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Microsoft’s Iconic Oneweek Caters to Participants’ Tastes

By Audrey Fan

Each July, Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, transforms into the weeklong Oneweek. The event is an opportunity for Microsoft employees to come together to learn about new products and services, and to bring their own ideas to life through presentations and activities. The week culminates with a keynote speech on the company’s bold ambitions and opportunities.

Oneweek kicks off with its Hackathon—a gathering of programmers who—for three straight days—collaboratively code around the clock, solving problems or creating opportunities on subjects that inspire them. This past year, Hackathon included more than 14,000 registered hackers from 132 cities representing 72 countries and hacking for more than 3,200 projects. At the close of the week, select programmers were chosen from the top projects to present their ideas.

Additional Oneweek events include Expo, which showcases Microsoft’s new products and services spread out over nearly 32,500 square feet of pop-up trade-show space, and Byte of Microsoft, a celebration of Microsoft’s food offerings. 

Behind the Scenes

Mark Freeman, senior manager of global dining, catering and event services for Microsoft, oversees Oneweek’s Byte of Microsoft. Over the course of the week, Freeman says, catering serves an impressive 70,000 dessert portions, 6,000 pounds of beef, 10,000 pounds of chicken, 1,000 pounds of baby carrots, 30 cases of field greens, 4,000 pounds of watermelon, 3,000 pounds of berries, 66 kegs of beer, 21 kegs of hard cider, 320 bottles of wine, 11,000 mocktails, 5,000 energy drinks and 3,000 gallons of water. 

Freeman and his team begin planning for the Byte shortly after the previous event ends. By January, equipment has been reserved, preliminary permits reviewed and the theme established. In 2016, the theme was summer camp.

In total, the event includes four major and six catering-staging tents. Because some of them are built on a parking structure, structural engineers are hired to obtain permits from the City of Redmond, with final permits submitted two–three months prior to Oneweek. Setup of the tents begins three weeks prior to the first day of the event. 

Three months prior to Oneweek, menus are finalized, and two months prior to the event, tastings take place. In the two weeks leading up to the event, food is purchased and the kitchen staff begins preparations, working around the clock, seven days a week. In total, there are 120 “culinarians” preparing the food and 100 front-of-house staff serving it. All told, Freeman’s team catered 70 events at the 2016 Oneweek.

In addition to the Byte of Microsoft, this past year, Eventions—which coordinates Microsoft’s catering, event planning and maincampus conference center—created a tasting lounge for Microsoft employees within the Expo venue. In keeping with the event’s theme, employees were treated to bite-size treats reminiscent of days spent at summer camp. 

Food for Thought

Freeman is in charge of Microsoft’s multimillion-dollar global dining operations. He manages and oversees approximately 35 accounts in 30 different countries outside the U.S., 33 cafes and 32 espresso locations in Redmond, more than 25 24/7 Market@ Stores, the stateof-the-art Commons retail town center and food court, and Eventions. Eventions produces more than 30,000 events annually, servicing more than 2,600 conference rooms and 183 event spaces. The team of 250 includes 40 event planners. 

One of the earlier concepts Freeman introduced to Microsoft in his role overseeing dining services—also known as Dining at Microsoft—was local brands, bringing in popular area restaurants to provide a variety of dining options for employees—or customers as they are called. The majority of cafes on campus, however, are concepts entirely created from the ground up by Dining at Microsoft. In 2007, there were six cafes; today, there are 38. 

Currently, Freeman is focused on the “ingredient revolution,” a response to consumers’ interest in the origins of their food. His team emphasizes “slow” food: food that is healthy for people and the environment, eschewing the use of pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

The evolution of food at Microsoft has changed with the employee, or customer, base. Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Andrew Wilson, senior director of catering for Compass Group—Microsoft’s dining service provider—says, “food was more about convenience. It was one hand on the mouse and one hand on the food.” 

Today, Microsoft’s millennial employees want to experience food in a more authentic way, and Dining at Microsoft is happy to oblige. By fueling employees, Wilson says, the company fuels innovation. “We give them sustenance to allow them to be who they are, not just feed them,” says Wilson. Freeman adds that their goal is for employees to be fed “healthily to keep them productive [so that they can] build the best software in the world.”