Tracking the Pret Index

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As WFH continues, fast food slows down

The UK still has a ways to go before declaring the pandemic over and done with. Just check the Pret Index.

While COVID-19 is showing signs of easing across the country, business remains slow at fast-food eateries in high-density commercial centers, where demand for take-out breakfasts and lunches had soared prior to the crisis. A case in point: the Pret a Manger chain, which had been serving some 200,000 lattes and 100,000 croissants week to British office workers.

The chain recently reported to Bloomberg that walk-in business in London’s City and Canary Wharf financial districts remained anemic as workers continued to work from home. (Several locations have been closed in the UK and elsewhere, including the Pret across the street from Carpenter Group’s offices in lower Manhattan.)

Bloomberg has used the data to create the “Pret Index,” which tracks the rate that people are returning to the workplace in the UK. As we grope for answers about the future—when will the pandemic end, what will I do with all these masks, and what does “end” actually mean, anyway?—indexes real and fanciful can provide a measure of welcome if unfounded certainty.

Consider a “Netflix Index,” which would presumably rise and fall in step with quarantining and self-isolation mandates. In the first quarter of this year, as people started venturing out again, the streaming giant added a scant 3.98 million new subscribers, compared with 15.8 million new users a year earlier.

A “TSA Index” would gauge Americans’ willingness to get back in the air. Right now it’s way up—the Transportation Security Administration screened 1.4 million people a day over the first three weeks in April, a more-than 14-fold increase over the same period a year ago.

Conversely, the “Consolidated Soap & Shampoo Index” remains flat, as housebound people who wouldn’t have dreamed of forgoing a daily sudsing a year ago are now stretching the interval between showers to up to a week according to The New York Times. Presumably, the CS&S will inch back up as social distancing phases out.

Ideas for other indexes linking COVID rates to consumer behavior abound—a “Sweats & Tees Index,” a “Dental Floss Index,” a “Chardonnay Index,” and—need we say it?—a “Condom Index.” With enough data—and time on your hands—you can create an index about anything.