I have a strong aversion to the hospitality QR code. It swept the industry as part of questionable social-distance initiatives during the pandemic, replacing menus and human interaction, and has stubbornly refused to vanish, making my heart sink when I find one sellotaped to a restaurant table. However, there is one hospitality QR code that I’ve grown fond of: the one that comes with a coffee subscription from Pret a Manger.
The scheme, which will be introduced in September 2020, is a financial boon for coffee addicts. For £25 per month, subscribers can order up to five ‘barista-made’ beverages per day (coffees, teas, frappes, hot chocolates, smoothies, etc.) by flashing their QR code as payment, so long as they do not place more than one order within a 30-minute time frame. Given that a flat white costs £3.10 and an Americano costs £2.90 at my local Pret, this is an excellent deal. If you completely utilized your subscription, you could consume over £400 worth of flat whites per month for a £25 investment. Sign up for their loyalty program, and you’ll receive a complimentary “perk” for every ten drinks. With over 300 Prets in Greater London alone, “convenient” is an understatement for the caffeine-dependent office worker.
Yet, four months into my subscription, I no longer enjoy my once-cherished daily cup of coffee. The tremendous success of the Pret subscription service is to be commended; a national rollout within seven weeks of the idea’s conception provided financial stability during a particularly difficult time. However, ordering a coffee at Pret has become chaotic, perplexing, and exasperating for the customer.
Imagine the scene. Today is a weekday. The clock strikes lunchtime. Numerous subscribers swarm to the nearest Pret. A sizeable proportion of them also look for salads, wraps, and sandwiches. Orders are brisk; baristas are able to keep up with the demand. That is, until a pivotal juncture is reached. As subscribers (and unwitting non-subscribers who are unaware of the impending chaos) continue to pour in, there comes a time when demand exceeds capacity. Of course, refusing entry to the store is not an option, so the number of employees manning the cash registers and taking orders tends to outnumber those making the beverages.
As each new drink order appears on the baristas’ enormous iPads, their to-do list begins to resemble that of the National Health Service. The steady hum of background noise increases as the number of customers increases, making it more difficult for baristas to hear what customers are ordering and for customers to hear when their drinks are ready. Which results in half of the drink orders being shouted across the room until a certain individual remembers they ordered an extra-hot oat milk caramel pumpkin-spiced latte.