I am back in Madrid after spending a week in the Bay Area and Seattle. The companies I met there were Google, our investor in the Bay Area and Microsoft and Starbucks in Seattle. From what I saw corporate America has decided to make food and drink one of the key competitive advantages in recruitment. First an article. Walking around Seattle I was surprised to see this headline in the local paper:

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Under Pressure Microsoft Fights to Keep its Workers, Here´s a link to the full article.

Is Microsoft doing so poorly that the newspaper in its local town runs such a headline? My first thought was that this fight must be over compensation, but as I read on I realized that while compensation and other perks are part of the equation, a lot of the “fight” is actually a food fight! What you see in the article is an obsession on the part of Microsoft with Google and a desire to beat Google at all level including food. I was surprised. While I have tremendous admiration for Google, I have a hard time believing that Google is a real danger to Microsoft. Presently, Microsoft earns in a quarter twice as much as what Google earns in a year. Why should Microsoft be so concerned about retaining all of its employees? It is normal to lose some employees to a competitor. But, in any case, my advise to Microsoft is that it should not make food the subject of a war with Google, because if it does it is a lost battle. From what I saw, both Google and Microsoft offer plenty of free food to visitors and employees, but Google simply has the best food in the world.

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There are 5 free restaurants with incredible choice, Italian, Vegetarian, Oriental, Mexican, American and on top of that there´s free candy, cereal, coffee and drinks… every 20 yards or so there´s food, food and more food like you can see in the picture. Microsoft, instead, has a much more limited choice, a few bagels and fruit and cereal here and there is what you get.

Interestingly, I also had a meeting at Starbucks on the same day and… boy was Starbucks a disappointment. Not only there was no food at Starbucks, but the only Starbucks I saw at the headquarters was not free.

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So Starbucks seems to be the clear loser in this battle, at least as far as visitors are concerned.

Now here´s a paradox. In a country in which obesity is on the rise and longevity fails to climb because of the ever more common side effects of excessive weight, is it wise to win the food fight? Isn´t the ultimate employee retention policy to keep employees healthy and productive for many years? Also, if people in America are beginning to sue restaurants over their obesity, what if they start suing their employers? I guess in Europe we don´t worry about that, we just starve people, especially in Spain where you don´t get to eat until 2pm.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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Dabis Camero on May 23, 2006  · 

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