Before the pandemic Pret A Manger had a clear business model which involved saturation. In London, they used to say you were never more than six feet from a rat. Now you are never more than four feet from a Pret tuna baguette.
Then came lockdown and the switch to working from home. With sales down 60 per cent, Pret launched a coffee subscription service to revive their fortunes. For £20 a month customers could get up to five drinks a day from their favorite coffee shop.
All went well to begin with but Pret had forgotten to factor into their plans the high maintenance modern consumer.
Last week in an Edinburgh coffee shop, I stood behind a woman who wanted her latte served “extra hot”.
What kind of person knows the exact temperature coffee will be served to them and demands something five degrees hotter? I’ll tell you. The exact same individual who would try and sue if they burned their hand on a coffee cup.
In the past you read books, watched films or learned about art to stand out from the crowd. Now it’s all about how complicated you can make your coffee.
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That proved to be Pret’s undoing. When subscription coffee customers couldn’t get their preferred Camel Milk Egg Nog Cortado, they didn’t shrug and just order a flat white. Instead they went berserk.
Pret received over 5,000 complaints. Some even resorted to contacting the Advertising Standards Authority because the promise of “all drinks” had not been fulfilled.
One man told the BBC, “I laughed it off for a while, but now I’m getting angry and I’m starting to feel I’ve been ripped off”. Another complained that by mid-afternoon, the mango and pineapple smoothie that he liked was often not available.
If Russia invades Ukraine and we’re all rushing to the bomb shelters ahead of Armageddon, these are the people who’ll be saying, “Hang on, I’ve only had four of my five Pret drinks a day. Can I just check if they have almond milk for my Frappucino before you close the blast doors?”
Faced with having to deal with the biggest collection of first-world problems in history and the impact of inflation, Pret this week raised the price of its subscription service by £5.
The reaction on Twitter would have been more understanding if they’d announced human sacrifices in every shop at 1pm to entertain the lunchtime crowd. “This makes me very sad. I’m canceling my subscription,” posted one person.
Customer satisfaction is an important thing but at the end of the day, it’s just coffee. There are many, many things worth getting worked up about at the moment but the absence of caramel syrup in a shop selling drinks and sandwiches really isn’t one of them.
So why are these people so worked up? Then I remembered the classic Seinfeld episode where Cosmo Kramer wins unlimited coffee and ends up an over-caffeinated jabbering wreck.
So Pret, the solution is in your own hands. Don’t raise the price, just drop the number of coffees they can have and they might just calm down and act normally.
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