16 August 2011

Pret's Recipe for Success

There's an interesting recent New York Times article about Pret-a-Manger and its secrets for providing an efficient fast-food service while keeping its employees motivated (giving managers money to take staff out for drinks; awarding cash bonuses when the whole team in a particular shop is successful in a particular week; giving employees gift certificates when they pass a training objective but insisting they pass the certificate on to the person who was most helpful to them during the training period; and so on). They did, of course, feel the need to translate prêt-à-manger for their readers, and incorrectly located Eastcastle Street as being near Paddington Station instead of Fitzrovia, but I can forgive that. Equally amusing was the implication that English sandwiches are too small, rather than their American equivalents being over-the-top:
It’s not all those quirky British sandwiches, thin and understated with ingredients like free-range egg mayonnaise and avocado-and-pine-nut filling. No, it’s the employees.
I've never been to a US branch of Pret (when in New York, I prefer dining options that aren't available back home), nor in France, where they launched earlier this year. The latter sounds a bit like taking coals to Newcastle, although much as I love baguette, I can understand the occasional need for some brown sliced bread.

But the Pret invasion of London continues. Now that they've opened a branch in a rare gap between my house and the Tube, they are in the process of opening a new branch just opposite my office. There is already a branch five minutes' walk away but despite Pret's famed efficiency (and generally, they are pretty efficient), that shop gets incredibly busy, which means you can't look at the sandwich options properly and end up settling for a filling you don't really want because you just want to get out of there ASAP.

I have a Pret lunch about once a week and for a reliable, reasonably priced, reasonably tasty sandwich, they're definitely a good choice. The coffee is generally adequate too (better than Costa and Starbucks; not as good as Nero). And, as someone who worked in the sandwich industry for several years, I do know my stuff. Sadly, at the Sandwich Shop of Dreams, we were never incentivised in the same way as Preters (Pretties? Pretsters?), but as ever, I found motivations of my own, usually in the form of a hot boss or hot regular customer. Or the satisfaction of bringing in a £1000 lunchtime order for a language school (Suralan would be proud). Or in making a cappuccino that, when weighed by the owner, was found to be the perfect weight, down to the last gram. Good times. Or something...

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