London is full of places to get coffee. You have brands such as Starbucks, Pret A Manger, Costa Coffee, Black Sheep Coffee, and Caffé Nero. And you have all the local, non-chain places.
I primarily rely on Pret A Manger. You will find a lot of Pret’s in London. Whenever you get out of a Tube station, it is usually a matter of seconds before your eyes will catch sight of the Pret star. And in a lot of cases you will find them inside Tube stations as well. Pret is here, there and everywhere … in London.
While Pret is available in most of London, it is interesting to see where and when you do not find a Pret. (To better understand the structure of London, I can recommend the book Complex City: London’s Changing Character from 2020.) For example, I am sure you can learn a lot about London simply by looking at the locations of Pret. If you go to visit London for a few days, make sure you go to areas where you will not find a Pret, i.e., use the Pret map as an anti-map.
Similarly, you can learn a lot about London by looking at the opening hours of Pret. If a Pret is open on Sundays, you can be sure that you are in a touristy area. If a Pret is only open Monday to Friday and closes early, you can be sure that you are in close proximity to a lot of offices. In other words, the less hours a Pret is open, the more office friendly it is.
I like drinking coffee and work for a few hours at Pret. Pret is not a hipster chic office space, but it is a great environment to just sit down, drink some coffee and get things done. The great thing about working at a Pret is that you can even have an empty cup and work for as long as you care. Nobody is monitoring you. Nobody would ever judge you for sitting at a Pret for several hours straight, and in the right environment, you are sitting next to people working, having meetings, or just grapping a quick lunch before moving on. There is this saying that Starbucks sells coffee with free office space, and WeWork sells office space with free coffee. I do treat Pret as coffee with free office space, and with a Pret Coffee Subscription, the coffee is as good as free as well.
At some point, I started collecting a bit of data on the Prets I visited, just to make sure that I had an overview of where I had been. In the map below, I show the Prets I have been to in London (where I have collected data). I do not show the Prets I’ve been to outside of London, such as the London airports and outside the UK (such as Paris).
In the figure below, I show information on the locations I visited. Most of the places I have been to are in City. Noteworthy, I get used going to the same few places and I have a place or two I could visit almost daily for an hour or two. I used to go to a Pret near the office where one member of staff recognised me. Eventually, he didn’t ask what I wanted. He turned around, made an Americano and gave it to me. I scanned my subscription, said ‘Thanks!’. It was a very satisfying experience.
While some places are close to each other, they are very different. For example, the Aldgate Pret is open seven days a week most of the year, and full of tourists, but Houndsditch Pret, just a few minutes away, is closed during the weekends, perfect for getting a bit of work done, and with a completely different vibe. Accordingly, as a general rule, if you want to sit down at a Pret, never take the one closest to a Tube station. Go an extra minute or two to the next Pret.
When I collected a bit of data on each Pret I visisted, my approach was simple. Once I got my black Americano and found a place to sit down, I would connect to the free WiFi and get the name and location of the Pret. Next, I used Speedtest by Ookla to collect data on how good the WiFi was. Finally, I collected some additional data related to each Pret.
Some of the data I collected was related to the quality of the place itself. Specifically, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being better quality, I coded the quality of 1) the atmosphere (or, the vibe), 2) the size (the bigger the better), and 3) the seating (good chairs/tables). I also collected data on the quality of the service, and while relevant, I do not find it reliable to make inferences about the quality of the individual Pret location. In brief, while the staff is usually great, Pret is not a restaurant and do not go there for the friendly staff. Get your coffee and clean up after yourself.
I also started collecting data on whether I would get free stuff or not. This only happened to me once when I got a soya cappuchino on the house. I was in no mood for a soya cappuchino but I was so flattered by the ‘on the house’ that I could not say no. I took the first sip of it and it tasted … bad. My best recommendation if you want to increase your chances of getting free stuff is to pick a Pret that also does pick-up service and then sit strategically near the pick-up location. Or be more extroverted and talkative. Or something that correlates with these variables.
Of course, different elements can be important when assessing the quality of a coffee shop. Menon et al. (2018), for example, ask people to assess the importance of the following 11 elements: 1) taste of the coffee, 2) cleanliness, 3) appealing aroma, 4) amount of natural lighting, 5) comfortable furniture, 6) view to the outside, 7) philosophy of the management, 8) attitude of staff, 9) people in the coffee shop, 10) proximity to home, and 11) proximity to work. The good thing about Pret is the consistency. The taste of coffee is the same, the attitude of the staff is friendly, the WiFi is working, etc.
In the table below, I show the scores for each location in terms of ‘Atmosphere’, ‘Size’ and ‘Seating’. I add the three scores together (‘Aggregated’) and sort the individual Pret locations by the aggregated score. Again, greater scores indicate a better Pret.
As we can see, there is a lot of variation in the overall quality of a Pret. Among my favourite Pret locations are King William Street, Thomas More Square, Bow Lane 49, and Houndsditch.
One thing you notice when you visit Pret a lot is how social the queue is. There is often not a single line, especially after you make you order. The first thing you need to do when you want to order is to familiarise yourself with the queue. You need to make sure you notice who has already ordered in order to make sure you will not jump the queue and get your coffee before that person (e.g., if you order an Americano, make sure you get the Americano that is meant for you!).
Pret is a good place to get coffee and work. I should add that I wrote the first draft of this post at Pret.