What’s with the new Pret?

For some years I’ve been a regular at the Pret a Manger café in Kingston. Yes, it’s part-owned by MacDonalds, but it had comfortable seats, the coffee was nice enough, your coffee wasn’t made by someone who most likely had been handling the cheese and ham paninis (even if they used tongs), and being a regular I got the odd freebie. Then, just before Ramadan, they shut down for what they described as a “little nip and tuck”. When I went in there last Sunday, I was shocked by what the place had become.

What’s changed? The price has gone up by 20p for a cup of coffee to drink in, something I’ve been told has not happened at any Pret where there has been no re-fit. The place looks like an industrial kitchen, with lots of shiny metal surfaces and a half-complete ceiling (what is quite so stylish about clearly visible ventilators and pipes?). And the seats! They are now a mixture of hard wooden seats of the sort you might find in a school classroom that become rickety and unstable, if they aren’t already, hard plastic seats, and armchair-effect plastic seats with a thin padding. There is also a big open area, the better for people to stand and queue, although it seems that the place is much emptier than it used to be.

The old place was, as I said before, comfortable and you could often get a degree of privacy if you came at the right time, with a big round table and an armchair; the dark colours of the upholstery — black, brown and red — contributed to this. If you didn’t, you were lucky to get a seat. It seems that the management are more interested in promoting their take-away offerings and not letting the customers get their feet under the table, hence the take-away prices are the same while the drink-in prices have gone up; meanwhile, Costa charges 15p less for roughly the same size, and 15p more for a cup that’s nearly double their regular size, and the dark, cosy interior still seems to work for them. And I get the impression that the coffee cups are now smaller, while the tendency to make you a “caffe latte” of which a quarter is froth has remained the same.

I could fill in a complaint form, but they are hardly going to put all the old decor back in just to suit me. Looks like I will just have to vote with my feet and put them under someone else’s table.

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