For those of you unaware, Tim Hortons is an international1 coffee & donut shop co-founded by Tim Horton, a Canadian Hockey player (who died when he lost control of his 1974 Pantera at 100mph, while under the influence of alcohol and pain killers). By feeding off it’s inherently Canadian origins, combined with massive expansion, clever marketing and sponsorships Tim Hortons has managed to inject itself as key part of Canadiana – up there with Hockey Night In Canada, curling, cheap beer and The CBC.
Tim Hortons has done such an excellent job marketing their “Canadian-ness,” that many Canadians literally feel that it’s their patriotic duty to patronize the restaurant.
I am not one of those Canadians. Tim Hortons sucks!
1. Tim Hortons coffee is terrible!
A lot of Canadians hold Tim Hortons coffee in high esteem, “it’s great, like Canadian beer”. Most Canadians are probably only familiar with the “double-double” (2 shots of cream and 2 sugars). But really, almost any black coloured beverage would taste pretty OK with that much cream and sugar. I prefer my coffee black. I’ve tried to drink Tim Hortons coffee without cream or sugar, it’s completely unbearable. It actually tastes like the unbrewed grounds are just suspended in hot water.
As far as I understand, when a coffee actually tastes better with cream and sugar it indicates a cheaper bean. But, the Tim Hortons double-double has such a distinct taste, I think they’re actually trying to achieve a specific flavour profile that only works with cream and sugar. It does not taste like your standard cheap coffee bean + cream + sugar. It doesn’t exactly taste any better or worse really, just different, almost unnatural. I think this is how they convince the masses that such a poor quality product is actually “good.”
Tim Hortons’ recent foray into espresso based beverages has had even more terrifying results. My advice: just stay away.
2. Their food is hardly “always fresh”
For at least the past 15 – 20 years, Tim Hortons has used the slogan “Always Fresh.” Originally – back in the days when they were competing with mom & pop’s and truck stops – it was a guarantee that their coffee was never allowed to sit for more than 20 minutes. I’ve personally witnessed customers being served coffee older than 20 minutes, but that’s beside the point. The only thing worse than Tim Hortons coffee is Tim Hortons coffee that’s been sitting around for 30 minutes, no amount of cream and sugar can fix that.
Lately, the slogan is also being used to imply that their baked goods and food products are also always fresh. Nothing could be future from the truth. Fact is, as of 2001, Tim Hortons actually par-bakes their product in a central location in Brantford, Ontario2. Where they are then frozen and shipped to Tim Hortons stores across the world. Once they reach the store, the final touches – like fillings, sprinkles, etc – are added and the goods are baked in a highly visible oven, giving customers the impression that they’ve been make from scratch in store.
By Tim Hortons’ definition the frozen pizza I had for supper was also fresh!
The small stand-alone locations in airports, hospitals, etc are even worse. They don’t even usually contain the equipment to do the finish baking, so they have to import the products from other Tim Hortons stores.
As for their actual food – soups, sandwiches, etc – these are no more fresh than anything you would expect at any other fast food restaurant.
3. Tim Hortons is not Canadian owned
As of August 8th, 1995, Tim Hortons has been owned by the US-based Wendy’s3.
That means, buying Tim Hortons is no more Canadian than any other franchised restaurant.
As an interesting aside, the company that does the par-baking for Tim Hortons is a Irish subsidiary of a Swiss multinational4.
4. Inefficient Service
Tim Hortons seems to have a complete and utter lack of knowledge when it comes to food service efficiency. The main problem would seem to be the lack of a standard fast food assembly-line type process, combined with poor/non-standarized store layout.
Never having been an employee of Tim Hortons, I don’t know what their manul dictates. But, these observations appear to be standard partices:
- When you place an order, the same employee (“Cashier”) that enters your order and takes your money, is also responsable for preparing your order and handing it to you.
- If you’re only ordering a coffee and a donut this generally works fine – donuts and coffee makers are generally within arms reach of the cash register. Service is fairly quick.
- If the coffee maker runs out, the Cashier is responsible for refilling the beans – before bringing you your order! This obviously slows down the entire queue.
- If your order includes anything other than a coffee and a donut – like a soft drink, specialty coffee beverage, bagel, “meal,” etc, the system completely breaks down! These items are generally not within arms reach of the front counter. While the bagels and sandwiches do have dedicated crew members, the preparation stations are often in inefficient locations (depending on store layout) causing the receiving process to be somewhat awkward. Either the cashier will bring these items to you, or you are expected to wait in a cafeteria style line, or you simply wait off to the side. It’s near chaos.
- The specialty coffee beverages (iced caps, iced mochas, lattes, etc) are made by the cashier. Depending on the drink, this involves 3 to 5 steps, including stiring by hand! These stations are typically not located near the front counter. It’s not uncommon for a Cashier to take a minute or two to make these drinks.
- During peak times, when a cashier is busy compiling a customer’s order, another employee will take the cashier’s place and begin on the next customer’s order. Depending on the layout of the store and the number of employees, this can sometimes delay the simpler coffee & donut orders by causing bottlenecks around the coffee stations.
I’m not an expert on fast food restaurant efficiency. It just seems to me that Tim Hortons is one of the most inefficient fast food operations. They need to re-organize the way they handle and deliver orders.
5. Cups Are Not Recyclable5
Tim Hortons uses a wax lined cup that is only recyclable in 3 small Canadian Cities: Moncton, NB; Windsor, ON; and Owen Sound, ON6. Also, Tim Hortons cups do not contain any recycled materials.
Tim Hortons may or may not be the only chain in Canada that uses this type of cup. But they are particularly bad for 2 reasons. 1) Their annual RRRRRoll Up The Rim contest. For those of you non-Canadians, this contest involves a prize being printed on the inside of the paper cup’s rolled up rim. While the contest is running, customer “eating-in” who would normally have their coffee poured into a reusable ceramic mug are given an additional contest cup. 2) “Double-cupping” seems to be a fairly common practice at Tim Hortons across the country. This is when the Tim Hortons employee will put an additional paper cup around the first cup to insulate your hand from the hot beverage. Apparently the concept of a paper sleeve has not caught on with the Tim Hortons Brass.
Recycling and environmentalism is a way of life for many Canadians. It’s completely unacceptable for such a “Canadian” company to have such irresonsable practices.
In conclusion, Tim Hortons is anti-Canadian!!7
- It’s not common knowledge that they have locations in US, Ireland and UK. Check the Wikipedia entry.
- See this press release: www.timhortons.com/en/about/news_archive_2001f.html
- CBC Archive: archives.cbc.ca/on_this_day/08/08/
- The bakery is called Maidstone Bakery. I had to dig through the internet archive to find the page: web.archive.org/web/20080115134215/http://www.wendys-invest.com/timhortons.php The parent company can be found here: www.iaws.ie I’m pretty sure this company is the subject of an AIM Trimark commercial, but that’s another blog post.
- This blog post goes into great detail: www.buzzbishop.com/blog/2008/02/25/rrroll-up-the-un-recyclable-rim/, Tim Hortons own FAQ also concedes the fact, but tries to put a positive spin on it, stating that they are working to get more recyling plants built – rather than actually doing something on their end! www.timhortons.com/en/about/faq.html
- Tim Hortons helped build this recycling plant!!! (see their FAQ linked above)
- That said, I don’t really feel that any of these points are reasons NOT to visit Tim Hortons. I just feel like Canadians need to understand that Tim Hortons is not all that great and there’s definitely nothing Canadian about it. A lot of people I know enjoy going to Tim Horton and I will continue to join them, I just choose not to visit when the choice is mine.