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How Pret A Manger landed in hot water with drinks deal

Subscription customers ‘getting angry’ about unavailability of some popular beverages

Pret A Manger is at the centre of a brewing row after thousands of customers complained about the chain’s £20-a-month drinks subscription service.

Pret launched what was described as “the UK’s first ever in-shop coffee subscription” in September last year. The company said that subscribers could “enjoy up to five barista-prepared drinks per day”, including all coffees, ice coffees, teas, hot chocolates, smoothies and frappes. 

But according to the BBC, the high-street chain has received “5,000 complaints about the offer, such as smoothies often being unavailable”. And after being contacted by fed-up customers, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has stepped in to rebuke Pret too.

‘Only filter coffee’ available

One customer told the broadcaster that his repeated efforts to order a mango and pineapple drink after subscribing to Pret had become a “long-standing joke with the staff”. He added: “I laughed it off for a while, but now I’m getting angry and I’m starting to feel I’ve been ripped off.”

Another former subscriber told The Times that the deal as a “total waste of money” and that a staff member “even told me to cancel the sub because ‘it’s shit’”.

“The highlight was when every shop in the City near my office claimed their ice machine had broken,” he added. “Basically, you could only get a filter coffee.”

‘Staff can’t take much more’

Some former Pret employees told the BBC that working for the chain had become “unbearable” as a result of the subscription service. Making smoothies and frappes is “really time consuming”, said an ex-staffer. “Try to make 50 smoothies daily one by one and you will feel it.” 

Another warned that “the staff can’t take much more”. 

Ad regulator intervention

After receiving complaints from Pret customers, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told the company to “consider reviewing the ads for their subscription service”. Pret pledges: “If our baristas brew it, blend it or steam it, you can have it!”

The watchdog said the chain had been told that the ads “should not state or imply that the service was available in all store locations, or that it covers their entire range of products if that wasn't the case”.

A Pret spokesperson said: “We have spoken with the ASA to ensure all Pret marketing for the coffee subscription is in accordance with their latest guidance.” 

The subscription scheme was “incredibly popular” and “we’re constantly working with our teams and customers to make it better”, the spokesperson added.

‘Public outcry’ over smoothies

A Pret spokesperson told the BBC that when the chain suggested earlier this year that frappes and smoothies might be removed from the deal, “there was a public outcry so Pret listened and kept them as part of the subscription”.

The company said that “less than 1% of all coffee subscribers have raised any concerns” about availability and that “we always welcome feedback to try and provide the best possible experience for every customer”.

But some hacked-off subscribers may be unconvinced. One tweeted last month that their local Pret in Wimbledon had “removed smoothies from the signs and been saying for a week that the machine is broken”. 

“It seems every branch has either a broken freezer or machine,” the fed-up customer added. “Where are Pret getting their equipment from for it to break in EVERY store???”

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