Trials at Timmie’s

(Having just returned from a three-week bucket-list trip to Atlantic Canada. More on the trip, soon.)


My line-mate at Timmie’s leans over and rasps, sotto voce, “Only in Yarmouth!”

I am compelled to observe that, but for three Tim Hortons I can recall, these breadlines inching towards the humourless cashier are the norm, not the exception.

In my daily life, I won’t even enter a TH if there’s a lineup. I’d rather look for coffee elsewhere, or simply go without, than endure the TH shuffle and the inevitable ordering dance when I finally get to the cashier/server. If I am in TH, there’s a special reason, like the one that had me in line in Yarmouth, NS.

My wife and I were on a three-week bucket list trip to Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and, with THs popping up everywhere we travelled, it had seemed like a good idea to put prejudice aside and give this venerated Canadian institution another chance to win our support.

“Seemed,” I say.

At Yarmouth, on day 14, and still resorting to Tim’s (or preferably Wendy’s—paired with TH in many places and providing much better service and choices), we were counting the days until we wouldn’t need to.

And it was here that I determined to write something about why my hackles rise whenever I think about my TH experiences—er—biases. To be fair, not everything about TH sucks (as some observers would have us believe). Their Dark Roast coffee (black, unsweetened, if you please) is a huge upgrade on the stuff that most Canadians continue to adulterate with double cream and double sugar. Some of their baked goods are as tasty as they are unhealthy, and some of their sandwiches and non-pastry items actually contain a modicum of nutrition. But I digress….

What annoys me most is that so many Canadians seem oblivious to TH’s longstanding faults. To begin with, the assembly line approach that turns workers into cheerless, hair-netted robots delivering the same questions, for the most part with little or no recognition that one customer is even a little bit different from the next. Again, to be fair, there are rare exceptions to whom I am immensely grateful for reminding me that biases need always be challenged. The company’s “system” appears designed to create lines as slow as traffic at a horrific accident site, but the fact remains than we can’t have lineups without folks willing to participate in them….

The staple of the takeout side of the business is the paper-cupped coffee with its plastic lid that hasn’t changed in design in thirty years. The flip top “drinking hole,” capable of slicing lips, is worse than any other takeout lid from a dozen different competitors. I once collected lids from various shops for comparison purposes, and TH’s ranked at the very bottom (Subway’s, when the sliding opening still worked, were the most ingenious and efficient; sadly, no longer so).

Then there’s the interrogation game at the cashier.

“I’d like two medium Dark Roast, black, coffees to go, please.”

“What would you like in it?
For here, or to go?
Would you like fries with that?
How many did you say?”

Or something like that…. I don’t blame the cashiers so much as I do the process design or lack of one. Ugly/inefficient design is a great pet peeve of mine. Lines in Starbucks or Waves, in my experience, occur much less often, and, when they do, move much quicker; there’s much greater flexibility among workers, and most of the time a noticeably more enthusiastic and personal touch to service. I’ve often taken the moment in those establishments to compliment workers who have then confirmed, because I asked them, that they were hired in the first place largely for their engaging personalities.

So, now that I’m home again, will I be going to the local Tim Horton’s for the occasional coffee and treat?

Not likely….

For a more humorous take on Timmies, be sure to check out this link:
Among the many witty observations that Scott Feschuk makes, there is this three-paragraph riff:

“…Tim Hortons is not a defining national institution. Rather, it is a chain of thousands of doughnut shops, several of which have working toilets.

Tim Hortons is not an indispensable part of the Canadian experience. Rather, it is a place that sells a breakfast sandwich that tastes like a dishcloth soaked in egg yolk and left out overnight on top of a radiator.

Tim Hortons is not an anti-Starbucks choice that makes you a more relatable politician or a more authentic Canadian. Rather, it is a great place to buy a muffin if you’ve always wondered what it would be like to eat blueberry air.”

If you can stomach language far rougher than anything you’ll read on “Birds and Musings,” you may want to look at this site, too:


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