“Pret” Another Good Experience

Last Wednesday, I accompanied a small group of seniors (12th graders; not elderly) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While I was mesmerized by the King Tut exhibit and inspired and awed by the rooms filled with Picasso, I’ll instead write about something else — our eating experience.

While at the Met, my tiny group and I ate in the cafeteria. While they offered plenty of healthy foods, I was disgusted by something else — the rudeness. I was expecting extremely over-priced items (to the tune of around .78 per pound of cold sides and salad; my total came to over $13), so that wasn’t too bad. However, I couldn’t believe how utterly despicable people were. I’ve been to NYC numerous times and the streets are what I call “adjustable” — they’re not rude, you just have to adjust your thinking and think more like they do. But, this was nuts.

I hate to say it, but most of the other “tourists” (the ones being literally pushy and giving you the evil eye) were French. So, let’s just say that our lunch was crowded and tense. And, did I mention expensive? Well, again, THAT was to be expected, at least.

The main teacher who set up the trip had planned in advance for us to visit Pret A Manger for our pre-bus dinner. I had visited one of these establishments when on an NYC trip with Dave, but I didn’t think much about it at the time. This time, I paid a lot more attention. This time, after wishing so many times that “fast food” restaurants (or any restaurants, really) offered more all-natural food alternatives, I came into this eating experience with eyes much more open.

For those of you who don’t know, Pret A Manger is French for “ready to eat”, which sounds a little misleading. A lot of fast food commercials lately talk about how they make your food once it’s ordered — which sounds great, right? Sure, but that stuff’s still manufactured meat and never-go-bad fries.

This is how the experience went:
– We arrived at the Pret next to Bryant Park. Luckily, it wasn’t insanely busy, so it accommodated our 14ish people. I noticed several perma-smiling employees waiting to let us pay (or to take an order), but who didn’t rush us to pick out our food.
– I turned to a wall of food and beverages. They present you with an open cooler of sandwiches and salads, all made with close-as-possible vegetables (some grown on-premises) and daily-made fresh bread. Most of the beverages are as all-natural as possible, from lemonades to juices, smoothies to flavored waters (although there is the occasional Coke). I picked the Pret Pure Ginger Beer (which we had to remind the students several times was NA). It was the strongest ginger beverage I’ve ever had, to the point of being wicked spicy — I had a carbonated water the next day and I still could only taste ginger. I liked it.
– Next, to figure out what to eat. Some of the items I considered were: roast beef baguette, cheddar and chutney sandwich, chicken/apple/cranberry sandwich, corn chowder, and sweet butternut squash soup (among others). I settled on a balsamic chicken and avocado sandwich and grabbed some all-natural chips. Later, I ruined a lot of the health factor with a chocolate chunk cookie, but knowing that it was fresh-made that day (and still warm!) helped me reason with myself about eating it.
– Sitting down, I noticed many slick posters that informed me about what I was eating. This is some of the info I learned that day, from pret.com:

It’s important our sandwiches and salads taste better than everybody else’s. To achieve this, we build a beautiful sandwich kitchen in every Pret. “Every night we receive good, natural ingredients and our chefs get cracking early in the morning. …We don’t like big food factory/depot/processing places. We make our stuff fresh so we can sell it fresh (it’s old fashioned but works well). We donate our sandwiches to charity instead of keeping them over to sell the next day. Because we make our food by hand in each store throughout the day, you won’t find “shelf life” dates and “display until” messages on our salads and sandwiches. We simply don’t need to sell old food.

Next to the fact that they donate their leftovers (when they have them) to charities at the end of the day rather than re-sell the next day, I’m most impressed by the fact that they will not franchise. They’re a privately-owned company and they’re growing slowly — over 3/4 in UK (where Pret started), only a handful in the states. While I wish it would travel upstate, knowing their slow-moving approach, I’m okay not having one here quite yet. Our area isn’t the most 21st century (or, at all?) — we don’t have a true Starbucks. I’m praying for a Whole Foods — the best I can get is Hannaford’s. But, I’m looking forward to having a place in the city we visit the most to actually eat the way we’re trying to “upstate.” So, all in all, I give Pret a huge red star (actually, the best customer service workers get a Tiffany silver star for good feedback, ha!) for staying true to their ideals and helping us do the same.