For Americans, Tim Hortons is still an oddity, a coffee and food chain that pops up now and then with little fanfare. For Canadians, Tim Hortons is a god of sorts – and most people who work an eight-to-four or nine-to-five job make visiting one a daily ritual. And that, unfortunately, is part of Tim Hortons’ problem when it comes to service.
The Tim Hortons chain prides itself on three things: good product, low cost to the consumer, and speedy service. When you visit a Tim Hortons store you can expect to have your cheap coffee in your hands within four or five minutes, almost regardless of the size of the line. Even the checkout window for cars doesn’t dawdle too much, which is a wonder when a few dozen people are milling about the store, barking out orders at the workers. What you get is, typically, quite tasty, with exceedingly little variation from store to store.
That is, of course, assuming you get the thing you ordered.
Just as it’s famous among Canadians for its easy-to-snag, inexpensive food, Tim Hortons is also notorious for its turnover rate. Employees are constantly quitting, much more often than they’re fired, because they can’t put up with the pressure of working so hard for so little. Early-morning and even afternoon customers are a surly bunch, and they expect their coffees in a hurry. Fail to deliver in a timely manner and you’ll get in trouble with managers and customers alike. Succeed and you still have a largely thankless job, one that expects you to move at a mile a minute. So of course the orders are occasionally going to be wrong.
And they are wrong. Often. If you go at a busy time of the day, you’d better check your food or drink before you leave Tim Hortons. The chances are excellent that the employee heard you wrong, or entered your order incorrectly, or may have given you someone else’s fare. Tim Hortons has grown too big and too popular for its own good, and the employees have to suffer as a result. The fact that they’re largely thrown to the wolves from the beginning without a ton of training doesn’t help, either.
Fortunately, the offerings at Tim Hortons typically make up for any flubs. The coffee is quite inexpensive, yet manages to stand up well against fancier drinks from Starbucks. The breakfast food – croissants, tea biscuits, crullers, that sort of thing – is great if you’re in a hurry, and you’d be hard pressed to find better prices elsewhere. The same goes for donuts. The sit-down food gets a bit expensive for what you get, though that’s pretty standard for a coffee shop. If you want a ham sandwich you’ll have to pay a few extra dollars for the privilege of a plate.
Considering the sheer bulk of people who come through a typical Tim Hortons, the restaurants are quite clean. Tables are cleaned regularly, and the bathrooms are mucked out whenever there’s a big problem. Sanitation is never really an issue with Tim Hortons. The seating isn’t amazingly comfortable, but you get what you pay for – and most people don’t spend much longer than fifteen or twenty minutes in a Tim Hortons anyway.
Good food, good coffee, decent environment, spotty service from overworked, undertrained, underpaid and under-appreciated employees. Perhaps not the best combination of elements, but it adds up to a chain of restaurants that has become a staple for workers, travellers, small budget eaters and retirees. As far as experiences go, you’re likely to find a lot worse than Tim Hortons.