No, you can’t pay your interns with free food

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

Finding people to work is challenging, particularly for restaurants. Pret a Manger, a U.K. based sandwich shop chain is no different. To meet this challenge, executives there decided to try something new: a one-week internship for about 500 teenagers to, according to a company statement in the Guardian, “get exposure to aspects of our business including food production, customer service, social responsibility [care for the homeless] and financial control.”

It seemed like a good and much needed idea–particularly in the U.K. where finding low-skilled labor is projected to becomeincreasingly difficult as the effects of Brexit takes hold and fewer EU nationals make their way to England. “British schools and parents don’t always take careers in the hospitality industry seriously, but they really ought to,” the company wrote in its blog.

One small problem. The food chain wasn’t going to actually pay these interns. Instead, they’d just get free food in exchange for the experience of serving sandwiches and sodas to the public. Pret a Manger’s food is fantastic – they have outlets in the United States, But as good as their food is, cash is cash – and once the word got out about their unpaid internship program, the Twitter-sphere backlash began.

“Hi @pret,” one person tweeted per this report in The Standard. “Your employment practices are gross and exploitative.”

A journalist posted: “Fancy an ‘internship” making sandwiches? You won’t be paid but they’ll ‘give you food.’ No wonder only migrants apply to work at Pret”.

Another angry customer tweeted “Dear @Pret – I use your shops quite a lot. That stops today until you pay these young people in money.”

The company soon found itself facing a growing number of campaigns against their “free food” internships until finally Pret’s management caved and agreed to offer its interns its standard hourly rate for new employees “and of course provide free food as well.”

If you’re looking to hire a few interns this summer then take this story to heart. The days of free internships are over. Pay your interns.


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