Waitrose Tightens Rules on Free Coffee

When Waitrose introduced their myWaitrose loyalty scheme in 2011, they did not anticipate how costly their hospitality would prove.

Its aim was to give ‘immediate rewards’ to committed customers, according to Mark Price, Managing Director of Waitrose. Initially their loyalty card invited customers to spend £5 and receive a free newspaper, and also enjoy a free tea or coffee without any additional purchase.

Before long Waitrose became the second largest supplier of coffee in the UK after McDonalds.

However, Waitrose has slowly begun to raise the bar on what they call their loyalty etiquette.

Initially, Waitrose announced that they were increasing the newspaper offer from £5 to £10. When this was met with opposition from its loyalty cardholders, who had already got used to the £5 threshold, Waitrose back pedalled and said that the £10 minimum spend would only apply on the weekends; on weekdays the spend remains at £5.

Then there was the middle class backlash about the class of customers who were turning up for a free coffee. Waitrose regulars took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about how Waitrose was turning into a ‘soup kitchen’, putting off their core base of affluent shoppers.

One Waitrose shopper said: ‘I think seeing people walking round the store holding on to takeaway cups of tea and coffee looks quite ridiculous.’

Following these complaints from what The Telegraph called ‘disgruntled middle-class shoppers’, Waitrose changed its scheme once again. Now, in order to enjoy a coffee at the in-store café, a purchase must also be made in the café.

And to counter some customers who helped themselves to extra drinks for their friends, some shops now ask customers to register for a cup before using the self-service machines.

According to the store’s statement, this change was implemented so that Waitrose could ‘continue to offer our customers the enjoyable service they expect’.

Although many Waitrose shoppers may see these changes as eroding the benefit of the loyalty scheme, the changes are certainly of benefit to local coffee shops. Hopefully, we will see fewer customers in the Waitrose café, and more people enjoying Beans, the Coffee Tavern, No 4 or Brew Babu.

Thomas Bailey