Pret a Manger is to offer customers up to five coffees a day if they sign up to a monthly subscription service.
The chain is hoping that the price tag of £20 is low enough to win back some of the business lost in the pandemic.
But city centres, saturated with coffee shops, remain relatively deserted as many office workers continue to work from home.
Pret has already announced it is closing 30 outlets and laying off a third of its staff.
Pret boss Pano Christou told the BBC’s Today programme: “There’s no doubt that workers will come into the office less often than beforehand. Pret needs to adapt itself to the changes of customer patterns and that’s where we’ve been very focused.”
Although many of the sandwich chain’s outlets are in central London, Mr Christou said that 40% of its business was in London suburbs and the home counties, where customers were starting to return “much more swiftly”.
He added that Pret had seen its delivery business grow tenfold through the coronavirus crisis.
The coffee and sandwich chain is launching YourPret Barista next week as part of new digital strategy which it hopes will help revive its fortunes.
Briony Raven, Pret’s director of coffee and packaging, said the scheme aimed to help persuade customers to see Pret as the default choice, in the same way they do other subscription services such as Netflix.
“It’s Pret’s way of doing loyalty,” she said. “It’s about giving people an easy choice, when they come back into their everyday routine.”
For the fixed monthly fee a customer can select any “barista prepared” drink from a skinny soya latte to a smoothie, using their phone to access the subscription, up to five times a day, seven days a week.
To prevent misuse by anyone planning to get in a round of coffees for their friends and colleagues, each drink must be collected 30 minutes apart.
Consumer expert Kate Hardcastle said the £20 fee, with a month’s free introductory trial, was an “impressively low-ball offer”, illustrating how desperate retailers are to win people back and build loyalty.
“There has been a significant rise in subscription models over lockdown, everything from socks to gin, so people are into the idea,” she said.
“But it’s not going to be easy to translate to the coffee shop. What was once the daily latte is now interrupted. It may be that trips to the office are only once or twice a week rather than daily. Consumers are also well aware there could be regional lockdowns, which may mean they don’t want to commit big amounts upfront.”
The scheme appears to be designed around the “new normal”, at a price that is still attractive even if you’re only going to the office twice a week, said Natalie Berg an analyst with NBK retail.
“Pret is betting you’ll buy a sandwich with that coffee and it becomes habitual,” she said.
“Once you become a member of any subscription you want to get value so you use it more, spend more. So if you are a member, it’s unlikely you’ll go into Starbucks.”
The scheme is “revolutionary”, Ms Berg added, and shows the firm has recognised it needs to be creative in the current circumstances.
As well as tempting people back in-store, it paves the way for Pret to offer a range of other services via the new digital platform, allowing it to engage with customers more personally and tailor services according to their spending habits.
Pret said it had a number of other innovations in the pipeline, including extending its evening meal offer and deliveries. It has also started selling Pret-branded coffee on Amazon.
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