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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the food service industry has seen a drastic fall in custom. One of the hardest hit areas has been coffee shops, who, once able to accommodate hundreds of daily customers, face changes to opening hours and distancing measures. To combat this, Pret a Manger has introduced Pret Unlimited, which provides unlimited drinks (coffees, smoothies, and even frappés) for £20 a month with the first month free! While this seems beneficial for avid coffee drinkers, it begs the question, how will this impact small businesses?

‘Pret’ (as it is affectionately known) is a multi-million-pound company able to slash prices drastically, capturing consumer attention with this low-cost subscription service. Their reasoning? To make Pret the first choice for coffee buyers. The scheme, if used to its maximum potential, could get you 150 coffees a month for as little as 13p each. With a standard Pret coffee costing around £3 each, the money-saving aspect is undeniable. When coming in store, it is likely customers will also collect a sandwich or snack, further detracting from the efforts of small businesses. Pret knows consumer habits and is profiting from it. 

This is problematic. In creating this subscription other businesses will likely follow suit, and soon these large-scale companies will end up dominating the drinks sphere. If almost every single coffee chain developed a paid scheme offering large savings, the days of full price coffee or even going to a small business would cease to exist. With a diverse range of competing subscriptions on the market,  the work of small businesses to gain traction and sell high quality, affordable coffee risks being destroyed. It is in no way financially feasible for smaller-scale coffee shops to sell drinks at such low prices while adequately paying workers, covering rent costs and making a profit. The introduction of subscription services will not only widen the gap between these companies, but will possibly lead to the closure of many small businesses.

For many students the prospect of (essentially) free coffee sounds ideal, but the issue is with the decline in customers opting to buy from independent businesses. I am currently trialling the first free month of the subscription and when I went in, almost everyone scanned their subscription QR code. What is more, because of the pandemic, customers cannot bring their own reusable cups. While the company cups are recyclable, there is an overwhelming feeling of wastage each time. There are four Pret a Manger’s in Bristol city centre alone, with another right by the university campus. The convenience is undeniable. What is lacking though, is the charm and warmth of small coffee businesses. There is the overarching question as to whether people will resubscribe after the first month, ultimately rendering small, local coffee shops redundant. If people do continue, will smaller shops have to introduce a similar service?

It is almost impossible, as a student on a budget, to feel as if every purchase you make is benefitting wider society as “ethical consumption.” It is important not to feel guilty for falling victim to free-trials , especially when trying to save money.  If trialling the subscription service, try to support small businesses in other areas such as clothing and food.  In creating this service, Pret a Manger is altering the coffee shop industry, the repercussions of which will be reflected in consumer habits and the success of smaller stores. 


Amy Thompson

Bristol '23

I'm a second year Law student from London.
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