BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- It was Napoleon Bonaparte most often attributed with the saying "an army travels on its stomach." Corporate America knows as well the power of a food-fueled workforce. Credit the sprawling tech company campuses of the West Coast for bringing the same ingenuity and innovation that powers their success to the employee cafeteria. Quickly vanishing are the days of microwaved cheeseburgers and scoops of chicken a la king. Modern kitchens are built, and managed, with loftier goals.
The online auctioneer eBay might just have the best Indian food in Silicon Valley in its corporate cafe, but other tech giants have similarly lauded food programs for employees.
In trying to keep its workforce motivated, efficient, happy and productive -- as well as to recruit and retain talent -- an increasing number of companies are viewing high-quality employee meals as a crucial perk. "The goal is to strip away everything that gets in our employees' way," Google's ( GOOG) former CEO Eric Schmidt had written on a recruitment page addressing company perks. "We provide a standard package of fringe benefits, but on top of that are first-class dining facilities, gyms, laundry rooms, massage rooms, haircuts, car washes, dry cleaning, commuting buses -- just about anything a hardworking employee might want. Let's face it: Programmers want to program, they don't want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both." While food perks can be expensive (in 2008 Cisco ( CSCO) altered its offerings after determining it was spending $20 million a year on soda and bottled water alone) there can be tax incentives for companies that foot some or all of the cost. Companies traditionally get a 50% deduction for employee meals but can deduct the full value if, in broad terms, they can make a case the offering is a business imperative and not just a fringe benefit. (Employees can then also escape having to claim the meals as "compensation.") What the companies offer and charge can vary. While most of the top tech companies on the West Coast offer 24/7 snack, sandwich and beverage service, mealtimes typically fall within normal business hours at onsite cafes. And while Facebook and Google offer meals, snacks and beverages free for employees, others have food programs that are only partially subsidized, or not at all. At Cafe 17 and eBay Park, two restaurants at eBay's ( EBAY) San Jose Campus, meals typically cost employees $7 to $8. At Yahoo!'s ( YHOO) URL's Cafe, open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, breakfast runs about $3, with lunch in the $5 to $6 range.