Dear Pret Customer,
I hope you had a good start into your day with a nice cup of coffee, maybe a croissant. By the way, please be careful which savory croissant you take off the hot cabinet. If the busy Hot Chef forgot to put the tomato on the Mozzarella Croissant or they forgot to put the green veggie sticker on the cardboard tray, and you are confused which croissant is the Ham & Cheese and which is the veggie Mozzarella Croissant, a simple guideline on how to spot the Ham Croissant if you are not eating ham or meat in general: the Ham Croissant has black pepper on the top, the veggie Mozzarella Croissant has melted cheese but no black pepper on top.
Or look at it in this way, the veggie one is rather pale looking and the meat croissant is darker on the top. Please forgive the busy Hot Chef if he or she gets it wrong as they are immensely under time pressure. And maybe you want to look a little more careful as you would when you go to the supermarket looking carefully at the small print of the packaging for the ingredients. The Hot Chef has the hardest job on the shop floor, please bear with them! And before you send a Tweet to Pret or write an email, maybe first speak to the Hot Chef or the manager or the Team Leader (the green-belt one). Fast complaints to Pret HQ is very stressful on the Team Members who work so hard, many of them since 5am in morning or earlier, having to get up around 3:30am when most of you are in NREM Stage 4! They often are in pain mentally and physically. I know, because I worked as a Hot Chef, and later as a Team Leader I’ve seen my Team Members ill or in pain and in tears. And I had to encourage and console them many many times.
I didn’t mind encouraging my Team, but what I did mind was seeing them upset for no or small issues. And no, eating a Ham Croissant while being a vegetarian, or eating ham involuntarily when due to spiritual reasons it is against everything in you, is unacceptable and very serious. Absolutely. But I am talking about other issues that are not thaaaat serious. What I did mind was not being able to talk to you, to please not treat my Team so harsh to the point they are in tears, several times I even had to ask this my managers. The teams get it from all sides, customers and managers. And if there is no constructive leadership, they even eat each other up while under intense stress. As a Team Leader my main aim during the rushes and especially after, when team members would have a go at each other in their stress, I would stop them immediately and pour heaps of encouragement over them! I would emphasize that we are a team and do extremely well under horrendous stress! And then seeing their relieve was my relieve!
But if I would have said something to you, the customer, trying to protect my team from your anger, you would have written to Pret what a bad employee I was. But you would have just told your side of the story. I in turn then would have gotten in trouble from my boss who got the feedback from HQ. So, I bit my tongue many a times making sure my Team knew I appreciate and value them, and that mistakes happen to all of us. And I told them to not take it personal, that the customer doesn’t know them, but I as their Team Leader knew them, and for me they were doing more than fine. This was really tough, dear Customer, biting my tongue while stitching their hearts back together again.
And also, please bear with the barista and coffee makers who have the time pressure of 1 minute to produce a “perfect” cup of coffee. The Mystery Shopper (I call them ‘Misery Shopper’) times them to the second how fast the coffee comes out.
The Mystery Shopper here to the second times the speed of the service and says that they were served very quickly, but still only gave 4 out of 5 points for both services. This doesn’t seem important to you, dear Customers, but to the manager and the OPs (area manager) this is vital for their bonuses. Therefore more stress is put unto the team members to produce the fastest coffee that is supposed to be of perfect quality!
The baristas, figuratively speaking, have their feet bound together but are requested to “run” with “tight-up feet”. You see it every day, and some of you complain fast, while others wait so patiently. But in my 10 years in Pret I had only ONE customer, an elderly lady who when she stood next to my till waiting for her coffee, observing the barista and us on the tills, she couldn’t believe how we worked. She said to me that she never realized how crazy it is behind the tills until she stood next to the entrance of the counter closely observing the work. I thanked her for acknowledging our stress behind the counter and of course I gave her the coffee on the house.
And please bear with the Team Members manning the tills? They are stuck in-between three frustrating fronts, drilled to be friendly, smile and “look” happy, no matter how they really feel, as I would come to know so dangerously:
- They have an impatient queue of customers facing them to the front, complaining with their facial expression or words why their coffee takes so long to make;
- Then they have a stressed out barista behind them, pressuring them from the back, shouting for them to quickly take the coffees from the barista’s small and cluttered work area, while the Team Member is supposed to chat with the customer, while being shouted at from behind. They also have their feet bound together, expected to run;
- And then they have the angry manager poking from the top, who flusters about, often disorganized, raising his or her voice driving the Team further along, as if the Team needed more harassing to be motivated to achieve faster and higher results.
- And in-between they have the Team Leader to their right or to their left. And if they are lucky, the Team Leader understands their role as being one not to add more pressure to the Team, but to mediate between the fronts and explain that they are a Team that needs to support each other. From the Manager to the Barista to the Hot Chef, to the Team Member to the Kitchen Folk and ultimately to the Customer and back again. The Team Leader is the real manager here, underrated, underpaid, overworked and always blamed!
Unfortunately any of the Team who goes through personal traumatic tragedy cannot wear a badge like a pregnant woman can with a “Baby on Board” badge to make aware that she is carrying life inside before this becomes visible, and she might need a seat or some extra care to not injure herself and her baby. And there are even now badges for people with disabilities as I served a customer once with a “Please offer me a seat” badge and we had a lovely conversation about how great it is that she didn’t need to explain why she needed a seat. I never asked her and I didn’t need to know, it was just wonderful that she had the option to ask for help without having to share a very personal issue. I loved the discreetness of her challenge on why she needed a seat. She made my day.
When I learned the news of my brother’s death, I went into a prolonged state of shock and slipped into autopilot, and I was expected to smile, which I even did, for customer service. There was no mercy from my bosses, I was even bullied with the help of HR and later tricked with a development manager from HQ, who supposedly lost her brother the same way I did. The customers of course did not know my trauma that I was carrying death inside. Sometimes sarcastically I wished I could have worn a badge saying, “Abnormal Load on Board” or “Please be kind I want to die” or “Unbearable pain inside, I am trying hard here” or “Please offer me a smile”…
And faithful Customer, please have a thought first before you quickly contact Pret HQ or send a Tweet to Pret with a complaint that will stress the manager and teams further. And if you do need to complain on Twitter, please be kind and respectful with your language towards hard working people who are stuck on all fronts, trying to just do a job and go home without tears and depression.
It is already hard enough without going through traumatic personal loss, but having tragedy in ones own life could tip you over, you know?
And I will spare you of the challenges in the kitchen!
Valued Customer, maybe write a card and give it to a member of staff you appreciate. Or why not write a little card to a Team Member you don’t appreciate. Who knows what little miracles will happen after! I used to give a free coffee sometimes to a grumpy or even rude customer heaping burning coals on their head, or as they say “killing them with kindness”! We all don’t know what the other person is going through. And sure, you can write a lovely compliment on Twitter or send an email to Pret, but this at times does not reach the Team Member, especially if the manager of the shop does not like this particular employee. Make their day and slip them a note.
In my darkest time, in the middle of going through bullying while in bereavement, a customer who did NOT know my turmoil, wrote a card with a £20 note inside. His words carried me through many times when I was ready to quit, and with “quit” I don’t mean my job:
How sad it is to be “hanging” on one card to keep you alive. I joked around with these customers and quickly exchanged names, but he never knew what hell was raging inside me. I received this card in a shop I helped out for 1 week where the manager would call me a “drama queen” in an email, after I told her about the loss of my brother. I only told her because I was still going to work during extreme trauma after being threatened by her with my job security. I was in a state of anxiety, expecting any moment to get fired for no reason except that I was breathing. If there is a God or angels, the writer of this card was “send” in time to keep me going.
So, dear Pret Customer, maybe next time before you quickly complain pause for a moment please, and think that maybe, just maybe your words could bring life to a team member or manager, or it could tip someone over who is going through a hell that you cannot see.
Thank you for reading.
“Late Night Girl”, recovering ex-employee of Pret A Manger.
UPDATE May 2019
TWO Pret staff have died.
More here > Why is Pret not being Investigated?
I worked at Pret A Manger for almost 10 years and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the CEO. 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 also tell my story for the first time verbally in this >>> podcast interview based in California. Thank you for reading/listening.
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