Eating out is good for techies
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Eating out is good for techies

Eating out is good for techies

Posted on 12th November 2018

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Office canteen

On the face of it, the following are two totally unrelated questions.

“What do you think of the Chancellor’s tax on digital companies?”  

“What do you think when you see the words ‘office canteen?’”  

Does the former make you mad or glad - and does the latter make you think of an old hall with formica-topped tables and Betty dealing out the gruel?  Or do you think of your office cafeteria or even the restaurant in the basement that serves up a mean avocado soufflé?  

I suspect many in the tech trade in Edinburgh will, like me, have enjoyed the fare at places like Codebase, while a friend recalls that the best in-office eateries in his experience were in the major oil companies in Aberdeen back in the 1990sIn fact, he said the HRD at one such establishment told him it caused complaints from some vegetarians because they wavered ever time they crossed the threshold and were assailed by the scent of bacon rolls.  The quality of the food available was, apparently, as good as you’d get in the better class of restaurant in the city, but because the oil industry was booming back then the food was often free.  It may sound brilliant, but is this necessarily a good thing?

The reason I ask is because I came across two articles in the Telegraph’s business pages recently, the juxtaposition of which may have been coincidence but whether it was or not they neatly complemented each other.

The first noted that in Amazon’s Seattle headquarters there are 23 – yes, twenty-three! – restaurants spread across the campus. Amazon announced that it would build a new HQ elsewhere and US cities fell over themselves to curry favour.  In the UK, in places like Dundee, Manchester and other tech cities, the concentration of digital businesses is, correctly, considered a huge benefit to the locality. In India, the tech giants populate “carefully manufactured oases in … cities such as Bangalore and Hyderabad.”

However, the UK RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) warns that too often such concentrations of tech firms, while clearly ‘a good thing,’ don’t always bring all the benefits expected. Instead, they can push up house prices for those outside the tech industry, with “high levels of segregation, alienation and the displacement of established residents.” Moreover, “employers often bus in their staff and while there they rarely leave campuses where they eat, drink and socialise.”

In San Franscisco, “60% of the city’s voters approved a new tax rise on large companies to improve services for the homeless.” As with the Chancellor’s digital tax, this has provoked a range of emotions amongst the tech firms. 

We are not at this stage yet in the UK, but I do think that digital/tech, while so important to the UK economy, can’t afford to alienate the people on its doorstep. Whether a mix of tax and benefits is the way to go is a moot point, and one open for debate, but not many people quibble with moves to make, for example, public schools open up some of their facilities to their local communities, so why should IT be any different?

The second article, which serendipitously dovetails with this one, reported that small retailers are forecast to grow in numbers over the next few years, in spite of the general decline of the High Street. Small retailers are arguably those best placed to offer booming tech companies in the next street or the industrial park up the road a host of different eating, leisure and entertainment options.  Part of the solution to the potential problem of IT setting itself apart from the rest is therefore staring us in the face.  So the next time you’re feeling peckish at lunchtime, make the journey, if/when you can, to the local shops and restaurants.  Not only will it make you feel better by getting you out of the office, it will boost the local economy and help integrate your firm into the neighbourhood.

Nikola Kelly, MD, Be-IT


Posted in Opinion

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