Tim Hortons

What is the Canadian fascination with Tim Hortons? (photo: timhortons.com)

What is the Canadian fascination with Tim Hortons? (photo: timhortons.com)

UPDATED AUGUST 10, 2009 @ 9:34 AM:

Here’s yet ANOTHER reason to avoid Tim Hortons: Apparently they are sponsoring an anti-LGBT event in Rhode Island held by the hate-mongering National Organization for Marriage. Hello? If your company claims to support local communities, that community includes gays and lesbians—regardless of your opinion on gay marriage. Stop being a bunch of hypocrites, Tim Hortons. And for those who are interested, please sign the petition to put a stop to their atrocious behaviour.

Dear Canadians,

What is the fascination with Tim Hortons? Much like the American obsession with Starbucks, I just don’t get it, but having worked for the evil empire (i.e. Starbucks) for a while has at least given me some appreciation for the way their world works. My experiences with Tim Hortons, however, have been almost uniformly negative.

Allow me to share a few thoughts on the subject.

First of all, Timmies is basically a coffee shop. A low-brow version of a café, the coffee shop is not designed to be aesthetically pleasing or to encourage patrons to stay and while away the hours with a gourmet brew. No, the coffee shop is about utility; it is to coffee what McDonald’s is to burgers. This is not to say that coffee shops are inherently inferior to cafés, but rather to suggest that it involves a different mindset. It’s more about getting in and getting out as quickly as possible, potentially during a road trip or on your morning commute. Coffee shops aren’t about great coffee, they’re about working-class coffee that is cheap, hot, and ready to go.

That being said, Timmies is one of the WORST coffee shops I’ve ever seen. Particularly in Quebec, the problem is that while they give the illusion of all being exactly the same (in the McDonald’s sense of the word, where a Big Mac is always a Big Mac), they are not. Each outlet offers different menu items; some don’t serve breakfast sandwiches, others don’t serve chili or soups. How would you feel if you went into a chain restaurant, expecting the chain menu, and then were told, “Sorry, we don’t serve half of those items at this outlet”? It’s infuriating, really.

And did I mention that the Quebec Tim’s don’t take debit cards?!

Okay, so maybe you’re popping in for a donut and a coffee, which costs about $1.95 at the most. You probably have change. But what if you want a couple of sandwiches and some coffees and a box of donuts for your co-workers? That’s about $15 worth of merchandise. Are you honestly telling me you can’t take debit or credit cards, that I must have cash on me, and that you don’t even have one of those sketch-o independent ATMs in your store? This is maddening!

All in all, I’ve found that the Tim Hortons near Concordia is the only one in the province that provides regular service, i.e. a fast-moving line, all menu items, and a dedicated staff to make sandwiches (rather than the skeleton crews that have ALL cashiers ALSO making sandwiches, rather than designating one employee as the sandwich maker). The others have been uniformly bizarre, with employees telling me things like, “We don’t serve breakfast sandwiches,” and “We don’t take debit cards,” in rude tones, as if it should have been obvious when I stepped through the door—even though I’d never patronized their establishment before.

To me, this kind of customer service and brand sabotage is unacceptable, yet Canadians still stand behind and worship Tim Hortons as if it’s a service they cannot live without! Has the world gone mad? Why should I wait 20 minutes in a line-up of FOUR PEOPLE just to get a small cup of coffee (which, by the way, I would’ve gotten in a maximum of 3 minutes at Starbucks, no matter how long the line-up, as per their policy)? Why wouldn’t two lines be divided into the “beverage only” and “sandwich” lines, if there are only two employees, in order to expedite service?

Frankly, I just don’t get it, and I don’t think this chain deserves my service. If it weren’t for the gift card I received for Xmas, I wouldn’t even be writing this, because I never go to Tim Hortons unless I’m with a friend who’s gotta have a double-double. But I’d really like to know: Can anybody explain the average Canadian’s love for this overrated coffee shop, particularly in this age of Starbucks, Second Cup, Van Houtte, etc. on every corner?

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11 responses to “Tim Hortons

  1. I have to agree… and it double pisses me off that no one realizes Tim’s isn’t even Canadian anymore!

    Having said that…. I MUSt have a French Vaniall Cap when I’m on the highway. Which I think has more to do with family-trips-crosscountry-in-the-van-nostalgia than with the actual experience of patronizing Tim Hortons…

  2. Tim Horton = Hockey Player. Seals the deal with Canada.

    Plus the chain came along before, way before, he idea of concept restaurants was born and that’s a good thing. I refuse to drink fancy coffees especially after waiting 20 minutes in line and paying 5 bucks for it. It’s ridiculous.

    Timmies remains in Canadians though, Rachel.

  3. You do realize that Starbucks offers regular coffee, too, right? And, like I said in my post, you’d NEVER wait in a 20-minute line at Starbucks, because their policy is to have you in and out in a total of 3 minutes, no matter how busy the place is. I worked in the Faubourg location, which is probably the busiest in Montreal, and we kept up the standard. Tim’s should take a lesson (or a million!) from Starbucks’ customer service handbook–regardless of the type of coffee products they choose to serve.

  4. McDonalds has a 103 second rule. That’s 1 minute and 23 seconds. Tell me how many times that’s happened? I’ve seen the starbucks in the PVM where the store was PACKED and people were linned up outside up to the Cinnabun. There was NO WAY in hell they’re getting out of there in 3 minutes.

    And at 5$ a cup o fancy mamby pamby coffee, I want Juan Valdez and that stupid Mule to prepare it for me 🙂 And I can’t get those tasty donuts at SB.

    Plus there’s nothing special about coffee. Coffe is like Mac’n’Cheese it’s impossible to fancy it up. It is what it is. It’s perfect in its simplest forms. To change it is heresy.

  5. I just stopped by your blog and thought I would say hello. I like your site design. Looking forward to reading more down the road.

  6. Simple. Tim’s is cheaper. Why pay 5 bucks for a coffee you’ll drink in 2 minutes or so?

    However, I do agree with the frustrating fact that Tim’s in Quebec don’t accept Interact. What gives? The cashier was pretty rude when she told me that they didn’t take debit cards. Anyways, I rarely go to those coffee chains. I’d rather make my own coffee at home.

  7. True, Tim’s is cheaper, and some of my friends would even say better, as they don’t like the taste of Starbucks’ coffee. But really, it’s not so much a Tim’s vs. Starbucks thing, as there are plenty of other chains to choose from: Second Cup, Van Houtte, JavaU, to name a few. I guess I’m just wondering why, in a city that’s full of great independent cafés, people buy from chain coffee shops. Sure, it’s faster, but do you prefer quality or speed? And, then, there’s always the option to make coffee at home as you say, Val. Why not buy a to-go cup and get both quality AND speed AND save the money? But I guess that smacks of effort, and who can be bothered when there’s a Tim’s RIGHT THERE, right?

  8. Now this is a post I can dig my teeth into. First, as a Yank from south of the border, I’d correlate Canadian allegiance to Tim’s as similar to the jerks in the States’ allegiance to Dunkin’Donuts’ whose coffee is probably some of the worst in the world. I won’t badmouth Starbuck’s for the simple fact that I remember the state of coffee prior to their raising the bar and all those idiots who groan about paying $5 for a cup of coffee don’t realize that they have regular coffee for the worthwhile price of $1.80 (In NYC) that doesn’t have all foamy bells and whistles.
    Secondly, I was up in Toronto two years ago with an expat Canadian and his UK wife. She couldn’t get enough of Tim’s thinking it was such a “hoot” of a Canadian institution. I think she even had the chili. I declined to participate in the Tim’s hysteria adhering to my long ago when in Canada vow to never purchase anything at such an ostentatious chain. However, on a recent roadtrip through the frozen tundra of Quebec on the way to QCity, I was forced to indulge in the entire Tim’s experience and right on the side of the highway to boot! I must regretfully report that it didn’t suck , in fact the coffee was far superior to the soapwash they peddle at DD and I guess this was because we were in Quebec, the milk was steamed! And I didn’t have to ask! Oh, and I had a donut too, and it was good. Not quite up to the uniformed standards of the Starbuck’s but a surprisingly pleasant encounter nonetheless.

  9. Tim Horton’s is not a coffee shop; it’s a doughnut shop. They are really important in rural Canada, but of course in urban areas we have better options.

  10. I would argue that it’s both a coffee shop AND a donut shop, as I suspect they sell both in equal amounts. Coffee and donuts go hand in hand, after all.

  11. In Toronto anyway, Tim Hortons is mainly a coffee brand, second donuts and third sandwiches and what not. Many people prefer and are loyal to the Tim Horton’s brand of coffee. They are glad that it costs less and, to them, it tastes better.

    There is even a group forming on Facebook that is based on Tim Horton’s coffee.