I live in the North of England & I love Greggs.
For anybody who doesn’t live in the North, Greggs is a bakery that sells cakes, bread, pasties, pies and that.
It occupies a very special place in people’s hearts. Here is someone describing it for you so I don’t have to make it up myself.
There is excellent food and then there is the food that you actually want to eat.
This is where Greggs – “the UK’s leading retailer specialising in sandwiches, savouries and other bakery products” – comes in. Their cheese-and-onion pasties may only bear a tangential relationship to a) the traditional pasty or b) anything that Delia Smith might approve of, but this greasy amalgam of chewy pastry and cheesy fondant is, nonetheless, delicious. Their pies, pasties and sausage rolls wouldn’t win a rosette at a farmer’s market, but they hit that hot’n’salty stodgy spot.
Simple, cheap and increasingly everywhere – as the Newcastle-based company makes inroads down south – Greggs makes a mockery of their snottier competitors. The country is awash with middling sandwich shops that sell style and a perception of sophistication, as opposed to things that taste good.
At Greggs there is no such flim flam. A tuna roll (£1.45) consists of tuna, mayonnaise, Iceberg lettuce, cucumber and tomato. Perfect. Why, when I could eat that, would I want to pay £2.50 for an avocado, crayfish and chilli wrap which, while incredibly interesting, probably tastes rubbish?
And while the world adopts glossy, inane American-style service, Greggs remains Greggs. The counter staff are good, motherly stock – helpful, unfussy, gently bantering with customers, readily bollocking kids who mess about in the shop. Then there’s the change-ritual, immortalised by comedian Peter Kay, where staff count your “onesy’twosfivesyertens” into your hand. You might not understand a word of it, but it reinforces the notion that you’re in a place where they know the value of money, honesty and straight(ish) talking.
When you see the younger girls taking their first steps under the tutelage of Greggs’ middle-aged matriarchs, you feel, somehow, that society may yet be saved.
I feel I have a stake (not a Steak Bake, I don’t like them) in Greggs, and given the amount of money I’ve given them I probably do have.
So this is why I am going to use them as an example of Doing It Wrong.
Doing It Wrong
Greggs have installed tables in their shops and seats, for customers to sit at and eat their food. Except nobody ever does. The seats and tables are always completely barren of people.
There’s some weird sign up saying you have to pay more if you want to sit down. This is due to the bizarre VAT (Value Added Tax, non-UK readers) rules that say “VAT is applicable for a ‘sit down service” so when you buy a pastie and walk out with it in your hand, you pay 20% less than if you sit down in the shop on a seat and eat it.
This is a great example of “what matters” in action. “what matters” to me as a customer of Greggs is to quickly get in my hand a luke warm tasty snack made up of the three essential food groups of meat, fat and salt. There are long queues of similar people lined up in Greggs up and down the country, they get their jumbo sausage roll and walk out with it in their hand to eat it like this…
In my hand, walking down the street.
Somebody somewhere inside Greggs thought that something must be done to update Greggs, broaden its appeal to the metrosexual market, make it more like Starbucks? So they took over a third of the floor space with unused tables for nobody to sit at.
Perhaps they thought it would bring in new customers, but it certainly hasn’t made existing customers pay a fifth more to sit down for 10 minutes. Perhaps they thought it would help with customers with small children, but the toddler with a sausage roll clutched in its hand is such a common sight it even has its own name- a Greggs Dummy. No table needed.
What matters to a Greggs customer isn’t some faux-cafe lifestyle experience. A jumbo sausage roll is not a cappuccino and never will be.
No Greggs. Nobody wants to pay 20% more to sit inside and look at a queue of people who are paying less for their food. They want to BE in that queue of people, pay 20% less, and walk out the door to carry on their business.
This is why nobody sits down in a Greggs.