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Google's Silenced Dinner Bell Rings Again!

Tuesday, 26 Aug 2008 | 12:40 PM ET

Hot off the presses: It's just not true.

Did you catch this crazy story that Google would stop offering its workers their free, nightly dinner? Amid so much concern about global, macro-economic issues; so much concern about a domestic economic slowdown and a general financial malaise that threatens investors like they haven't been threatened in years, and THIS was the story that caught fire on the net today. Heaven forbid: A sign -- some experts are claiming -- that despite CEO Eric Schmidt's protestations to the contrary, that Google was actually, finally being affected by the downturn.

Trouble is, the story isn't true.

Sure, it could have been an OMG moment for the company's legions. I mean, think about the worries: first the free dinner, then what next? No more on-campus dentistry? Dry-cleaning? My goodness, are they going to shut down the electric vehicle re-charge stations? Stop re-filling the real-sand volleyball courts? Make employees bring their own ping pong paddles and balls? Where will could it end, man, where could it end?

Google Headquarters
AP
Google Headquarters

The level of discourse online about this development has been stunning today. That somehow this development could suggest the first chink in the Google economic armor. Are you serious? Even though Google is still offering free breakfasts and lunches, coffees and drinks? Rumors were that Google might also be ending some snack service, and (yes, this is real) its afternoon tea service. Heck, if some airlines are charging for blankets and pillows nowadays, doesn't it stand to reason that everyone would be sharing in some level of pain? If I were an employee, sure I'd be disappointed. I'm not quitting, but I'm disappointed. But such is the case with some perks. I mean, geez, it's not as if Google's missing payroll, or canceling employee health insurance. If Google had wanted to cut back dinner, it'd be more a akin to the law of large numbers rather than an economic canary in a coalmine: Feeding everyone three meals a day was a cute, cuddly nice perk a few years ago, but when you're hiring 1,500 workers every quarter, that could get pricey. Even for Google.

The dinner perk makes sense though. Give employees as few excuses as possible to leave campus to take care of errands. The more time they spend on campus, the more chance they'll actually be working. Think of food as a kind of loss-leader for productivity. But remember, this is also the company that encourages employees to spend 20 percent of their time on projects outside of what they're working on at the office. To keep them happy. Challenged. Motivated. This is also a company in the midst of dramatically expanding its free day care for employees as well, building new centers on campus. This is a company known for putting enormous pressure on its workers, but the funny thing is, most of those workers put the pressure on themselves as self-starting, ambitious individuals. (Even though I have no idea what some many of them do all day.)

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CNBC's Techs in the News:

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But all of this discussion is for naught. This story apparently started on a Silicon Valley gossip site and it immediately caught fire around the web. It took one call to Google to find out the story simply isn't true. A spokeswoman told me it was absolutely false, the company doesn't know where the story came from, and has no plans to cancel dinner service for its workers. Period. A nice excuse to look at the dinner perk, and other Google perks, as a way of doing business. The costs and benefits.

But put away the markers and paint brushes and cardboard signs and wooden sticks. No need to protest. No need to fire off that resume to Yahoo . Dinner is safe. Phew! Thank the Lord. Dinner is safe.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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