The Enforced Happiness of Pret A Manger



I’d like to post an article by Timothy Noah from 2013 on the “Labor of Love – The enforced happiness of Pret A Manger”. This is a great article from an outside and a customer point of view, lucky enough who’s a journalist with a discerning eye. I want to highlight a few things, but the whole article can be found on the New Republic site. I will highlight in bold what I feel is important. But really worth reading the whole article!


»For a good long while, I let myself think that the slender platinum blonde behind the counter at Pret A Manger was in love with me. How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte? Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.«

»Pret A Manger—a London-based chain that has spread over the past decade to the East Coast and Chicago—is at the cutting edge of what the Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls “emotional labor.” Emotional because the worker doesn’t create or even necessarily sell a product or service so much as make the customer experience a positive feeling. Labor because, as Hochschild wrote in The Managed Heart (1983), the worker must “induce or suppress [his or her own] feeling” to achieve the desired effect in others. Creepy as it sounds, emotional labor is a growing presence in this economy, coming soon to a fast-food outlet near you.« …

»Pret doesn’t merely want its employees to lend their minds and bodies; it wants their souls, too. It will not employ anyone who is “here just for the money.” Noting that one Pret worker in London got fired soon after he tried to start a union—the company maintained it was for making homophobic comments—Myerscough suggested the worker’s true offense was being unhappy enough to want to start a union, since “Pret workers aren’t supposed to be unhappy.”«

»Emotional labor is not itself new. Prostitutes have faked orgasms for millennia. With greater sincerity (one hopes), undertakers calm the grieving, nurses comfort the sick, and migrant nannies lavish on other people’s children the love they aren’t present to furnish back home. Flight attendants, in the pre-feminist era, calmed jittery flyers by being pretty, friendly, even a little bit flirtatious; this ended with deregulation in the early ’80s as airlines stopped competing on service and started competing on price.«

»In all these instances, emotional labor served (legitimately or not) identifiable emotional needs. That’s not true at Pret. Fast-food service is not one of the caring professions. The only imperatives typically addressed in a Pret shop are hunger and thirst. Why must the person who sells me a cheddar and tomato sandwich have “presence” and “create a sense of fun”? Why can’t he or she be doing it “just for the money”? I don’t expect the swiping of my credit card to be anybody’s vocation. This is, after all, the economy’s bottommost rung.«

»Pret keeps its sales clerks in a state of enforced rapture through policies vaguely reminiscent of the old East German Stasi. A “mystery shopper” visits every Pret outlet once a week. If the employee who rings up the sale is appropriately ebullient, then everyone in the shop gets a bonus. If not, nobody does. This system turns peers into enthusiasm cops, further constricting any space for a reserved and private self.«

Bingo! I want to add something here, one of many customer Tweets regarding the “smiles” and “cheer leading” that has even those business people and marketing gurus fooled:


2014 Smile by Contract

2013 Mandatory Smile


This “cheer leading” or what other people called “mandatory smile” and “smile by contract”, apart from the Team bonus for everyone, can also bring ONE Team Member what Pret calls an “outstanding card” (OC). An OC is not literally a card, it is a cash reward of now £100 or even £200 if the overall shop scores are perfect. So, even if the shop/team lose the bonus, because the shop was dirty or there wasn’t enough selection in the fridge (the Mystery Shopper COUNTS the product lines!), even with a lost bonus for the team, ONE individual Team Member can still get £100 reward if the Mystery Shopper is blown away by their extra kindness, smiles, generosity, chatting etc. It’s basically kissing butt all day in extreme stress for extra cash.

If the bonus is lost, the person or persons responsible for the loss get fear managed, at times even threatened with their job security. Even bereaved staff will find little mercy as I share my story at the very bottom audio player in an interview.

Welcome to Pret A Manger.

Further in the article:

»And these cops require literal stroking. In other workplaces, touching a co-worker may get you fired, but at Pret you have to worry about not touching co-workers enough. “The first thing I look at,” Chief Executive Clive Schlee told The Telegraph last March, “is whether staff are touching each other . . . I can almost predict sales on body language alone.”«

Yep, Clive Schlee’s manipulating approach for profit!

Further in the article:

»In the three decades since Hochschild published The Managed Heart, the emotional economy has spread like a noxious weed to dry cleaners, nail salons, even computer-repair shops. (Think of Apple’s Genius Bars—parodied by The Onion as “Friend Bars”—where employees are taught to be empathetic and use words like “feel” as much as possible.)«

»Pret shops are typically located in neighborhoods that bustle with busy professionals whom Pret fusses over like the maître d’ at Alain Ducasse. The more the rich get used to fawning service, the more the rest of us—or rather, the rest of us who can afford to buy a sandwich rather than brown-bag it from home—find we rather like it, too. Eventually everybody will have to act like a goddamned concierge. I don’t want to believe this, but I fear it may be true.«

»Why do Pret workers accept the customer’s emotional state as their personal responsibility? For some, we may presume an extremely sunny personality that has merely found a serendipitous outlet. (They are selected for this quality, after all.) But what about the rest? In England, the vast majority of Pret workers are foreign immigrants, but that seems less true here. “My only thought,” says Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown, “is that it is such a buyer’s market in the labor market—because of so many unemployed workers per job—that employers can get away with a lot of demands on their workers that ordinarily wouldn’t be possible.” In other words—shhhh!—Pret clerks love-bomb customers for the money (which isn’t bad by fast-food standards).«


»Now that I know Pret’s slender blonde doesn’t love me, I prefer the human contact at a D.C. lunch counter called C.F. Folks. The food is infinitely better. But I also like that the service is slower, the staff is older and grumpier, and the prevailing emotion is “Get over yourself.” Try touching someone at C.F. Folks, and you just might get slugged.«

Beautiful! 😀

»The last thing Schlee looks at, to judge from my own experience, is whether the company returns calls from the press. I phoned Pret HQ twice, twice pushing “0” for “operator,” and twice got a recording. I twice left messages saying I was on deadline with a story about Pret, and in the second message I specified that the story was critical. My call was not returned, and I’m not convinced anybody ever even heard my messages. So much for the personal touch.«

Yep! Well observed!

Timothy Noah can be found on Twitter: @TimothyNoah1

I created a list of links to articles that deal with “emotional labour” (or “labor” for American readers): >>> The Dangers of Emotional Labour

I made a YouTube slide with only a few of the many questions weekly Mystery Shoppers are tasked by Pret to test low-wage staff on. Mystery Shoppers tests staff on things like the amount of selection during certain times, cleanliness of the shop, the overall atmosphere etc. But I concentrated mainly on the smiley and service questions.

I worked at Pret A Manger and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather starve and speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
I tell my story for the first time verbally in below audio player interview on a podcast by The Adam Paradox, and wrote two articles in the Scottish Left Review: 1.
“Late Night Girl’s” Story with Pret and 2. Pushing Back Against Pret.
Thank you for reading/listening.



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