The Love-Bombing from Pret A Manger Low-Wage Staff

I have written already extensively on Pret A Manger’s micromanaging Mystery Shopper scheme including slides on YouTube. Someone last winter linked to my blog from Wikipedia, after I wrote a lot about my experience in Pret with the Mystery Shopper scheme and I kept mentioning Timothy Noah’s excellent article, “The Enforced Happiness of Pret A Manger“. But the Wiki editor deleted the link again. I don’t know who put my blog on Wiki or why it was then removed.

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But after 2018, after the customer deaths became known, Wikipedia updated a lot of information they didn’t have before, like the first Pret being opened in 1983 by Jeffrey Hyman NOT in 1986 etc. Pret keep it away from the public that Jeffrey Hyman was the first to open Pret and have now even put signs on Pret shops with a simple “London 1986”.

A friend of Jeffrey Hyman alleged on Twitter that Pret employed someone to keep deleting Hyman’s info off Wikipedia!

Link

A lot of info has been taken from my blog as usual, while Wiki remains out-dated on Pret issues. But that’s for another post.

I want to highlight again Pret’s humiliating Mystery Shopper scheme, but instead of a long blog post (don’t bank on it!), I want to link to my page with certain posts and YouTube slides I’ve already published. I use YouTube and keep adding to a playlist on a variety of issues, as Facebook and Instagram completely blocked my website after Pret must have reported me. But they can’t block YouTube! ‹^› (°_°) ‹^›

The press now KNOW about Pret’s emotional labour scheme but don’t want to elaborate on it as they always like to avoid having to mention my blog from where they got the initial info from. So, I keep updating customers who are still fooled that minimum-wage workers seem happy in an unforgiving stressful, noisy, hot, straining work environment.

Many customers are grateful to learn of this, some other customers cuss me out or communicate in other passive aggressive ways that they don’t want to know about this. They are p!ssed off because I destroy their illusions that staff actually smile for bonus and £100 cash rewards and NOT because they are in love with the customer or are happy working at Pret!

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Many middle-aged people are especially annoyed when they learn of the Mystery Shopper requirements, because they love to flirt with low-wage staff (for free coffee or just because they can). Some even LOVE it that staff are exploited this way and seem to get a kick out of it. Others have expressed their “reliance” of being “emotionally” cared for by poorly paid staff, who are exploited to meet the emotional needs of customers so that these customers return again and again to spend more money.

Customers become “reliant” on the emotional attention of low-wage staff as if workers are psychologists or emotional “prostitutes”. Customers have become conditioned to get their emotional fix from hospitality workers and workers have become accustomed to sell emotions on top of food in order to top up their low pay. I still cringe at this having had to distort my feelings for extra cash and to not get fear managed when a Mystery Shopper commented that I didn’t smile, even when I was sick. Staff are not paid the first 2 – 3 days sick leave, depending on their age, even when they have a sick note.

I had to constantly make a decision if to stay home to get well but lose money, or go to work sick and risk that my Team didn’t get the bonus because I coughed!

Mystery Shopper excerpt when I coughed and therefore couldn’t smile:

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Mystery Shopper comment: “Team members should smile at customers and may not work when ill, as team member was coughing whilst serving me and was therefore not feeling cheerful enough to smile that day.”

I was reprimanded in the office later by my boss after this report came in. I also didn’t “feel cheerful” enough to smile after I buried my brother and Pret bullied me to keep performing emotional labour and refused to place me in the kitchen. I literally begged managers to please put me in the kitchen for a day or week where I didn’t need to smile. But they often refused because I was too slow in the kitchen but very fast and efficient in the shop.

I had to suppress my grief and keep smiling. After my shift I often headed for the bridge. Well Pret, I survived to tell my story!

Important to note as well that Pret staff have 60 seconds (sometimes Pret changes it to 90 seconds) to serve a customer, also to get the coffee ready into customer’s hands, and on top of that staff are demanded to stroke people’s emotions on the go!

If a staff or the Barista takes longer than 60-90 seconds, they risk also not getting Mystery Shopper bonus as Mystery Shoppers time them to the second while expecting PERFECT coffees, smiles, chatting, eye contact …

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Link to article.

UPDATE: On my podcast I talk in detail how the Pret mystery shopper scheme works. As WordPress also censor me and now don’t allow embeds, just click on the link or copy paste into a new window: https://anchor.fm/expretdotorg/episodes/Pret-A-Mangers-Strict-Mystery-Shopper-Scheme-e1ho40a

Or check Spotify:

Many more customer comments via the below YouTube l slides.

I received many Mystery Shopper “outstanding cards” (£50 cash reward) and “super outstanding cards” (£100 rewards when the scores were perfect) and many customer compliments for my service. But inside I was burnt out and later suicidal after my brother died. Pret continued to demand that I smile. I was reprimanded by management, including an area Manager after the Mystery Shopper commented that I didn’t smile.

The Mystery Shopper didn’t know that I just buried my brother, but Pret knew. It didn’t matter. No mercy.

Since I publicly write on this, highlighting certain sentences from the Mystery Shopper reports, Pret has changed the wording to avoid criticism.

Excerpt of previous Pret Mystery Shopper questions which Pret has now changed to more general questions:

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Quote, I highlight/bold a few things:

Pret: “We aim to connect with every customer with eye contact, a smile and some polite remarks. Rate the engagement level of the person who served you at the till.”

Mystery Shopper: “I was not greeted at the till or given a smile. The only conversation was what was necessary for the transaction. To be welcoming, the team member could have greeted me and smiled and be engaged and positive, the team member could have given me a friendly remark or made small talk.”

Little but important side note, an individual Pret staff serves an average of 300-500 customers per 8 – 10 hour shift depending on the busyness of the shop and their position. Hot Chefs, Baristas, Kitchen Staff of course serve less people as they have their job roles cut out for them. Pret demands that staff bend backwards like acrobatic clowns and what I call as “emotional prostitutes” to draw customers in emotionally to spend more money.

Further:

Quote:

Pret: “We aim to be attentive to each customer’s needs. Rate the engagement level of the whole team in this shop during your visit.”

Mystery Shopper: “The team members were focused on their jobs but were not welcoming customers. This could be improved by the team members smiling at customers when they entered the shop, and making a friendly remark or small talk, where possible.”

Where possible? Maybe it wasn’t possible because Team Members were FOCUSED on their JOBS for which they were paid for. Bonus is at the discretion of Mystery Shoppers and Managers. it’s a bonus, not a required wage! Yet, in this they are bullied and fear managed THE MOST!

It’s a lose-lose for staff. They are focused on their jobs for which they were hired and paid to fulfill, and if they wouldn’t be doing their jobs, they would be penalized for not cleaning, stocking up etc. And customers love to flock to Twitter to complain that their tables weren’t wiped or there is no sugar stocked up. All the while Mystery Shoppers are demanded to probe if staff smile while bending backwards being FOCUSED on their jobs!

If they do their jobs, they are reprimanded for not smiling. If they smile and chat but then don’t have time to stock up or clean or a bit of toilet paper is on the floor etc., they are reprimanded for not doing their jobs. It does not matter AT ALL how well they work, how much they do, they are always penalized and bullied in a nutshell.

Only one of many such reviews, quote from Glassdoor review “Stressful“:

»Constantly understaffed and expected to clean the entire store and multitask like crazy because there is no one else to do it
Sometimes really hard to get the bonus because you work so hard to make the entire store presentable, clean and neat but if the mystery shopper comes during the busy lunch period when you are understaffed and have to stay on till and cannot leave it and tidy the shop floor and they then don’t give you the bonus because there was ‘toilet paper on the floor in the toilet that could have been tidied’. Or if there is a long queue until the door they complain that they were not served within a minute and a half of joining the queue which is ridiculous.«

So, now many shops have locked the toilets with “out-of-order” sign on it since months.

They go left, they’re penalized for not turning right. They turn right, they’re penalized for not turning left. They run, they’re penalized for not stopping. They stand still, they’re penalized for not moving … You get the picture! I know what I’m talking about, I survived this bullsh!t abuse!

If you, dear reader, really want to see the micromanagement and humiliation in how ONE staff made a silly mistake, resulting in the whole team not getting bonus, read THIS, especially at the bottom of the page!

But be warned, your illusions are going to really get fucked up!

And to further destroy illusions of Pret’s “generosity”, when a staff member gives a freebie, that is almost a guarantee to get the £100 cash reward from the Mystery Shopper. An example of this is at the very bottom YouTube player.

I am not a fan of chains and neither of Wetherspoons, but boss Tim Martin in his interview with Kirsty Young on Desert Island discs years ago, said something that pleasantly surprised me. I’ve put an excerpt of the interview on Soundcloud, click play:

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Pret boasts about recruiting staff for their personality rather than their skill. This sounds lovely doesn’t it! Yet, so many especially in leadership are clueless on how to do their jobs. But as long as they are like bouncing bunnies fulfilling customers’ emotional fixes, that’s all that Pret cares about.

Two customer deaths and 20+ allergen injuries has not taught Pret a lesson that SKILL is life saving, with or without a smile. I write about this in: Recruiting for Personality rather than Skill can be Fatal, where I dissect HR Director Andrea Wareham’s interview on this.

Again, please also read Timothy Noah’s brilliant article from a customer and journalist point of view! And you may say, why don’t staff just get another job? Well, this question is for psychology and experienced service workers to answer in how fear management, brainwashing and inexperience with exploitation in low-wage jobs work.

And if you as a customer would ask any Pret staff if they’re happy working there, of course they will say YES with a BIG smile, because they fear you could be the Mystery Shopper! Even regular customers can be Mystery Shoppers and staff ALWAYS anticipate them walking into the shop at anytime.

I renamed the Mystery Shopper to “Misery” Shopper also because these are often people who ENJOY their power to withdraw or give bonus. I once signed up on a Mystery Shopper Forum where secret shoppers mingled and exchanged experiences of their jobs.

I explained to them our ordeal and how excruciating it is to have to love-bomb customers to get extra cash EVEN when we are bereaved, depressed, ill etc. Nine out of ten Mystery Shoppers on that forum were merciless and said that it is our jobs to smile no matter what. They absolutely enjoyed the power they had over minimum-wage staff. That’s why I dedicated my blog post on Timothy Noah’s article naming him a “hero” in my book! As a journalist he dared to take a more critical look at Pret back in 2013 when no journalist dared to critique Pret.

A thorough and extensive list on Pret’s emotional labour demands via weekly Mystery Shoppers can be found here, with links to Mystery Shopper reports, my own experience, YouTube and journalists reports: The Dangers of Emotional Labour.

Here I want to briefly highlight a few things again. I will now abbreviate Mystery Shopper to MS.

Since I write about Pret’s MS scheme, Pret has put some info into shops to quickly counter any critique and “admit” they do MS requirements, but they fail to explain how micromanaging and humiliating it is. Again, for thorough detail, see above “Dangers of Emotional Labour” page to the links.

After a strike announcement was made in August 2021, Pret quickly reinstated the hourly staff bonus from 50p to £1 starting in September 2021. Now Pret announced that the bonus will be £1.25 from April on when the government raises the minimum wage, forcing Pret to pay a few pennies more to LOOK generous.

I explain in detail why reinstating the bonus is a TRICK: Pret Staff Consider Strike.

In short:

Shop/kitchen hourly paid staff SOLELY rely on their weekly bonus via the weekly Mystery Shopper visits AND shop Managers moods.

Until April 2022 a staff member can earn an extra £1 per hour IF the MS is happy enough to give it. If a staff member works let’s say 60 hours that week, he/she will get £60 bonus that week if the MS is happy to give it. From April 2022 it will be £1.25 p/h. But even if the MS awards the bonus, the shop Managers have the discretion to NOT give the bonus for ANY silly reason. I explain in detail in above “Strike” post.

I and colleagues have been threatened by management that our bonus will be cut for any and all silly reason I explain in detail. Thus, Pret is using the bonus system to penalize staff and save money. Some staff have left reviews on Glassdoor and/or Indeed explaining that the bonus is used as a “weapon” or that achieving MS bonus has become extremely hard due to understaffed shops. Teams have lost bonus because there was a little toilet paper on the floor in the toilet, regardless if the shops are understaffed.

THAT IS WHY many shops have just CLOSED the toilets with an “out-of-order” sign on the door, as they don’t have staff to keep it clean and thus not get bonus.

It’s a lose-lose for shops! It does NOT matter how much they bend backwards and forwards, Pret penalize and bully them via the strict and unreasonable Mystery Shopper scheme. In hindsight after what I have survived in Pret, I really really believe that Pret executives and head office including HR literally ENJOY treating staff like this. Leadership that abuse their power over minimum-wage staff.

Managers also coerce young inexperienced Team Members to have sex in exchange for promotion. Sure, you may say, that’s a hefty allegation, but what world do you live in where your illusions get the better of you? Abuse in low-wage jobs is rife EVERYWHERE in the world. You know that! It was often an open secret what Manager got into their position via the bedroom! Sad for a sandwich shop! You expect that in law firms and politics or the music industry, but a sandwich chain? Really sad.

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Link to review on Glassdoor.

Or Luton Airport management:

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Link to review on Indeed.

Quote: “… Only sad thing was the whole sleep with a manager to get to where you want. Sadly it was the case for who was my assistant manager and main manager at the time. A lot of staff were very angry at this happening but that was not for me to dwell on. I looked past it.”

People have sex in the staff room because the shop offices have hidden cameras after Managers would have sex in the offices.

Shop Managers, Assistant Managers, Area Managers and above get their bonuses quarterly. But their bonus relies on a host of things like shop profits, waste management, labour costs, health and safety scores etc. But the biggest chunk in management bonus comes from the Mystery Shopper scores.

So, while shop/kitchen hourly paid staff solely rely on Mystery Shoppers and Managers to get their bonus, Managers and higher ups have more chances to get their bonuses. Thus, penalizing front-line, low-wage employees is much easier than Managers. This way they can control staff better while cashing in on the top levels.

Anyway, for anyone who loves to live in the real world and doesn’t mind to get their illusions destroyed, I wrote an encyclopedia on Pret’s “Misery” Shopper scheme with tons of examples and MS reports detailing the point and cash reward requirements.

So, next time a minimum-wage worker is love-bombing you, you won’t need to toss and turn at night thinking they’re in love with you. They just want to top up their crumbs that millionaire executives throw at them.

Smile For The Misery Shopper:

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After my writing on this, Pret changed the wording, but the demands remain as brutal as ever:

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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 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.
An incomplete list on what other Pret staff say about Pret’s bullying environment: Caught in the Act Bullying at Pret.
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.

Please also see the MEDIA page for more.

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Thank you for reading/listening.

©2017 – Present: expret.org


Interview:

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©2017 – Present: expret.org unless otherwise stated. All Rights reserved. Disclaimer.

2 thoughts on “The Love-Bombing from Pret A Manger Low-Wage Staff

  1. I can’t wait for business owners to wake up and find out that many Mystery Shopper programs are useless, also that many customers are wrong.
    I have written many times that businesses should fire the bottom 20-30% of their customer base, then reward the top 20% that costs them less money, brings in the most revenue.

    Like

    1. Thank you. The problem.though is that Mystery Shopper scheme to the extreme that Pret do us ONLY good for 1. Pretend 2. Customers.

      For Pret because they smile to the bank fooling customers to be a happy employer, and good for customers because they are like children, getting emotional attention.

      We staff always rolled our eyes when snobby, baby-ish customers left. We felt like changing diapers of elite people complaining when we didn’t smile.

      Pret’s MS scheme is damaging to staff who many of them drink to cope.

      It’s a win-win for Pret all the way. Customers are fooled and staff are stuck having to fool them.

      Liked by 1 person

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