Food Review | Pret A Manger (Which Finally Opened A Second Outlet)

Post on 

Friday, May 20, 2016 

under Food by Claudio Grillenzoni

The Good: the fresh food, made on the spot daily, the organic coffee from Yunnan (sustaining the little communities of the production areas) and the more human one-to-one barista service. Good quality-price ratio.


The Bad: the selection of the food is not very wide (compared to a casual dining place), and the style of the experience is still that of a fast-service joint. So folks, be aware (don’t expect service at the table).



As the name suggests, Pret A Manger is a punny mix of “pret-a-porter” and “manger.” “Pret-a-porter” is the fashion jargon for “ready to wear,” hence something available on the spot immediately, and “manger” is the verb for “to eat” in French. So the concept of the chain, since it started in Victoria, London, in 1986, has been in the name itself: a place for fast consumption that still manages to keep a high standard, like a fashionable, ready-to-wear clothing chain.



Since the mid-80s, the family has expanded a lot, with around 300 outlets in the UK (two-thirds of them in London), 43 in New York, and a handful more spread throughout Chicago, Hong Kong, Paris, Nice, Dubai, Washington, Boston. It wasn’t until October 2014 when the first Pret on China’s mainland, at K11 in Shanghai. Now, after a long year and a half time lapse, the second Chinese (again, Shanghainese) outpost will open on the 17thof May at the Jing’an Kerry Center.



Why so much time in-between the two, especially in an industry where profitability comes from the forcible path to economy of scale, where most companies want to open dozens of outposts within a short period of time? “We have been waiting,” says Eira Jarvis, country manager of the Chinese subsidiary, “because we wanted to check first the right sale-mix to offer to our Shanghainese customers, because we didn’t want to bring on an aggressive policy of savage openings with the risk of having to adjust over time, closing outlets, changing our offering, and because we don’t have the aspiration of dotting all the city [with] new outposts”.



In fact, what has occurred is that customers in Hong Kong, where Pret-A-Manger has 16 outlets, have different habits from the Shanghainese ones: salmon sandwiches and avocado-based recipes are killer sellers in HK, whereas here in Shanghai people seem to prefer (big surprise to no one) crayfish.



In HK, people love yogurt- and milk-based products, while here the trend is growing,  but less consistently. And Shanghai is still a predominantly coffee-driven market, “whereas in HK, 20% of our revenues are generated  from the coffee side and 80% from the food side, in Shanghai this ratio is much more bent in favor of the cafeteria: 30% or more the first and 70% sandwiches, salad, etc.”


So it seems that Pret are more worried about meeting customer demands than winning the rush for marketshare.



Who are the competitors of “Pret” (as their people like to call it)? Not easy to say, because the chain is midway between a high-level convenience store and a casual dining experience (without having to wait 10 minutes to be served). Or still, midway between a Starbucks, but with a wider and better selection, and an Italian style bar, except in a format that’s replicated hundreds of times.


In fact, at Pret, although it’s a format present in high-traffic and CBD areas, you can still enjoy fresh salads, soups, sandwiches, baguettes, wraps and cafeteria products (such as pain au chocolat and croissant), most of them freshly made in the kitchen at the back of the outlet (At Pret, centralized kitchens are forbidden like the devil!). And the food is served by the barista in a one-on-one service (no assembly line syndrome).




The shop starts serving customers every day at 7.30 am (during working days; during weekend it starts at 9.30 am) till 10 pm. I will say this, it’s nice to be able to enjoy a 17RMB combination of of organic coffee from Yunnan and croissant so early in the morning.


The Verdict

If you already know Pret, you’ll have no trouble celebrating this newest opening. The quality of service and food is a gift at this price range, and even though it has a limited selection, it’s a more humane dining experience than you might otherwise get at a “fast-food chain.” If you’ve not tried it out yet, you now have double the chance to do so. Hopefully it won’t be another two years before the third outlet opens up nearby.


Prices (small and regular, in RMB): Brioche 12-15; Baked goods 11-12; Baguettes 20-42; Salads 29-55; Salad Wraps 39-42; Soups 23-26; Sandwiches 19-46; Fruits and Nibbles 7-24; Yoghurts 19-23 and Coffee 10 -29.


Pret-A-Manger Locations

K11 – 1/F, 300 Huáihǎi Middle Road 淮海中路300号1楼

Jing’an Kerry Center – 1563 Nánjīng West Road 南京西路1563号