Googlers worldwide. At one time, a new cafe was being opened every six weeks in a Google office in some part of the world. But the motherlode is clearly the headquarters — aka the Googleplex — in Mountain View, California. 

In 2002, there were 11 kitchen staff catering to 400 Googlers. By 2008, the number of kitchen employees had risen to 675 — serving over 40,000 meals a day to 19,000 Googlers across offices. The company was spending about $80 million a year on food at this time, with $1 million worth of chicken being consumed by Googlers per month. Another eight years later, Google’s food team was staffing more than 185 cafes globally, and serving 1,08,000 meals each day. Of these 185 cafes, 30 were located within the Mountain View headquarters alone. The campus also had upwards of 20 food trucks, and micro-kitchens that prepared snacks and beverages on request. 

Clearly, Sergey Brin’s seeming commandment that “no (Googler) should be more than 200 feet away from food” has been followed to the letter on this campus.

A name that comes up a lot during discussions of the Googleplex’s food options is Baadal, the Indian restaurant founded by chef Irfan Dama in late 2012. While self-service is the norm in all the other Google cafes, here there is a full waitstaff, and employees are advised to make reservations in advance. The meals are served thali-style — albeit a far more lavish platter than one may typically expect, with portions of daal saagwala and aloo gobi dahiwale vying for space with an array of pickles, raitas, papads and of course, “Baadal rice” (a mix of Sona Masoori, Bhutanese red, and brown rice). Drinks like chai and flavoured lassis are circulated generously amid the diners. Fridays are reserved for more decadent fare, like biryani. If you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, or didn’t make a reservation in time, the same fare as Baadal is also served as its food truck version on campus — Bijlee. 

Also noteworthy is how the Google cafes and micro-kitchens emphasise healthful food choices. Each cafe keeps its salad bar front and centre. Food categories are labelled green (minimally processed food, fruits, vegetables etc), yellow (lean proteins) and red (high fat or sugar content) so Googlers know what their meal comprises. There are also weighing scales placed on the counters so those on a diet can measure exactly what their serving size is. In the micro-kitchens, water and cut fruits are positioned in the most convenient shelves, at eye level. Sodas, candy and other sugary treats are placed at lower levels, behind frosted glass. Servingware is deliberately sized smaller — be it spoons, or the dishes that are 9-inches instead of the usual 10-and-a-half.

You’re unlikely to find pineapple on the menu at any of the Googleplex cafes — the focus is on procuring the best quality ingredients locally (for instance, serving fresh rockfish instead of farmed salmon); preparing food sustainably (hence, small-batch cooking and repurposing leftover ingredients); and preventing food wastage. “Culinary internships” offer Googlers a chance to work behind-the-scenes at one of the campus cafes to find out what goes into their food and how it is prepared.

As of April 2023, Google announced that it would be rolling back some of its storied employee perks — the free lunches and snacks, fitness sessions and laundry facilities were among those cited as possibly being on the chopping block. How these impending cost-saving measures will impact the dining scene at Googleplex itself remains to be seen.