If you’re working a desk job with typical hours, work comes to a halt around noon each day as everyone rushes to get lunch. It’s a horribly inefficient custom, if you think about it, resulting in longer lines at local eateries. But most of us don’t think about such curiosities because, really, what are we going to do about it? Lunchtime is lunchtime and that’s pretty much that. It’s not like you or I can change the time people each lunch.
But Goldman Sachs can — at least when it comes to their employees.
Goldman’s HQ is located at 200 West Street in Manhattan, pictured above. The $2.1 billion building (completed in 2010) has over two million square feet (200,000 m^2) of floor space. Approximately 7,500 employees work there each day. Like many large corporations with lots of employees in one place, Goldman provides lunch to its workers in the form of corporate cafeteria. (According to one Wall Street Journal profile of the building — yes, the Wall Street Journal profiles buildings — the Goldman cafeteria has “a deep panini lineup and deadly cupcakes,” in case you were wondering.) And like most other places in which one can get lunch, the Goldman cafeteria tends to get crowded between noon and 1 PM.
Having a lot of high-priced bankers (and everyone else in the company, for that matter) waiting in line for their salads and sandwiches (and cupcakes) is a pretty bad use of company time. So the cafeteria decided to incenvitize lunchers to turn into early-birds or latecomers. Show up before 11:30 or after 1:30 — that is, before or after the typical lunchtime — and you’ll get your meal (is it still called “lunch” if you eat it at 11 AM?) twenty-five percent off. Congestion pricing for soup and sushi, if you will.
While the idea worked, it unfortunately may have worked too well. According to CNBC, “if you find yourself in the cafeteria sometime around 1:20 pm, you’ll notice that the lines at the pay registers are empty. So are many of the tables. But the cafeteria area between where the food is collected and where you pay is quite crowded. The Goldman lunchers are chatting with each other, waiting for the final minutes to tick down until they can save a dollar or two.” And that makes sense. John Carney, the CNBC editor who first noted the pricing scheme, half-joked that “one of the things you don’t want to do as an employee at Goldman — ever — is admit you overpaid for something. How can you be trusted to trade bonds if you can’t be trusted to buy lunch at the best price?”
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