Agility and flexibility are now key for hospitality sector businesses

Pret: subscription addiction

After more than a year of using the Pret coffee subscription I recently paused it for a month. This was not because I questioned its worth at £20 per month for pretty much unlimited barista-made drinks, but quite the opposite. It had become so integral to my coffee-drinking that I’d been making lifestyle decisions around it.

For instance, my near-daily cycle route (for health reasons rather than commuting) is influenced by the location of nearby outlets – whether to grab a quick take-out coffee on my way back or ride further afield and read the paper over a drink inside a store. This is not a problem as such, but I’ve felt it has brought in a little too much routine to my behaviour. 

And despite my original intention to still visit other coffee shops, in reality this has been all too infrequent, and I’ve felt guilty about not supporting other independent businesses while grabbing another Pret coffee. So since hitting the pause button I’ve been reacquainting myself with various coffee shops in my part of north London, and it’s been refreshing – even though it will no doubt hit my wallet for more than £20 this month.

Based on my own experience, I can only assume the Pret subscription scheme has been very successful since it was introduced at an incredibly low point for the company. It was very much in the eye of the storm of covid-19, with its focus on city centres and travel hubs when cities were ghost towns and nobody was travelling. Like many businesses, it became a much more agile operation during this difficult time and announced an incredible number of launches, deals, initiatives and developments at a cracking rate that no doubt would have been unthinkable before the pandemic.

Pre-covid-19, every business talked about being agile and flexible. What this meant was being able to act like a start-up, make decisions quickly and then execute them immediately. The idea was to extricate themselves from the treacle (aka bureaucracy, hierarchical structures, and politics) that invariably restricts the speed of action and progress of large legacy businesses.

The pandemic effectively provided the very backdrop on which companies could deliver on their dreams of agility. Under extreme pressure, management decisions were taken without the months of meetings previously regarded as necessary, and products and services were released into the market in record timeframes.

This new way of operating seems to be lasting the course at Pret. Last week it announced a new brand identity for the US – initially at a New York store on 29th Street and Seventh Avenue – and the imminent launch of an order-ahead service called Pret Pick-Up. It forms part of the group’s ongoing digital transformation that centres on developing a frictionless experience in-store.

Pret USA’s new look: Championing its London heritage

This will be followed by the launch of a new app and loyalty programme dubbed Pret Perks, based around members accruing tokens to then redeem against rewards. That’s the bog-standard basics, and I’d be hoping the company intelligently integrates it with the subscription scheme to maximise value for customers, and for Pret to gain richer insights on its customers.

On top of this, Pret has announced various other strategic initiatives. These include entering international markets, signing a first major franchise agreement with The Chesterford Group, opening more shops on garage forecourts and motorway service stations and entering the coffee-to-go market through the roll-out of Pret Express self-service vending machines.

Although the company’s City of London stores have been recovering well in recent weeks – reaching 86% of pre-pandemic levels – and its airport units are also on the up, I’d argue the most important thing for the company’s ongoing success is its new mindset. Pret chief executive Pano Christou had some major changes on the cards pre-covid-19, but he has been forced to accelerate them as well as introduce a batch of additional strategic initiatives and initiate a change of personnel in some key positions. 

Those hospitality businesses that have rebased their operations around their new-found agile mindset will be much better placed for future success than those organisations whose disciplines and practices have been rolled back and are again reminiscent of the pre-pandemic days. Those times have gone, and flexibility is now the most critical resource. Everybody should subscribe to this new way of thinking.