Waitrose refurb causes mental turmoil

If a baby rhinoceros wearing Lederhosen and lipstick settled down in the station forecourt and started to play the spoons, I don’t think it could cause as much social unrest as the refurbishment of Waitrose has done.

Yes, it is a major refurbishment, and in a small town like lovely Surbiton, refurbishments big or small will take time to get used to. The first rule, in unsettling situations such as renovations of branches of major supermarket chains, is to undertake a practice run. I know this, which is why I have already patrolled the aisles of the new-look Waitrose, getting my bearings, raising my eyebrows at controversial relocations of items—the nifty swapping of the baked goods and wine sections, for example—and muttered to myself things like ‘Ah, the cheese counter has moved a little to the right, I see’, and ‘An interesting use of freezer space, there’, because I know the fundamental importance of performing this exercise before one embarks on a Big Shop.

It was during this practice run that I witnessed the bewilderment into which many Surbiton residents have been thrown. Whilst I was drooling quietly over the cakes (in their proud new position at the front entrance), a fraught-looking woman stopped dead at the doors, stared aghast ahead of her, and said out loud ‘Dear Lord, what has happened here?’. I felt for her; right then, it seemed that nothing in her life would ever be the same again.

Another woman, standing forlornly amongst the baked goods like a sailor lost at sea, muttered ‘So much bread. I’m sure there’s more bread than there was. This is a confusing amount of bread.’ She was faced with that perilous concept that often comes hand-in-hand with improvement: Too Much Choice. When normally she would confidently pluck her loaf of malted granary from its rightful place and smile happily at the joy it will bring her family, she was now cruelly tossed into an ocean of multiple wheat-based variety—not to mention the sizeable lake of wheat-free selections—and she was clearly frightened.

The bakery section seems to be causing strife for several shoppers; my heart went out to the elderly gentleman, wandering aimlessly with despair on his face, who eventually had to reach an imploring hand to a young assistant and whimper ‘Where have you hidden the crumpets? I just want to find the crumpets.’ His habitual route to those friendly packets of porous dough, a route forever etched into his heart, had been obliterated. Thankfully, the helpful assistant led him to safety, and delivered a pack of eight into his trembling hands, whereupon he gazed gratefully into her eyes and whispered ‘Thank you. Thank you.’

But this was small fry compared to the mental and emotional turmoil I witnessed between two women by the kitchen roll:

Woman 1: I didn’t realise they’d still sell Waitrose stuff.
Woman 2: I’m sorry?
Woman 1: After changing hands, I didn’t think they’d still do Waitrose products.
Woman 2: Changing hands?
Woman 1: Yes, to Sainsbury’s.
Woman 2: Er, it hasn’t changed hands, they’ve just refurbished. It’s still Waitrose.
Woman 1: Oh, for God’s sake! So what’s happened to Sainsbury’s?
Woman 2: Nothing, it’s still down the high street.
Woman 1: (Slamming her full basket down and storming off) Oh, I don’t believe this.

As well as this renovation clearly having a profound effect on Surbiton’s mental state, it is also a momentous talking point. As I was contemplating the ice cream assortment, a manager strolled past, deep in conversation with a chattering elderly lady who was giving him her in-depth opinion on the changes: she particularly liked the new position of the milk and juices, had been a little disappointed there weren’t more modifications to the fruit and veg section, but especially liked the new, spacious feel to the place. Finally, she cocked her head to one side, put a quizzical finger to her chin, and said, ‘Now, tell me, have you changed the width of the aisles?’

For people who do their weekly, or twice, or even thrice-weekly shop in the same store, a transformation like this is bound to rock their boats. For the two elderly ladies standing in front of the opening hours board, earnestly discussing whether a half hour had been added or subtracted here and there, this has been an event of extreme magnitude around which they must adapt their daily routine. For the young man who hurried into the store to be immediately faced with a startling amount of bread and thus mutter ‘Oh God, the beer used to be here!’, it is probably not something that will affect his day-to-day existence, but it will almost definitely offer some snags along the way.

This is not to say that the refurbishment of Waitrose is a bad thing; I think it looks lovely. After all, who wanted to walk into an entrance lobby full of alcohol first thing in the morning? The smell of freshly-baked bread is a far more pleasing prospect, especially for the man who gushed to his wife: ‘A cake counter! Fantastic! Now I can have a flapjack within six seconds of entering the shop, and I can dribble over the window while I’m waiting for the bus’.

Good people of Surbiton, be brave. After the first few tumultuous visits, you will forget there has ever been a change. In the meantime, floorplans, directions, and some carefully labeled Polaroids may help.


God. Just laughed so hard the man out the window looked up. Brilliant. Must email a link now to everyone I know!

What a wonderful, witty article. The writer should be in the national press. Waitrose is such a wonderful institution. Protrayed fabulously here...what lovely, helpful staff. Thaanks for making me smile.

If I should have the misfortune to meet the people who think they should proceed through the aisles of a supermarket three abreast, I will put down my head and charge into them, scattering them to the four corners of Waitrose. That's a solemn promise!

Three people, four corners. Nice one sparky!

Have you worked it out yet?

At the end of the day, this is how new Waitrose stores are, in the old layout buns and stuff were still self service, get over it, it's a supermarket at the end of the day, the aisles are longer but in dont think they are narrower. What would you rather shop somewhere with fridges that don't leake water everywhere or shop somewhere with nice kit!

Learn how to spell, residents of Surbiton..........you're meant to be posh.
From resident of Kingston

Its been brought in line with most other Waitrose stores - most of the London stores already look like this... Get over it people!!!

The person who wrote this is not only blessed with a vast intellectual capacity, but is also gorgeous enough to cover in flour and bake for 40 minutes! yumm! :)

Totally disagree, with some of these comments, the branch has been in need of work for a long time. Staff always seemed to be trying to control leakes on cabinets.

I think the branch looks fantastic and compared to New Malden and Kingston it is certnatily a breath of fresh air!


An excellent article.
Apart from moving the booze away from the front window and the nice new fridges & freezers, I think it's a backwards step.

SurbBird, a brilliant funny article. I can just imagine these people and the looks on their faces. Well, I give the new layout six months. Selling porridge to take away? And you can't sit down at a table and have a nice cappucino actually in the store? And who wants to go and buy a banana for 22p or a cake when everyone has been breathing all over it? The layout as you enter the store is a complete waste of space. In six months there will either be some tables and chairs or the layout will change completely. Sorry its not for me. Does anyone agree ?

Well I gave it six months and I wasn't far out. The interior has changed and the sandwiches and fresh fruit have disappeared. What a waste of time money and someone sitting in Head office twiddling their thumbs upping their bank balance.

Where exactly do you think the fresh fruit has disappeared to?
If you can manage to move your left leg in front of your right leg you would have noticed that the fresh fruit is now at the back of the store, but i suppose there are no cream cakes or iced buns there so would be a wasted journey for you!

SickOfTheDrugs, it sounds as if you are still on them. What exactly is your problem? If you had read the initial article properly, so superbly worded by SurbBird, you would see it is about the front entrance of Waitrose in Surbiton and the items placed therein since the makeover a few months ago. I have been going there long enough to know where the fresh fruit is, thank you very much. If you had entered Waitrose over the past year you would have seen that one could fresh fruit, singly (that means one piece) just inside the main entrance, rather than 'putting one foot in front of the other' and walking to the back of the store. Eureka ! I didn't realise the fruit and veg were there for the past few years ! What a discovery. By the way, why would I like cream cakes and iced buns? I don't think I would like to look like you, get off the drugs and see these posts for what they are, nice people in the main. We don't need your comments. Get back under your smelly covers and hibernate.

Well well well, seems like someone hasn't had their sugar fix!
I don't see what your problem is with the fruit, according to your previous posts you didn't seem that happy to have fruit that had been breathed over but now you seem concerned that it's gone missing from the prime 'breath over' location. Are you sure this is not a personal attack on their cream cakes?
I found the refurbishment perfectly acceptable and had no problem navigating my way around, maybe if people like SurbBird kept her beak to herself then it wouldn't inspire her to write such a pointless article which in turn wouldn't bring a certain breed out pecking!

I apologise for trying to amuse people by writing an observational article about local goings on. I didn't realise it would cause such offence. A far less pointless use of my time would have been to engage in valuable and not in the least belligerent disputes on harmless websites.

Calm down girls or we will have the great X5 face off in the car park of Waitrose,or was that one of you I met coming up the down ramp last Thurday?

Ha ha sunshine, I love it. What is the matter with some people ? And No it wasn't me coming up the down ramp -- could it have been Mr/Ms Drugs?

I agree, the entrance area is now odd. (hang on, have to google a spelling...) Bad "Feng Shui"? Its as if someone has dumped a large chiller unit in the middle of what should be your path into the shop. And as smurfchops says, who wants to buy left out buns and fruit that people will have been fingering and sneezing over? Also the isles seem narrower than before - you have to go round 2 abreast instead of 3. They no longer stock frozen parnsips or sweet potatos, but there are 7 different kinds of frozen chips, off balance.
p.s. great article!

I agree. Great article SurbBird. Also, come winter I am not going to want to buy pastries or fish that has all been coughed over by other customers. I really don't get the open top counters.

Excellent article, made me laugh out loud :-D Overall I don't like the "improvements", especially the random mixing not only of veg but also organic and non-organic. I like Waitrose and the ethics of the John Lewis group, but we are thinking of defecting to Sainsburys on occasion as we just fine the new layout TOOOO frustrating!

Love it - nice change to get a real laugh from this website - more of this style please ;~)

Ha ha ha. The one thing that through me out most was the fact that the large wall clocks were initially missing. I am very happy to say that they are back on the wall!

I love this article - it's so funny. I was in Waitrose on Saturday and it took me hours!

One of the best posts i've read on surbiton.com and definitely the funniest! Thanks @SurbBird for making me see the funny side of this traumatic event.

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