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Viva la revolution

Microsoft Corp.’s trend-setting isn’t limited to the tech world.

There is a revolution going on at Microsoft Corp.’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., one that has nothing to do with software, operating systems, or high-tech toys.

It’s an Ingredient Revolution—seriously, that’s what they call it—and it is centered around food. Employees were invited this summer to join the movement during //oneweek, Microsoft’s annual festival of innovation.

There is seemingly something for everyone at //oneweek, an event that has steadily grown over its 20-year history: A company forum where CEO Satya Nadella gives a global “state of the company” address and tries to excite employees about what lies ahead; a hack-a-thon where 1,500 employees spend 39 straight hours solving problems and creating new ideas; a product fair, and Byte of Microsoft, the venue where Dining & Meetings @ Microsoft get a chance to shine.

Byte of Microsoft, now in its fifth year, is where Microsoft’s vendors in The Commons—Microsoft’s “town center”—get a chance to promote themselves. (In addition to food outlets the campus has a nail salon, a bank, a cellphone store and similar units on-site.)

“Byte of Microsoft introduces people who don’t normally come over to that area of campus to what we have to offer,” says Jodi Westwater, senior director of marketing, communications and advocacy for Compass Group, Microsoft’s foodservice partner. “We saw how well employees responded to the vendors, and we decided we needed to showcase what we’re doing in dining.”

This summer, the foodservice team demonstrated the touch screen ordering and cashless system Dining operates, and tested Outta The Box, Microsoft’s newest aspect to its catering program.

But the big deal this summer was Ingredient Revolution. As Westwater describes it, Ingredient Revolution is “getting back to the basics of food preparation, and featuring transparency with our customers so that they know where we are sourcing our food and that we’re cooking from scratch.”

To drive home that point, the dining team passed out samples of several fresh-made items: dumplings from Pacific Rim Kitchen in Café 9; handmade ravioli from Mangia Italia, the new pasta bar in café H; and an avocado crema, served with tortilla chips, from Fuego, the Brazilian concept in Café 43.

“It was all about the exposure,” Westwater says. “We were giving folks info: ‘Did you know we make all our pasta from scratch? Did you know we make hand-rolled shumai at Café 9?’ It was talking about innovation from a food standpoint.

“We’ve been on a culinary journey,” she continues. “We want to transform the food experience for our customers; everything from purchasing to preparation to presentation.”

One of the surprises at Microsoft has to be the success of Forage, the 100% organic salad bar at Café 34. Even though Forage’s tossed-to-order salads are “significantly” more expensive than a typical regular salad bar, “it’s actually busier than the regular bar,” Westwater notes. “People are willing to pay more to have that trust in what they’re buying. Organics are really important to our customers.”

Perhaps that’s why Microsoft’s latest food innovation, hydroponic towers, was such a big hit at the product fair. Dining has set up several such towers in various cafes, growing organic and GMO-free greens.

“We actually had a tower on site, set up near our food offerings, so customers could see how we’re growing the food,” she says. “We had a farmer there who could talk about the greens and how they grow.”

Measuring success of such an event is difficult, but there is little doubt in Westwater’s mind that visitors were well-fed: More than 28,000 food samples were passed out at the Dining and Meetings booths at Byte of Microsoft, in addition to about 77,000 samples handed out by local restaurateurs who have outlets set up at The Commons, which is Microsoft’s “town center.”

“Our journey is never going to end,” she says. “It’s all about what’s next.” If that’s true, next year’s //oneweek will be a must-see event.

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