We’d Love to Go Out for Lunch, But We’re Busy and Can’t Afford It

In my prior job, I usually brought my lunch to work.  Every now and then, when I would forget to pack a lunch, or the cupboard was bare, I would grab a sandwich in the cafeteria.

While I’ve sampled some great food at state office building cafeterias, the cafeteria in our building was the worst.  The food – especially in the hot food bar – was barely edible and made me sick once.  The grouchy cashier would usually greet me with a sneer or complaint.  Worse, the proprietors would “nickel and dime” everything from ketchup to extra ice.

With that in mind, I read with amusement the latest wacky proposal from San Francisco to ban employee cafeterias in future office buildings.  Mountain View has already enacted such a ban.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who authored the proposal, says that “we don’t want employees biking or driving into their office, staying there all day long, and going home.”

That’s the whole point.  Employees are very busy, working long hours – often through lunchtime – to complete projects and meet deadlines.  Cafeterias allow them to grab a sandwich or salad quickly and conveniently, so they can eat and get back to work.

Cafeterias are also an important benefit that employers can offer workers to make their companies more attractive to them.  A free or reduced-price meal also helps workers – most of whom aren’t drawing million-dollar salaries – afford to live in expensive cities like San Francisco.

Employee cafeterias also provide good-paying job opportunities for the workers who staff them.  One would think elected officials who claim to stand with workers would understand this.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the proposal’s co-sponsor, says that “people will have to go out and (eat) lunch with the rest of us” if it is enacted.  As if cafeteria eating is a bourgeois dining experience!

Most workers would love to go out to lunch.  But many eat at a cafeteria because they can’t afford to eat at a restaurant or don’t have time to go out.  Keep in mind that San Francisco has also made dining out more expensive with the government health care tax applied to all restaurant bills.

The bottom line is this proposal is another example of government picking winners and losers.  A rep for the local restaurant association told NBC Bay Area that, “you can’t compete with free.”

This all comes at a time when big conventions are leaving San Francisco because of the city’s inability to manage the homeless crisis, and major employers like Bechtel are leaving San Francisco for Virginia.  Meanwhile, the city’s housing crisis is so bad that roughly 7,000 people applied for 95 units in a new affordable housing complex.

Seems like city officials have bigger economic fish to fry than dictating whether employers can have a cafeteria for their workers.

Tim Anaya is communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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