This is a very detailed account on Pret A Manger’s Mystery Shopper scheme with a full report, and why staff everywhere always smile and chat so much, and give freebies etc. I walk the reader through the steps in how staff are drilled to perform to perfection for low pay, and why they do it. If you don’t have time to read, please scroll down to the large red writing (about halfway down this post) on the 30+ questions Mystery Shoppers are tasked to test staff on every week. A current staff member sent me a recent Mystery Shopper report, and I want to post the whole report here. I renamed the Mystery Shopper to “Misery” Shopper for a reason!
I write so detailed and extensive to show the public how micromanaging, brainwashing, exhausting and patronizing Pret’s Mystery Shopper scheme is.
I touched on this already in other blog posts, but also on a YouTube slide I made from excerpts of real Mystery Shopper reports. But I only used about 4 – 6 questions that Pret tasks Mystery Shoppers every week to test staff on. I concentrated mainly on the smiley service part and speed of service. In this post I want to put a current and FULL Mystery Shopper report, to highlight the micromanaging scheme that stresses staff every minute, as they anticipate Mystery Shoppers for cash incentives and to avoid getting fear managed.
A brief YouTube slide on real Mystery Shopper reports I combined from several years:
Pret makes no secret that they have Mystery Shoppers (MS), but they portray themselves to be such a happy place, when in reality staff are checked on micromanaging questions every week.
If you want to skip this long intro, please just scroll down to the 30+ questions from current Mystery Shopper reports.
But as a taster, here are the questions without the answers. I posted the answers further below. Out of these 32 questions, 28 are “scoring” questions, meaning the results affect Managers and Team bonuses. Halfway through this post the answer from the Mystery Shopper are posted under the Qs. But here first of all just the questions, which span over 8 pages with the MS answers. When I worked at Pret it used to be 4 – 5 pages max.
NOTE: categories 1 – 6, Style, Selection etc. are the “6 steps of Service” that I explain further below that affect the whole Team bonus.
Category 7 is about an individual staff member’s service and their individual cash reward, even when the Team bonus is lost.
Category 8 is about the Government Value Added Tax (VAT), which currently is Pret’s “focus question” since about 2012-ish when the Government increased pressure on companies (I explain further in the post).
And in Category 9 are the 4 “non-scoring” questions that don’t affect bonus, and are just for market research.
The numbers in brackets i.e. (16 out of 20) is 16 points reached out of 20.
Quick rundown of the 32 questions:
1 – Style (30 out of 30)
1 – How inviting was the shop from the outside?
2 – How clean was the shop entrance?
3 – How welcoming was the atmosphere at the entrance?
4 – How was the presentation of food and drink in our display units, fridges, fruit stand, crisp baskets and queue stands?
5 – How presentable was the till counter and bakery display?
6 – How well presented were team members?
2 – Selection (16 out of 20)
7 – 1 – FULL SELECTION: Count how many price tickets in the cold fridges had less than 2 items.
8 – 2 – FULL SELECTION: Count how many price tickets in the hot food display had NO stock.
9 – 3 – FULL SELECTION: Count how many price tickets for pre-packaged cakes, cold drinks and snacks had NO stock.
10 – 4 – FULL SELECTION: Count how many price tickets for unwrapped bakery (behind the glass till counter) had NO stock.
3 – Speed (10 out of 10)
11 – 1 – Please rate the time it took to be served from joining the queue.
12 – 2 – Did you receive your hot drink within reasonable time from payment?
4 – Service (10 out of 10)
13 – 1 – How well did the person at the till connect with you with a smile, eye contact and some polite remarks?
14 – 2 – Were all your items stated during the transaction, were you charged correctly and did you receive the correct products?
3 – Please select which scenario question you asked. Asked for more information on a product Asked for more information on a product
15 – 4 – Based on the scenario you selected, please rate your experience when asking our team member your enquiry.
5 – Seating (13 out of 15)
16 – 1 – How clean were the bin stations inside the shop?
17 – 2 – How clear and clean were the floors, tables and chairs inside the shop?
18 – 3 – How well presented and stocked were the toilets INSIDE the shop (if applicable)?
6 – Say Thank You and See You Again (5 out of 5)
19 – 1 – How well did your server or any member of the team end the transaction by thank you and/or giving a pleasant parting comment?
7 – Additional Scored Question (5 out of 5)
1 – Was any ONE member of our team very helpful, extremely charming and/or outstanding?
2 – Please provide the name or a description of this outstanding member of staff.
8 – Additional Information (0 out of 5)
1 – It is a legal requirement for our teams to charge VAT for all ‘Eat In’ items/transactions. When served, were you asked if you were ‘taking away’ or ‘eating in’, and charged correctly? Asked & Charged
2 – Did you notice someone in charge and, if so, what were they doing?
3 – Did BOTH questions 2.1 and 2.2 achieve the top answer OR N/A?
4 – If you ordered a dairy free alternative milk, was the correct sticker applied to your cup to indicate the milk used?
5 – If you bought a hot food item, did the label on your product match the product you purchased?
6 – Did the label on your cold fresh food product match the product you purchased?
9 – Customer Segmentation (non-scoring)
1 – Based on your overall experience on this visit, how likely are you to recommend Pret to people you know on a scale of 1-10?
2 – In order for you to have the perfect visit, which of the following aspects should we prioritise to improve?
3 – From the list below, please choose which area is our main strength.
4 – Where do you normally go to purchase similar products?
When breaking down the questions, these reports are very complex as you will see with the answers the MS gives further below. Any tiny issue can penalize the whole shop team. Staff HAVE TO smile, HAVE TO chat, HAVE TO make eye contact and are drilled to give freebies, as every shop has a weekly marketing budget. For space and to keep the post as short as possible (yeah right!), I just mention a few of the many, many ways shop teams can lose or gain bonus, and individual Team Members, including Managers, can earn an extra cash reward called an “outstanding card” (OC) of £100 or a “super outstanding card” (SOC) of £200 per week / Mystery Shopper visit. An outstanding card is not a literal card, it’s just the name of the cash reward. This reward can be earned ON TOP of the wages AND on top of the Team bonus. Sounds, generous? No, if you experienced the daily stress, headache, depression, tinnitus, anxiety, physical pain, rude customers, bullying … this is 1. peanuts, and 2. even if the reward was higher, it’s not worth what your mental and physical health goes through on a prolonged period of time, every day, having to bend backwards for a little more money and small recognition.
Also, the following week this reward is forgotten, especially if you fail on a Mystery Shopper visit. It is never be good enough.
A recent review from LAX, that was just opened in the summer of 2019, shows as well the bullying culture and how the reviewer doesn’t care if they get $15.25 per hour. Even a higher amount of wages isn’t worth the abuse they’re subjected to. Also, in a New Shop Opening (NSO), they pay a little more and usually have a lot of staff, as the first year of the NSO, the store doesn’t have targets to reach, as they first want to build a customer base. After about a year the pressure really starts on the targets, profits, cutting labour etc.
The “outstanding card” (OC) used to be a £50 reward for an individual staff member, or “super outstanding card” (SOC) of £100 if the shop scores were perfect. And even if the whole shop lost the bonus on an issue I explain below, an individual staff member can still get the extra £50 (now £100) cash reward. So, it used to be £50 OC or £100 SOC if perfect scores were reached. And now it is £100 OC or £200 SOC with perfect scores.
The irony is, I gave suggestions to an OPs (area) Manager, who asked me for my input on how Mystery Shopper scores can be improved company wide, as our shop was always very successful. And one of the suggestions I made was to double the MS reward from £50 or £100 to £100 or £200! Thank me later Pret staff! 😀 – I still have the email with the suggestions to the OPs!
No, I’m not floating my own boat here, but as a Team Leader I was responsible for “team engagement”, and everywhere I worked, I helped improve the scores by organizing the teams and encouraging them, NOT blaming them. I worked to lift them up, not put them down. And that showed in the Mystery Shopper reports. But my Managers never encouraged me, in fact one OPs tried to use one Mystery Shopper report that had bad scores (when I was in bereavement) to target me. I then collected all Mystery Shopper reports where I / we succeeded, just for my protection. Sad, but reality! And that’s how I was able to put above “Misery” Shopper YouTube slide together.
NOTE: I have been asked by some Journalists on the Mystery Shopper requirements, one Journo asked me if a staff member ever got fired for making mistakes with the MS scores. But that will never happen in an open way. I know of a Team Member who received what they used to call a “file note”, now called “note of concern”, when he didn’t smile and that lost us the bonus. A “note of concern” is NOT a disciplinary / written warning, but it is a first step to get a person towards a disciplinary and out of the company. If the management is looking for something to pin on the employee, they will find it fast. And Mystery Shopper result is the perfect way in that direction.
Many insecure Managers who work a lot with fear management, hand out “note of concerns” like staff hand out napkins. It’s always a clear sign to see which Manager is scared themselves by the amount of “notes” they “motivate” staff with. In my 10 years I only received 1 “note of concern” on a stupid thing, but not another time as I saw through this manipulation quick and wasn’t impressed. But I was the recipient of a lot of verbal fear management and unfavourably shift times etc.
I have been targeted by an Area Manager when we lost points, NOT bonus, but points as I didn’t smile. The Area Manager KNEW that I just lost my brother 6 months before. I have this as evidence if anyone doubts this. I was invited for a meeting and was presented with a list of (silly!) things I was doing wrong, including the non-smiling when I served the Mystery Shopper.
And I was often spoken to in a manipulative way when I didn’t achieve the highest points or some stupid remark the MS made about my service. I know of Team Members where the Manager would say something like, “maybe this job is not for you”… or “maybe you would do better in the kitchen” … etc. And I know of people who have been placed in the kitchen as a penalty to get them off the shop floor into the kitchen like Cinderella separating peas! And especially when staff are younger or new to Pret, they are very quickly manipulated with subtle undertones of fear management.
What the Managers didn’t know was, that I as the Team Leader took the Team Member aside later and told them not to be afraid, and I put in a good word for them, and that I know how well they do their job etc. The relieve on their faces, and at times calming their tears, was more worth to me than any effing Mystery Shopper reward! I also told my colleagues when they are harsh with the person who lost us the bonus, the day will come when they also lose the bonus and will be treated with the same measure!
My message always was: We ALL make mistakes, let’s look after each other and not let the big guns upstairs throw crumbs at us to fight over!
As I was the shop Team Leader, responsible to “engage” the Team (to kiss butt all day!), one Manager took me aside in the beginning of me working in his shop and he said to me, “I close my eye to everything but the Mystery Shopper”. In other words, I can mess up on everything including Health and Safety issues, cutting corners everywhere, but if I mess up on the Mystery Shopper, he won’t close his eyes. I made clear to him, that he shouldn’t close his eyes on ANYTHING. I just came from a previous shop where I was targeted for small things, so I was not going to get sabotaged on ANYTHING! And I was still angry and distraught about what happened in the other shop, so I clearly spoke my mind! But this was also due to me being traumatized and in great anxiety to make the smallest mistake that could be used against me.
Pret cannot and would not openly fire someone on the grounds of having messed up the Mystery Shopper. But the targeting and bullying with the help of Mystery Shopper reports is very vast, subtle and extensive. If the Manager doesn’t like you or is angry with you for messing up the Mystery Shopper, they will arrange for you to fail further in other areas to get you fired or in the “least” transfer you out to another shop. Anyone who has been through systematic (and systemic) workplace bullying, knows what I’m talking about.
On a side note, I really recommend watching the 3-part mini-series “Sticks and Stones” from ITV, regarding subtle and systematic workplace bullying that was screened in December 2019. In this case a Team Leader is bullied and sabotaged by his Team for his position. And as the company has announced redundancies, he is put through an ordeal that is throwing him off and leads to a breakdown, that makes him look like the bad guy, incapable to do his job, out of control. Oh, how I can relate to that!!! This was another part where Pret HR gaslighted me after I raised grievances. They turned it around and used a breakdown I had after my line manager bullied me in December 2015. I broke down, sobbed and became erratic in front of my team and boss, two days before the first anniversary of my brother’s death. And Pret made me look like an angry person who causes trouble. In reality I had a breakdown similar to the breakdown the actor has in below “Sticks and Stones” Trailer.
Unfortunately the series is offline now, as ITV.com just screened it until the end of December 2019, but in case you see it on Netflix & Co. please watch! It is really well portrayed how subtle bullying happens, and how hard it is to proof without solid evidence! I watched this twice back to back and cried as I was triggered, even though Pret shops are not an office environment and I was bullied and targeted by my superiors, not by my Teams. But the principles are the same.
The Trailer on YouTube:
So, I can only suggest for Journalists to go undercover into Pret for AT LEAST 4 weeks, best in the mornings, where the pressure is the most intense and where the Mystery Shopper requirements are felt hard every single moment of the day! Amy Sharpe from the Sunday Mirror went undercover only for a week in the evening shift where it’s quieter. Amy made a good start, but to really feel the Pret “blow”, people need to work in the mornings from 5AM in both the shop and the kitchen. The most poignant review by a staff member who jumped between the kitchen and the shop, is the following review on Indeed, and I can verify every word of it:
»This job can annihilate every piece of humanity inside of you.
You will lose everything that makes you human.«
Link “I spend 6 months racing all day and barely spoke 3-5 words a day on my shifts if I’m not on till where you are required to have the widest fake smile on earth…”
Now, what I explain here may sound harsh, and of course it is commendable when a business looks nice, friendly, clean and fully stocked etc. But the price low-wage workers have to pay, so that company leaders reap their millions, is ridiculously high and damages a lot of people physically, mentally and even financially.
Pret Mystery Shopper requirements are very militant and what Timothy Noah even called “Stasi” like, quote: “Pret keeps its sales clerks in a state of enforced rapture through policies vaguely reminiscent of the old East German Stasi”. From his excellent article Labor of Love: The Enforced Happiness of Pret A Manger. And I totally underline his article. More about the exploitation via strict Mystery Shopper emotional labour demands, I cover extensively in: The Dangers of Emotional Labour.
Side note: For any person wanting to criticize me on silly spelling because you have no other arguments to defend Pret, I write from England on WordPress that uses American spell-check. I also respect American and British spelling, so when I write “labor” it’s because an American author wrote it, vs. “labour” from a British or European writer. Also, English is NOT my first language, and I think I’m doing pretty good so far. So, before you criticize me on silliness like this, click away and watch a film or something.
Having said that, I welcome genuine corrections on typos and spelling mistakes.
Pret has a lot of brainwashing slogans in place that staff have to memorize and follow. The most appalling wordings I always found while working at Pret is on their packaging: “Lovingly handmade in this shop today”! When you work at Pret, this particular slogan can make you puke, and the many staff reviews at the very bottom page slideshow explain why!
The 6 Steps of Service
In the shop there is what Pret developed as the “6 Steps of Service”, which all start with an “S”. In the kitchen Pret has the “6 Steps of Production” which all start with a “P”. A lot of psychology went into developing those. But I will just concentrate on the shop 6 steps of service here, and can cover the kitchen another time. The kitchen concentrates on the speed of production (productivity), while the shop concentrates on appearance (happy facade), yet also speed.
These 6 steps are in a particular order for Mystery Shoppers to check every week. Mystery Shoppers basically work their way in, from the entrance to the food display/fridges to the counter to the seat and out again, via a D-tour to check the toilets. The 6 steps are:
1. Style (atmosphere of the shop, this is in their own discretion. What one MS likes, another MS dislikes the next week)
2. Selection (clear rules the MS has to follow)
3. Speed of service (also called “SOS”)
4. Service (if staff always smile, chat, are attentive, efficient etc. Giving freebies always helps and often gets the Team Member the extra £100 or £200 “outstanding card” reward)
5. Seating (if seats / tables etc. are cleaned within 1 minute of customers leaving, sometimes even crumbs are a big problem)
6. Say Thank you and See you again (a departing remark of some kind)
And then some non-scoring questions at the end, which even though are not scored, still fear manage especially the shop Managers.
The questions and some answers below are self-explanatory, but I want to highlight the stress and peer-pressure Pret puts on Teams and the Mystery Shopper reports being used as a tool to bully staff to always perform with a fake front, no matter what. Smile, chat, eye contact etc. to achieve maximum scores, to appear as such a happy and efficient company, while in reality it is VERY stressful and depressing!
One person on Twitter has put it in simple, but poignant words on how Pret penalize the whole Team if ONE person makes a mistake. I have experienced this countless times. And this is done on purpose where hard-working staff lose their bonus and effort after ONE person messed up. This one person is then shunned or dealt with the silent treatment. As a Team Leader I went the opposite and encouraged the one person, instead of putting them down, as this is counter productive and hurting them. I signaled that we all make mistakes and not to let others pressure them! But Pret wants peer pressure… to always appear happy… to draw people in… to increase profit:
Bonus is £1 per hour worked for hourly paid staff in shops. So, if I worked 40 hours that week and as a Team we receive the bonus, I get an extra £40 on top of my weekly wages. Sounds great, but is very, very stressful for the peanuts you get extra! If I am sick even just for one day, I automatically get my bonus cut and don’t receive it. Also, there’s no bonus when you are on holiday which is fair. But if I am late, even 5 minutes, the Manager in their own discretion can cut my bonus. As in Pret there is a lot of favouritism, which can also be seen in the many staff reviews I collected, some staff members make friends with the Manager, and then get away with a lot of sh!t. And those who work their butts off, who are very reliant, but are not the Manager’s favourite, come late ONE time for 5 minutes, and bam! – get their bonus cut! The bonus is used for a lot of abuse by Management.
Managers, Assistant Managers and upper area Managers (OPs) get their bonuses not every week, like hourly paid shop staff, but every quarter which are huge amounts of money! Managers’ bonuses are based on many things, like profit, how little waste the shops have, how little labour costs (that’s why Pret under-staffs), health and safety checks and other things. But the biggest chunk of Managers’ and upper Managers’ bonuses are the Mystery Shopper scores. That’s why Managers stress a lot about the Mystery Shopper and the point system that is VERY important to Managers to compete in their area of 10 – 14 shops, and company-wide.
So, it’s the typical greed of the few to squeeze the many. Pret cuts staff, so that the few Managers on top get a lot of bonus, instead of staffing appropriately, giving everyone a piece of the cake, value and respect workers, lowering their stress, and with an adequate amount of staff also giving customers a much better and calmer service.
Examples on how a shop can lose or gain bonus
On product selection for example, Pret demands a certain amount of selection during certain business hours. The Mystery Shopper is also tasked to count the “lines” of products. Any product is a line. The Tuna Cucumber Baguette is a line. The Egg-Mayo Sandwich is a line. The Tomato Soup is a line in the hot food section. Every different product is a line.
Usually between 12 noon and 2:00 or 2:30PM (depending on the area) Pret wants FULL selection of all products they offer in that particular shop. But Pret changes that at times. But from my experience it was between 12 noon and 2:30PM. Staff are NOT allowed to run out of a product (line) at that certain time. Staff are also not allowed to take the product label off the shelf if they run out of a product (line). If a Manager or Leader is caught taking out the label, they risk getting a disciplinary. This is to stress staff to ALWAYS have products available or MAKE them on demand to increase profit. At the same time, Managers and Leaders are stressed by OPs Managers when they have too much waste. It’s an absolute nightmare to balance without a lot of pain! And beyond the charity PR is daily food-waste in plastic packaging to landfill because of over-production to have the shelves full and the money rolling in!
For a longer list of customer photos and complaints on wasted food, please see: Pret A Manger Food Waste. I had to waste countless bin bags like this over the years due to overproduction and under-staffing to manage the waste properly. And Pret now use increasingly NON-transparent bin bags to hide the food-waste in the streets.
Before 12 noon and after 2:30PM Pret demands a certain amount of products. This may vary from shop to shop and area. But in a nutshell, let’s say Pret wants 15 different products (lines) after 2:30PM on the shelves, but my shop has only 14 different lines, and if the Mystery Shopper happens to be there at that time (they have to count the lines), and if 1 line is missing, the whole Team lose the bonus.
This means, if I worked in the morning in the kitchen, worked my butt off to get the products on the shelf, then at 2PM I go home and at 5PM the shop is missing 1 line because the afternoon Team is understaffed to make more products, the Mystery Shopper happens to be there at that time and counts the lines. I then, who have already left hours ago, and can contribute NOTHING more, I lose my bonus for that week! Or even if I was off that day, working 5 out of 7 days, and this was my off-day, I lose my bonus if ONE person messes up in any way on the day I was off! And I can do nothing about it. My efforts went down the drain. And THAT is what Pret wants, colleagues to get mad at that one person or shift that made a mistake, even if it wasn’t their fault due to under-staffing!
Pret even goes a step further
Each product line HAS TO have at least 2 items behind its label. So, if the MS counts 15 lines of products, but ONE line only has 1 item, instead of 2, it means it is 14 lines. If the fridge has 15 different products (lines) but out of these 15 lines I only have 1 Cucumber Baguette (in its line) instead of 2 baguettes, I am “out of selection” and we as a Team lose the bonus!
An example I found on Twitter. These 2 BLT sandwiches in 1 LINE. If there was only 1 sandwich, this would NOT be a line. (Side-note: 4,70€ for a sandwich!)
Managers often find ways to “cheat” by taking a label out until they fill the shelf with the product. But this can get them a disciplinary as Pret wants the machinery to run perfectly at all times. Another way to cheat, and this is when it gets dangerous, is when they take a DIFFERENT baguette from a different line that looks similar to the Cucumber Baguette, and place this baguette behind the Cucumber Baguette to make it look like they have TWO. This way they avoid losing Mystery Shopper bonus, as the MS doesn’t have time to check all products perfectly but often just scans and counts the lines quickly.
This is also not allowed, but because Pret under-staffs and workers are stressed to the max, it forces Managers to cheat! One recent review by a Manager highlights this, and the danger it brings as customers take the WRONG item behind a label. Managers cheat in many ways to make the numbers look good, so as not to get bullied by their superiors, the OPs Managers. I was never promoted, because I refused to risk my job for Managers and OPs Managers bonuses! But this Manager’s (GM) review is very brave, as they even mention their city. But also in regards to the “fear culture” mentioned at the bottom of this review, this is not only in Edinburgh. I worked in over a dozen shops and it is systemic and everywhere:
Link Quote: “Managers are forced to cheat on results and break standards just so that the area manager looks good on paper, though he stays at home most of the days whilst the shops collapse.“
I often said to my Teams and bosses, who were frustrated at Pret, I always said that Pret is like a company that binds our feet together in a tight rope, and then demands from us to run! Any way you turn, you have to make constant decisions if to cheat and risk getting caught, losing your job – or if to lose bonus and get fear managed by the OPs Managers. OPs Managers who often sit in the pub at lunch time (I’ve seen it), or are at home as the above review states. I didn’t see an OPs for 3 – 4 months at a time. Once an OPs “visited” a shop for a few minutes to let their bossy attitude scare Managers and Teams, you knew immediately when they were there, as everyone was always talking about it in fear or annoyance the next day. So, OPs Managers get a shit-load of money, while having a laugh in the pub or at home during busy lunch-time rushes. And the only “presence” they show is via Emails stressing the shops for higher numbers! Typical Pret “leadership”.
This also shows in a recent review by a Team Leader from Chicago of the bullying environment: