Thursday 29th January 2015

Standard

I used to live near a Waitrose. And it was a Waitrose in Brighton, less than five minutes from the beach, so it was pretty bloody Waitrose. Obviously, your expectation might be that everything in Waitrose is going to be markedly more expensive than elsewhere – the Sainsburys down the road, for instance, or the Aldi. But that’s not actually the case: in the main, and considering the quality, the difference in price isn’t that much higher.

By the way, a word about places like Aldi and Lidl. By now, you’ll have worked out that you can get some pretty good stuff there – there’s stories of Guardian readers loading up the 4×4 with cheaply priced imported meats and lobster, all under five quid. I think Aldi and Lidl are missing several tricks here. It would be a simple matter to open up a little bespoke shop, all hewn wood and exposed brickwork – somewhere in Kensington (or less than five minutes walk from Brighton beach), get a job lot of cured hams from Aldi, repackage them in wax paper , and sell it on for £8 a pop. It would be a huge success. I would say you can’t have that idea, it’s mine, but I’d be stunned if someone hasn’t already beaten me to it.

Anyway, Waitrose. They’ve always been pretty savvy about making the customer feel important. There’s doubtless a few people who will disagree with my interpretation of events, but the staff at my local Waitrose always seem pretty friendly and genuinely willing to help. A lot of this appears to be – and again, maybe some will disagree – that the staff generally seem happy to be there. This is a marked difference to many other supermarkets.

A while back, Waitrose pulled a masterstroke, and offered free coffee to anyone who had a store loyalty card. That, and the fact you could claim a free newspaper if you were spending more than £5, meant that the shop pretty much owned you, in a very similar way to a cult. But a cult that kept you jacked up on caffeine and daily news and comment. There was a very good chance that you’d make a slight diversion from a nearer store in order to pick up a free newspaper, or, if you had only intended to pick up a tea, you would end up buying a muffin as well, as a example of your co-dependent relationship. It was fine, you both knew what you were getting into. A Fifty Shades Of Earl Grey, if you like.

The Brighton Waitrose doesn’t have a coffee shop, meaning that anyone who wants that free drink either drinks it while shopping, or takes it straight out. There’s nowhere to sit down and drink. This appears not to be the case everywhere, though, because Waitrose sent out an email this morning asking (OK, stating) that customers claiming their free drink would now also buy a cake or something. This inevitably prompted an impressive slew of people babbling on twitter who ably demonstrated that they could complain, but couldn’t actually read: Waitrose had to keep repeating that coffees got from a machine were still free, it was just that if you sat down in a coffee shop, you had to pay for something. This wasn’t good enough for twitter customers, who, unable to see that they were screwing up a good deal by sitting for free with a coffee for six hours like a failed Hollywood screenwriter in Starbucks. ’It isn’t free’, one customer sniffed. Well, maybe he sniffed. It was on twitter, it probably isn’t wise to speculate too much about the bodily functions people get up to on twitter.

I can only imagine that this is exactly what’s happened: Waitrose coffee shops have been crammed by people who have claimed their free coffee and their free table and spoiling it for everyone else. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we can’t have nice things. At least the failed Hollywood screenwriter might actually pay for a coffee every four hours or so.

At the very worst, you might think that customers would go “oh, well, free coffee was nice while it lasted, guess we’re going to have to go back to the traditional methods of actually PAYING FOR STUFF and / or SHOPLIFTING now”. But, no. Like a toddler being told they have to put the action figure back on the display when leaving the toy shop, these people kicked, screamed and bawled. The last time I saw such embarrassing MINE IT’S MINE behaviour was – well, actually, back at Waitrose, on Christmas Eve, when the shop managed to annoy everyone with the controversial announcement that they were not going to reduce prices on the turkeys just before the store closed. This was met with absolute fury (I’m not kidding: fury), particularly when people were told that the turkeys were going to be donated to the homeless. This annoyed a lot of people. Especially the people holding their free coffees.

I’ll say it again. This is why we can’t have nice things.

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