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Back to work rush has sent sales soaring, says Pret boss

Pret a Manger boss Pano Christou is optimistic about trading in city centres after employees returning to offices last week drove a 15 per cent sales uplift in just seven days. 

He said the first full week after the school holidays had been the ‘acid test’ to gauge the scale of workers returning to areas such as the City of London after a switch to remote working over the pandemic.

Christou said sales at his sandwich shops in city centres had now returned to about 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. He said he had also seen a ‘significant step up’ at Pret’s airport shops after travel restrictions for vaccinated passengers were eased.

Hopeful: Pret’s Pano Christou said business is returning to normal

He said many employees were adopting a hybrid working model, spending two or three days of each week in the office. City commuters have cheekily begun to refer to themselves as ‘TW*Ts’ – commuting into work on ‘Tuesdays, Wednesdays And Thursdays’.

Christou said: ‘Things have really continued to build since Freedom Day in July.

‘We are optimistic and confident this demand will continue to build throughout the rest of the year.’

He added that sales outside London had recovered fastest and were already exceeding pre-pandemic levels at some shops. He said: ‘Suburban locations have continued to stay very strong. Where we are in regional towns, things are pretty much back to normal.’

Christou warned last year that Pret was ‘in the eye of the storm’ during the pandemic, as it had built its business capturing city centre trade using the mantra ‘follow the skyscraper’.

Last summer, Pret, owned by the German fund JAB Holdings, cut 3,700 jobs and closed 39 sandwich shops after sales fell by up to 80 per cent in some of its worst affected locations.

Pubs in the Square Mile were busier last week

Pubs in the Square Mile were busier last week

Last week, London pubs were noticeably busier than the previous week, business sources said. Latest data from the British Beer and Pub Association said nationally pubs’ trade has recovered to 95 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

On Monday, rush-hour trips on the Tube were up 17 per cent compared with Tuesday on the previous week – the first day back after the Bank Holiday for many workers – to just under a million. That was the highest figure since March 2020, before the first lockdown.

Buses saw 39 per cent more passengers, according to figures from Transport for London.

Retailers approached by The Mail on Sunday said ‘committed shoppers’ had given stores a lift in the past week. One director at a major chain said sales at its Oxford Street store had risen by a third since workers returned after August.

Pret became a poster boy for the economic damage wrought by the pandemic after commuters failed to return

Pret became a poster boy for the economic damage wrought by the pandemic after commuters failed to return

Savile Row tailor Cad & The Dandy said that last week it saw a 30 per cent rise in customers on the week before, while formalwear chain Charles Tyrwhitt enjoyed a 220 per cent boom in suit sales in store.

Cad & The Dandy’s managing director, James Sleater, said: ‘There has been a huge shift in the last week.’

Selfridges boss Anne Pitcher told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I think people are enjoying being back at work and customers are enjoying coming back to the stores.’

She said there was a ‘cautious optimism’ within the business about the autumn and the run-up to the festive season. She added: ‘Last year wasn’t the best – from an emotional point of view as well – and I’m hoping this will be a really strong Christmas.

‘We need to see international travel recover in London. But the uptake in our businesses in London, Birmingham and Manchester is really, really inspiring to see.’

Selfridges boss Anne Pitcher said there was a 'cautious optimism' within the business about the autumn and the run-up to the festive season

Selfridges boss Anne Pitcher said there was a ‘cautious optimism’ within the business about the autumn and the run-up to the festive season

Despite its enduring successes and its resilience during the past 18 months compared with many businesses, Pret became a poster boy for the economic damage wrought by the pandemic after commuters failed to return in significant numbers last autumn.

In an interview this time last year, Christou told The Mail on Sunday that he wanted to turn Pret from an ‘urban, London-centric’ brand into a multi-channel business that was diversifying into areas such as ordering via apps and partnerships with retailers.

He now plans to expand Pret by opening about 100 new outlets over the next two years, from 404 currently, and is in talks with franchise partners. Most of its future growth will be in the regions.

But Christou said Pret was ‘still looking at opportunities in Central London’. He said: ‘There has been a fallout of our competitive set within Central London, so there are more gaps and opportunities there than there were a few years ago.

‘We need to see how the rest of the year plays out. We have a handful of [London] stores on a watchlist and we will be watching closely to see how those recover by the end of the year. We will then be able to take a call on whether to close further shops in London or not.’ 

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