Loyalty card-holders who have been used to grabbing a free tea or coffee will soon have to pay for it, that’s if they want to sit down in the café, Waitrose announced today.
A statement on the supermarket’s website. It stated that although the free beverages are still available, those who wish to sit down with it in the café area should also buy a ‘treat’ to go with it.
It is thought that this move was not to cut down on costs by Waitrose, but to remind their customers of the ‘etiquette’ expected in the free offer. The change is aimed at freeing up spaces in the café which have previously been occupied by customers with free drinks.
A Waitrose spokesperson said:
“Most people understand that if they want to sit in the cafe and enjoy their hot drink, they buy something to go with it.”
The change is designed to be fair to those who might come to a cafe to buy a meal or a snack – only to find all the seats occupied by non-paying customers.
Waitrose introduced the offer in 2011, which allows any customer, with a loyalty card, to pick up a free drink of coffee, latte, Americano, cappuccino, mocha, espresso or tea every day. This is regardless of whether they buy anything in the store.
This offer has resulted in Waitrose becoming the second largest provider of coffee in the UK, selling a million cups per week. It is thought to have led to Tesco’s installing Costa Coffee machines in several of their stores.
But some customers believe that the change in policy is in a direct response to feedback from disgruntled middleclass shoppers, who do not like the invasion of less well-off customers.
Phil Dorrell, director of the retail consultancy Retail Remedy, spoke to the MailOnline:
“It was a very good commercial marketing ploy that has over the last few years become a little bit abused. The execution of it at store level has been a little poor and allowed people to come in, get a free coffee and then not really shop – and a lot of these people would tend to do that on a frequent basis.”
The loyalty card scheme has around five million members, and with the supermarket giving out an estimated one million free teas or coffees every week. This could be costing Waitrose as much as £150,000 a week to provide the beverages.
A Waitrose spokesman told MailOnline today:
“A complimentary tea or coffee while shopping with us is one of our ways of saying thank you to our customers.
“Most people who have their myWaitrose free drink in the café understand that they should buy something from the café to have with their tea or coffee, and so we are simply confirming that.
“Of course myWaitrose customers can still get their free hot drink from the self-serve machines whilst they are shopping with us.”