080611_PretaMange - Would You Like a Smile With That Using...

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Would You Like a Smile With That? Using an offbeat take on fast-food service and employee motivation the Pret a Manger chain is gaining an American foothold. August 7, 2011 - By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD NYT Business Day Would You Like a Smile With That? SOMETHING weird is happening inside a Pret a Manger sandwich shop on Broadway in Midtown Manhattan. It‘s not all those quirky British sandwiches, thin and understated with ingredients like free -range egg mayonnaise and avocado-and-pine-nut filling. No, it‘s the employees. The cashier is asking New Yorkers how they are doing — and genuinely seems to want an answer. The guy who is throwing out the garbage offers customers a cup of water. The manager swings by to commiserate about the sweltering weather. This is fast food? In Manhattan? Pret a Manger, the veddy British chain, has gained a foothold in our McWorld of burgers and fries, where you can fun- size this, combo that and, let‘s face it, sort of expect sullen service. Next to, say, McDonal d‘s, Pret a Manger amounts to a fleck of relish, if that. Last year, Pret posted sales of £327.5 million, or about $534 million at current exchange rates. The take at McDonald‘s: $24 billion. But Pret a Manger the name means ―ready to eat‖ in French — is slowly expanding in New York and other American cities with its own brand of grab-and-go food and, more significantly, a fresh approach to fast-food service. Pret feels almost nothing like an American chain. At a Starbucks in Midtown, you can wait 10 minutes for your latte during the morning rush. At Pret, the goal is to serve customers within 60 seconds. At some fast-food outlets in the city, cashiers might fling your cheeseburger across the counter, Frisbee-style. At Pret, they compliment your earrings. What makes Pret a Manger a compelling business case study is its approach to customer service and to training and motivating its staff. Yes, Pret happens to make sandwiches but the lessons are worth knowing, whatever your line of work. Many businesses have trouble getting longtime employees to work well and, in particular, to work well together. But Pret has managed to build productive, friendly crews out of relatively low-paid, transient employees. And its workers seem pretty happy about it. Its annual work force turnover rate is about 60 percent low for the fast-food industry, where the rate is normally 300 to 400 percent . At the request of Sunday Business, Francis Flynn , a professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, reviewed some of the management practices of Pret a Manger. He liked what he saw. ―A lot of people think about these jobs as almost hopeless when it comes to motivating the employees who work there, and it‘s kind of sad, and I also think it‘s incorrect,‖ Professor Flynn said. ―My sense is there‘s a really holistic a pproach, a comprehensive approach, to development.‖ Pret is succeeding with just such an out-of-the-box approach. So far this year, the sales in its 34 American stores
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