Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Feelings For Pret Have Always Been Real

Because publishing is the lowest paid industry, like, ever, it's become necessary for me to have ... a budget.  I shudder at that word.  And because I made the conscious decision to move from East London to Maida Vale, budgeting has become not only a necessity, but a way of life.  Until I find (hopefully) a better paid job. 

So that's why I bring - brace yourself - a packed lunch to work.  I know, I know, it hurts me to admit it too.  It used to be pretty depressing: some dried up pieces of iceberg lettuce, holey (certainly not holy) swiss cheese, whatever ham was on the 2 for 1 offer at Tesco and Branston pickle or mayo.  But since I've started accompanying John on his weekend Waitrose shopping excursions, I've managed to make my sandwiches a bit more exciting with their exotic meats and cheeses. 

Despite my new and improved lunch, at the end of the day, it doesn't make me any less green with envy when I ask John what he had for lunch and he mumbles something incoherent until I say, "What?  Speak up, I can't hear you."  "Sushi," he says softly, not looking me in the eye.  "You had SUSHI for lunch??  Where??  Wasabi?  Itsu?"  Please, please, please, say some kind of chain and not a fancy new restaurant that has just opened.  "Oh you know, that little place by work," he says, trying to play it off.  I drop the subject to stop myself from crying with jealousy.  But I can't help it.  "Was it good?" I demand to know.  "No, no, I mean, it was ... ok," he says.  He steals a glance at me and I think I must resemble some kind of heavy-set, enraged, drooling Rottweiler, waiting to pounce.

So to avoid this kind of food envy, I save Fridays as my "treat day."  Pathetic, I know.  Once upon a time, I wanted a Mulberry handbag.  Then I started working here.  Nowadays, I vow to someday be able to eat out for lunch every day.  Forget Mulberry handbags, you can't eat them.  Ooh but they're beautiful ...

Ok, ok, I'm getting sidetracked.  So Fridays are my treat days, when I allow myself to buy lunch wherever I want.  Most Fridays, you'll find me at Pret a Manger, the chain of soup, salad and sandwich stores across the UK.  When Udita was at UCL, she'd call me up and meet me at the iron gates of my office, then we'd walk down the Strand to Pret and she'd order the breadless sandwich (which is different than their salad, people) and I'd get the soup.  Then she'd have a Tiffin bar and I'd have an apple cake.  And this tradition carried on for a very long time, until she left. 

"Why?" asked John.  "Why what?" I replied.  "Why, of all the amazing restaurants, cafes and delis available to you in the West End, do you keep going back to Pret for lunch?" asked John.  "Because I like it!" was my annoyed response.  I really do like Pret.  The food is always fresh, delicious, fairly priced and the staff are always polite.  I love that.  It's not too much to ask for a smile, a "thank you" and "you're welcome."  And the soups are my favorite because they have delicious mouth-watering flavors like Moroccan Chicken, Thai Green Curry Chicken, Mushroom Risotto and Italian Meatballs.

Another reason why I like Pret is because they take their customers really seriously.  One day, I noticed that my soup wasn't filled to the line in the soup container.  'That's ok,' I thought, 'It must be an off-day.  Pret would never do this regularly.'  But the next day, the soup was even lower and the next, the same thing happened.  Unsatisfied with a level of soup that did not match its £2.99 price tag (I know I said, budget, not beggar, but just bear with me here ...) I wrote to its customer services department via the email address provided on its website. 

"Dear Pret," I began.  "I used to love you.  But I've switched my allegiance to Leon [yes, I really wrote this].  Lately, the level of your soup hasn't been reaching the line in the soup container.  At first, I thought it was an off-day for you, but when it happened repeatedly, I became very disappointed.  If it's due to the credit crunch and you find yourself needing to save soup, then I can understand.  But if it's something else, then please explain.  Yours sincerely, Jaime."  Within the hour, I received an email from a real person apologizing for the low soup levels and assuring me that this had been taken up with the manager at my Pret on the Strand (and yes, I just referred to it as my Pret).  Best of all, she wrote, "To compensate for this, we would like you to have lunch on us, so I am enclosing a £5 voucher for you to use anytime you'd like."  Bingo.  Totally unexpected and yet totally amazing. 

And last night, on my way to orchestra rehearsal, one of the managers remembered me from last week (when they had run out of soup bread and he gave me a piece from the kitchen - wow, I really do sound like a beggar) when I ordered my soup and said, "The bread is on the house."  It's not about the cost, but the friendliness and the overall enjoyable eating experience I have every time I visit a Pret. 

In case you were wondering, I didn't really switch over to Leon.  I still go to my Pret on the Strand, mostly every Friday.  And the soup is always at the appropriate level.

Photo source


  1. Pret has actually moved into American cities as well. I saw one in DC recently-looks just the same as the ones in London.

    -Jodi's Sister

  2. Ooh, thanks for letting me know - if I ever move back to the States, that will make the transition all the easier!


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