The Pret a Manger subscription is a last roll of the dice on Britain’s bizarre love affair with commutes and coffee
Pret a Manger, heavily reliant on office workers and commuters, is launching a coffee subscription to lure people who relied on it for its convenience back to a place that is no longer convenient at all. Titled YourPret Barista, it includes five drinks per day, every day of the month, at a fixed price of £20, meaning that an absolute stan of 99p filter coffee and diehard hater of constipation could get 155 drinks in the longest months. It also includes tea, smoothies, frappes, and whatever other word for a cold, blended drink customers may enjoy.
The company has struggled to mount a recovery from the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, like many of its high street competitors. Last month it announced the closure of 30 stores at the cost of nearly 3,000 people’s jobs, having joined the likes of Nando’s, McDonald’s, and Costa in forecasting significant downturn at the start of U.K. lockdown; it saw sales fall to 15 percent of last year’s levels by June.
This might make such a heavily discounted offering appear a strange choice. But it takes place in the context of one of the strangest discourses of the pandemic, in which newspapers — largely newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch and/or editorially sympathetic to the current government, which is most U.K. newspapers — espouse the joys of water cooler chat, office camaraderie, and even commuting, in a bid to endorse a narrow path to economic “recovery” which involves doing things exactly as offices did before, rather than asking whether working from home and spending more time in local areas is actually positive. Meanwhile others pine so much for Pret that they suggest putting it in a van to serve local communities, as if independent local cafes do not exist.
Businesses like Pret need this push, because their fundamental function is one of homogenous convenience, the lunch equivalent of office drinks, the flat white as a rail season ticket — this is its only draw, and when something deeply average is no longer convenient, there’s little to recommend it. It’s true that many other central London restaurants fear the impact of the office downturn, but many of them have more of a draw than maroon bags and one deservedly hyped sandwich. Pret won’t be the last commuter reliable to go wild to win people back, because it and its contemporaries have no other option.
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