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Pret a Manger’s New Dinner Menu Is a Hot Mess

“Chicken katsu curry” that has no panko or frying in sight, focaccia pizza, and set menus

A selection of dishes from the new Pret a Manger dinner menu, in some blue serviceware
A selection of dishes from the new Pret a Manger dinner menu, in some blue serviceware
Pret a Manger [Official Photo]

Former commuter darling Pret a Manger is pressing ahead with the idea that people who used it to build a working lunch personality out of sandwiches and snack bars want to eat its food for dinner. Its newest dinner delivery menu — an evolution on a first effort from November 2020 — continues with its focaccia “pizzas,” while adding a “chicken katsu curry” which uses pulled chicken, no panko nor chicken cutlet in sight. The fast-casual tradition of playing it fast and casual with food from around the globe: it’s alive, folks.

Those focaccia pizzas run towards the London fast food pizza hurdle and then trip over with a topping of chipotle chicken and feta cheese; the chain describes katsu curry, by the way, as “infamous.” More conventional uses of prosciutto and mozzarella follow, with the option to form “set menus” as a sort of gesture to being in a restaurant, the kind of restaurant Pret is not. This menu will start in 13 stores, ten of them in London, before being rolled out.

The purveyor of random free coffees has had a rough pandemic. Nearly entirely reliant on the commuter economy, it’s cut thousands of jobs and closed tens of stores, as its model of treating flat whites like railway season tickets and leaning into the homogeneity of convenience collapsed. Despite a brief hint at a revival during the summer “back to the office” death drive, many of the other central London restaurants that fear the impact of the office downturn have more of a draw than maroon bags and one deservedly hyped sandwich.

And desperate times have indeed seen desperate measures. A five-coffee-per-day, £20/month subscription that could buy a 99p filter stan 155 drinks a month; bags of its retail coffee launched into Waitrose, with a visual campaign focussed on quasi-pastoral slow filter brewing; everything Pret is not. While the coffee subscription made some sense, especially at a time when people were in the kind of state to suggest Pret ice cream vans, retail coffee beans and this new dinner service continue to make less sense. Continuing to bring its maroon-monogrammed napkins and cheerily copy-written coffee blends into the home might be exactly what it now needs to survive temporarily, especially if the vaccine rollout continues at pace.

But Dinners by Pret has something grim about it: a sort of resignation that the daily trudge that this pandemic has shown to be at least reformable, at most irredeemable, is actually just going to metamorphose endlessly and can never be escaped. Now it’s focaccia pizza; by summer it’ll be wraps and Love Bars again. Can we not just hope for something better?