Victoria Part 01: Is Tim Horton's really that great?

I've heard from Canadians for several years now about how awesome Tim Horton's is. I'm in Victoria, BC, for a couple days (and having an awesome time), and was really looking forward to my first Tim Horton's visit. I gotta say, though, it didn't quite live up to my (probably too high) expectations.

I will say the donuts were good. They make a solid, tasty doughnut. And two of the three doughnuts we got were the ones we ordered. The other one was apparently from the neighboring bin. Still tasty, but emblematic of challenges The GF and I faced while ordering.

While they got the doughnut order 66% right, coffee proved to be more of a challenge.

I know there is good coffee outside Seattle. I'm not enough of a snob to say that it doesn't exist (especially since we're only about 80 miles away). It's not like real pizza (which doesn't exist outside NYC).

And I know some people have trouble ordering at Starbucks. With all the options it can get confusing, and most people don't order something that is listed exactly on the menu. When you specify a menu item by it's exact name, though, you typically get it. And you don't confuse the cashier.

When I asked for an XL Cappuccino which is listed on the Tim Horton's menu, the cashier had no idea what I meant. She asked, "What kind?" There are no different kinds listed on the board above her head -- no "choose your option/kind." The other cashier helped her out. The craziest I got for customizing it was to ask for 5-shots. Most places that sell espresso-based beverages know that means 5-shots of espresso. Apparently here, she though that meant 5-pumps of sugar.

And that raises a few other questions. First, are more people asked for an espresso beverage with extra sugar than ask for it with extra espresso? Second, is sugar normally measured in pumps?

The GF had even more trouble. Hanging above the aisles were banners advertising a small, iced beverage of some sort. She ordered that. The cashier responded that Horton's doesn't have "small" and just offers a "medium."

Some may argue that Starbucks does the same thing by offering a "Tall" as the smallest option and how that is the same problem Horton's has.

There are two reasons why that's not true. First, the "Tall" isn't the small option at Starbucks. The "Short" is. Nearly all beverages are available as "Shorts." Second, the "Shorts" do not appear on the menu.

That's the key to the issue -- the "small" was a featured, advertised item. It appeared on the in store signage and on the menu board behind the cashier.

So she took the order for the medium iced beverage and promptly prepared the hot version.

I'm guessing (and hoping) this was the cashier's fist day at work.

I'm sure at some point I'll give Tim Horton's another try, at least for doughnuts, but I'm in no rush. It looks like there are plenty of independent coffee shops in the area where I might have better luck.

Is this typical of Tim Horton's or did I just run into one with some unusual staffing challenges?


Patrick said...

Haha! Tim's is a "regular" coffee and doughnut place. Cappuccino, espresso, etc. ... that's just asking for trouble :) When you compare the coffee to other places like Second Cup, it has a strange nutty flavour that I'm not too fond of.

I think Tim's is popular mostly because:

a) It's everywhere
b) It's cheap

In regards to your question, yes; when you say "double" at Tim's it usually means sugar and cream -- and the measures are arbitrary:


Jeremy Staffeld said...

I lived in Detroit for 10 years where Tim Horton's had bought up every Hardee's franchise and turned them into Tim Horton's. I always thought that was odd considering they are more of a doughnut/coffee place instead of the typical fast-food burger joint.

I never found them to be anything better than bland and would only stop there for a change to my morning commute routine now and then.

I can state, with great confidence, that anything that Canadians tout as wonderful will undoubtedly be met with great disappointment by the average American.

Steve said...

My girlfriend used to work at Tim Horton's. She says the menu might be wrong if you didn't find Ice Cappuccino, French Vanilla, and English Toffee on it. She also says that stores develop slang with their customers for menu items. You may be the first person to talk to a new cashier who used the real name for the item. Furthermore, it is a minimum wage job so you don't get the best and brightest anyway.
I'm from the States too and wasn't thrilled at the Timmy's experience. The chili is tasty, the donuts are tasty, it's all kind of reasonably priced, but I didn't walk in dripping nostalgia from my pores so it was just a plain old fast food restaurant. They have been aggressively marketing themselves as authentic Canadiana for twenty years and people buy into it.
I wrote up a thing on Tim Horton's back in early August. If you didn't see it the photo version is here: http://factoftheday.ca/2009/august-8-photo-fact/
I hope your next Tim Horton's experience is better. Try pretending you've been subjected to two decades of brainwashing before you walk in. :)

Tina Kubala said...

After reading Patrick's comment, I almost didn't comment. But I have to second: Tim Horton's is not famous for espresso. They off hot, strong, fresh coffee. You know, plain drip coffee. I'd kill for a large double double about now. That's double sugar, double cream.

And you've got to try the Walnut Crunch donuts. Chocolate perfection.

Mike O said...

I used to be a 'regular' coffee drinker until I moved to a neighborhood that had real Italian espresso/lattes. I have never been able to go back to filter coffee (too thin), and yep, I suppose that turned me into a coffee snob ;)

I actually would rather not have any coffee if I can't get a good espresso. Luckily, Montreal has plenty of great coffee.

The best thing about Tim Horton's (which we have plenty of) is that they're open 24/7 which is a lifesaver if you're in a bind.

andy said...

I think because it's cheap and you can get it anywhere you can.

brokenteepee said...

I am with you on the pizza. The only good pizza I have had since I moved out here from NJ has been the stuff I have made myself. It must be something in the water back east. heh heh