Waitrose is cracking down on free-loading coffee drinkers by forcing members of its loyalty scheme to buy something before pouring themselves a free hot drink.
The grocer has written to members of its myWaitrose scheme advising them that from 3 April they will have to make a purchase before collecting a takeaway drink cup at the checkout. Shoppers had reported big queues at the self-service coffee machines as office workers and students took advantage of the generous deal, which provided a free drink even to those who bought nothing in the shop.
The change is the latest example of belt-tightening by the grocer, which is part of the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership. Earlier this month the company slashed its staff bonus to just 6% of salary, the lowest level since the 1950s, despite a 21% rise in pre-tax profits. The group, which includes the John Lewis departments store chain, said the bonus had been cut to strengthen its balance sheet amid structural changes in the retail sector and rising costs linked to the devaluation of sterling since the Brexit vote.
Waitrose faces tough competition in the UK as discount rivals Lidl and Aldi expand and market leader Tesco fights harder on price. In February Waitrose said it planned to close six stores and remove a level of management in its supermarkets, putting nearly 700 jobs at risk.
It is not the first time Waitrose has tweaked the terms of the free coffee deal. Two years ago, members of the scheme were told that if they wanted to enjoy a free hot drink in one of its cafes, they must also buy a “treat” – such as a sandwich, cake, biscuit or piece of fruit. At that time the supermarket said the move was not a cost-saving exercise but a reminder of the “etiquette” involved in its offer.
While some myWaitrose members criticised the changes on Twitter, others were pleased. “Hooray, no more queuing behind coffee freeloaders,” tweeted Beverley de Valmency.
And James Murphy tweeted: