Good times at the high-street lunch favourite: Pret is creating 550 jobs in the UK. And it’s clearly not letting question marks over the economy scrape the butter off its two-slice expansion plan. Instead Pret is on course to open 44 new stores in 2012, 20 overseas, and 24 in the UK.
Pret, which opened in London in 1986, may have a far smaller presence than the 1,200 McDonald’s, 650 Starbucks and 1,300 Costas against which it competes, but it already employs nearly 5,000 people in the UK, and chief exec Clive Schlee said the chain was ‘investing heavily in future growth’. The next step is to attract more school leavers and to expand its apprenticeship scheme for the homeless.
Creating jobs amid fears of a double-dip is cracking PR for a chain which has had its share of bumps in the past. For many it’s never quite recovered from the fact it proudly led the pack in pally ‘I’m your best mate and we’re doing everything ethically’ customer communications, while quietly selling a 33% stake to McDonalds. As co-founder Julian Metcalfe reveals in the latest issue of MT: ‘I hoped we'd gain a greater understanding of training, discipline and opening in foreign countries, but we didn't learn that many lessons and it was a PR mistake.’
Since 2008, Pret has been controlled by investment firm Bridgepoint. Again, hardly the hippest lettuce-munchers in the pack, but at least the kind to enable a bit of international growth: these days Pret has outlets flogging the humble British lunch to the US, Hong Kong and France. The company said that two stores which opened in Paris earlier this year were doing well and it plans two more. It’s also opening one in Boston. And MT would like to offer up its own plea to Pret: Open up a branch in our local manor, the prosperous but sandwich-deprived area of Teddington, do. It will make those lunch-time dashes more pleasant for everyone.
Pret staff do tend to be on the smilier end of the spectrum, not least because they’re encouraged (by the ‘Pret Behaviours’ manual) to adopt three simple habits: passion, clear talking and team working. There are weekly mystery shops, and good service is rewarded with a bonus. Last month Schlee told the Daily Telegraph that he ‘could almost predict sales on body language alone’. We suspect tutting, spitting and flipping the bird are very much not in the handbook.