Pret A Manger is preparing to open 30-plus shops in the UK this year in what marks the fiercest period of expansion in its history, but the man who runs its kitchens insists the intensity of the roll-out programme won’t alter its approach to sourcing the best equipment.
Dirk Wissmann, who serves as senior equipment manager at the 400-strong chain of high street foodservice chain, says its philosophy of trying to make life straightforward for staff has served it well up to now, and that won’t change.
“In general our approach [to catering equipment specification] is ‘keep it simple’,” he explained. “Whatever we have in our stores needs to be simple to operate and easy to clean from a safety point of view. We have very high standards for health and safety so everything needs to be on wheels and movable for cleaning. We’d rather not have complicated, manual-operated things. Keeping it simple is the strategy that works for us.”
Wissmann, who was speaking during an exclusive on-stage interview at Commercial Kitchen last week, said the chain works very closely with its five to 10 “core” suppliers and admitted it was rare to find a Pret kitchen that doesn’t contain a degree of product customisation.
“The majority of the items we use in our kitchens are slightly customised to what you would normally buy off the shelf and that’s just so that we can fit it into our specific operation. So we try to make the equipment work for our specific operation, rather than building our operation around the equipment that is out there. We modify a lot of the original equipment to fit our workflow, and we try to make it easier to clean, easier to operate and safer.”
Pret generated sales of £676m last year, an increase of 7%, as it launched 36 new stores and created 760 new jobs. 58% of sales now come outside of lunchtime, buoyed by increased demand for breakfast on-the-go, while 14% of sales came from food and drink items developed in the last year. Vegetarian sales showed double digit growth.
CEO Clive Schlee said yesterday that the warmth of the public response to a ‘vegetarian-only’ store that it launched earlier this month has “taken us completely by surprise”.
“Sales at Broadwick St, far from falling, are up over 70% on last year. The shop is packed and this is the first time I have seen customers in London sitting on the floor to eat their lunch. The energy of the shop is also quite remarkable. Customers are taking photos of the food, writing down the ingredients, and giving us messages of overwhelming support on the Hit the Spot/Lost the Plot notice board. A meat-free environment seems to generate an infectious positive energy.”
The original idea was to close the shop after four weeks, but Schlee admits that internally the company is debating whether to keep it open slightly longer to see whether demand is still as strong once the initial hype dies down. “There are some who would like to convert every fourth Pret into a Veggie Pret, and to explore its success in other markets too,” he revealed.