Notes from West London

Things that really are free

For two or three years now the supermarket chain Waitrose has had a reward scheme (the “myWaitrose” card) that offers card-holders a free coffee and a free newspaper every day as long as you spend £5 in the store. (The minimum spend is £5 Monday to Friday, £10 at weekends.) That minimum spend of £5 includes the cost of the paper (a weekday copy of the Guardian costs £2 these days) and the cost of the coffee (it’s £2.15 for a Waitrose cappuccino). This means that if you buy goods to the value of 85p you can get both a free paper and a free coffee. If you buy goods to the value of 85p, pick up a copy of the Guardian, and do not choose to take a free cup of coffee, it will cost you £2.85. You can save money by having a free coffee. That’s how it works.

I make use of this offer two or three times a week, and always try to spend at least £5 in addition to the cost of the paper and the coffee. I could get away with spending just 85p but would feel a bit mean restricting my spending to under a pound and still walking out with £5-worth of goods. This reward scheme is one of the few to offer me something that really is free: the Guardian is my newspaper of choice, and I like coffee. I now spend less on these items than I used to.

Yesterday evening, after dropping the children at their tap-dancing class (which is round the corner from our local Waitrose), I went to get my coffee and paper and couldn’t think of things to the value of £5 that we need right now, so (not for the first time) I wandered round the store picking up a few non-perishable items (dish cloths, tissues, aspirin) that we will use at some point. While collecting my free coffee, grateful that the offer is still running, I recalled a time last year when two people in front of me, also collecting free drinks, complained that there was no chocolate powder to sprinkle on their cappuccinos. “They should have stuff you can sprinkle on your coffee,” one of them said, “Like in Starbuck’s. It’s not good enough.” I still marvel at their attitude. For some people even a free drink isn’t good enough. They expect more.


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