Tim Hortons creates double-double lanes to combat ‘drive-through rage’

Coffee chain takes on a fast food dilemma: lineups

by Lyndsie Bourgnon

Double-double lanes

Photograph by Andrew Tolson

The never-ending morning drive-through line at Tim Hortons has become a familiar sight, and frustration, in Canada. Caffeine-starved customers have even been known to experience “drive-through rage” at Timmies—in March of this year, a man from Grande Prairie, Alta., cut in line and allegedly brandished a handgun at the riled customer behind him. Drive-throughs are meant to be quicker and more convenient than parking and going inside, but the more popular they are, the slower they get.

Tim Hortons thinks it may have a solution. During a quarterly conference call in May, it announced that it plans to double up single-lane drive-throughs and install second speaker boxes to ease congestion. Those two lanes would eventually merge again at the pickup window. A second cashier will also be added. These so-called “double-order station drive-throughs” have been tested at Tim Hortons in communities across the country, including Fort McMurray, Alta., and Hamilton. (The company even met with Saskatoon city council to discuss the lanes and to ease concerns about drive-through traffic safety in the city.) Alexandra Cygal, a company spokesperson, says it will soon be rolling out the lanes across the country, and that any outlets built from 2012 onwards will have a double-order station drive-through. “By expanding the drive-throughs, we are not only able to bring more cars into the drive-through from parking lots and streets, but we are also able to serve our guests more efficiently, reducing wait times,” she said in a statement.

Tim Hortons is far from the first chain to try to tackle the drive-through dilemma. For years, the restaurant and retail industry has been studying the science of how lines operate, inside and outside stores. McDonald’s was the first to introduce electronic boards that display orders as they’re taken to limit confusion and potential delays. It also experimented in 2006 with using a call centre based in Hawaii to remotely take orders from drive-throughs across the country—cutting costs and freeing store workers to focus on making the food. But that didn’t catch on.

According to QSR, a trade journal for fast-food and casual dining restaurants, there are four factors that make a good drive-through: menu board appearance, speaker clarity, speed and accuracy. But HyperActive Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based restaurant software firm, has found that what matters most for consumers is speed and accuracy. Gad Allon, a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, co-wrote a study on drive-through customers and what wait times mean for their purchasing power. “Every seven seconds of improvement amounts to an average gain of one per cent of market share [for the company].”

Allon suspects that Tim Hortons’ switch to double drive-through lanes is only a “cosmetic change,” and one that won’t amount to an actual decrease in wait times. “If they’re having people wait in one of two lines to make them look shorter, then it’s superficial and customers will see that.” So if those unhappy customers see a line seven cars long, they’re more likely to drive to the nearest competitor—no matter their price differences. “[Customers] inflate the worth of their time when waiting in line,” says Allon. Asked to assign a value to their time when waiting at drive-throughs, customers said, on average, it was $40 per hour.

After Starbucks opened its first drive-through in 2006, research found that customers who waited in-store were more patient, and measured the worth of their time differently. “You can go and put your things on the table, and they’ll call your name,” explains Allon. “It’s very different, and people don’t feel like they’re waiting. When you’re in a car, it’s a whole different story.” He argues that customers’ patience for lines ultimately boils down to their perception of how much work the cashiers and kitchen staff are doing, and how fast.

Tim Hortons’ two-line solution would work better if coffee-only customers were filtered through one line, and longer orders through another, says Allon. But the plan is mostly to shuttle traffic away from city streets. Perhaps to quell queue rage, it should instead be expanding its parking lots.




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Tim Hortons creates double-double lanes to combat ‘drive-through rage’

  1. From the title, I thought they were introducing a lane just for people ordering Tim’s most popular combination. I like the proposal in the last paragraph. I get really tense, inside or out, when I just want to grab a coffee and I’m behind a couple ording a full meal.

    • You say you “get really tense” – do you know why? It’s called “a sense of entitlement” as in, “How dare those in front of me order whatever it is they wish! Damn them and their full meals! I’m too important to wait, and have lots of important stuff to do!”

      • @john – well said.

        • @KeithBram calls it ‘Timtitlement’

    • This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
      George Bernard ShawThis is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
      George Bernard Shaw

      • You can say that again

  2. What Fort McMurray needs is two more Tim Hortons. I haven’t been inside one here for over two years. If I need coffee, I make it at home and take it with me. Drive throughs here are usually a 40 minute wait.

  3. At the bottom of this lies our unlimited sense of being entitled to whatever we desire (NOW!!)without ever (God forbid) having to leave our precious automobiles. Little wonder our society produces fat and rude people. Nothing to be proud of there, Canada.

  4. I know an employee who works at Tim’s and their own biggest peeve is for those customers in the drive through who order items that have to be made, ie. bacon & eggers, sandwiches, etc. This can stall a line up for several minutes. The drive in is best used for items already made, like the coffee and donuts.

    • While I can understand that frustration coming from either an employee or a customer stuck behind someone making this kind of order, if it’s that big of a deal they should have a more limited menu for drive through customers. You can’t blame the customer for ordering something that is readily available on the menu.

      • Exactly! That’s the simplest, most obvious solution – but they are afraid it may mean a lost sale, so they won’t do it.

        Anything more than a coffee (or maybe a donut) and I’m parking and going inside. Same if the drive-through lineup goes beyond a certain point.

    • Seriously? Their biggest peeve is their job? Yeah sorry, don’t get it. Why don’t we all take the time to google “lost boys and girls of Sudan” and then give our heads a shake. We are pathetic and petty and can’t see the forest for the trees. Hey sorry gotta go. Does anyone know when the Kardashians are on?

    • Yup. Oliver & Keith have it right. Timmy’s could easily solve this problem for both the employees and customers by limiting the menu. But of course they won’t as they worry about lost sales.

  5. What I find most amusing is when people line up 20 cars deep at Tim Horton’s and have to wait several minutes to place their order and receive it, when you could alternatively park your car, walk into the store to place your order, and be back on the road in about two minutes.

      • And burn less gas. A minuscule amount to be sure, but it can add up over time.

    • A couple of days ago I stopped at a Tim Hortons. There were at least a dozen cars lined up at the drive thru. I parked my car, went in, used the washroom, ordered my coffee & walked back to my car. At the rate the drive thru was moving I doubt that the last car in line when I parked had gone all the way through.

      • Cool story, bro.

        Try to actually have a real anecdote instead of the one you imagined in your head next time, and it might just be worth posting.

        • Actually, her anecdote matches my experience almost every time I go to Timmy’s or anywhere else with a drive-thru. Obviously you’re one of the fatties who lines up at the drive-thru each morning.

  6. Definitely one line for coffee only. I’ve been trying to convince Starbucks of this for years now. One line for coffee, and just coffee, not special coffee, or non-fat, half-caf, no whip, moccacino caramel macchiatto. And the other for people who don’t mind waiting.

  7. If the ones who want to be in the line are peeved, trying being in the traffic jam that these “drive thrus” create every bloody morning. I swear it, planners have no brains that allow these next to intersections.

    • The Tim’s nearest me used to cause such problems that the city installed a traffic light (and routed some of the traffic from McD’s next door through the light as well). I call it the Timtersection.

  8. All that energy for a mediocre product you have to drown in sugar and cream to be palatable.

    • I hear ya…I really don’t get the big deal with Tim Horton’s coffee…it’s not particularly good in the slightest…

  9. I’ve been in one of these double lane drive thrus and trust me, it was by no means any quicker. Regardless of how many lanes you can use to order, there is still only one window. So I ask……..What’s the difference?

    • There’s a small Tim’s here in Brampton that is almost exclusively drive-through business. They put a window and drive-through lane on two sides. The one on the left side really requires a passenger to do the window pick-up, but it still diverts about a third of the traffic from the “main” line. They may want to look at similar setups for other locations.

  10. What a good problem for a business to have, “Our products are so popular we can’t serve it fast enough.” Somebody should do a study on what Tim Horton’s is doing right so other business owners can learn how to achieve the same problem.

  11. I can’t imagine lining up for that “coffee”.

    • Your right plus new evidence suggest Coffee shortens life span
      Having said that Sales will probably increase just to find out if it’s True

  12. All they had to do was go to a McDonalds to see that 2 lanes work. One word, duh!

  13. Quite frankly, can’t see the allure of waiting in line even one minute at Tim’s for what amounts to warmed-over gnat’s p*ss.

  14. Humans are sheep. We drink it not because it is good or convenient. We drink it because everyone else does. Buy a carton of cream stay home and make your own coffee. But then you can’t show everybody that you are holding a “timmies” just like everyone else!
    Oh life’s dilemmas.
    I also like the Tim’s phenomena of the single line inside the coffee shop. Two cashiers open yet one line out the door. God forbid one has to stand in the line that’s moving slower.
    Personally I don’t drink the garbage, I use their toilets when travelling long distances.
    Thanks, Tim.

  15. Oh First World problems. Municipal Govts should add a $2 carbon tax to anything ordered in a drive-thru to stop vehicles idling and blocking traffic. Get people out of their cars, or tax their laziness. More importantly: why people line up for mediocrity in a cup is beyond me, Timmy’s is my coffee of last resort.

  16. What a joke Where will the MERGE sign go?I have seen the absolute insanity these lineups have caused fist fights abusive language,Idle until the Arctic melts.A two lane system is as repulsive as the lazy hords bent on getting their Java cause that is what makes them get up and move.The servers are in their joy cause the majority of paid is the toonie and keep the change.Is their a law that states you can be fined for idleing your car longer than five minutes.Cmon people have we become that lazy and will sit for at least five minutes and as long as twenty for one coffee.Pathetic.It really is no wonder North America has the most obese per capita than other nations.It really is repugnant especially when Rage becomes a problem.and now the odds of more RAGE is doubled cause the I WAS HERE FIRST scenario.

  17. I’ve not seen these lineups at Tim Horton. A lot of people get off their car and order inside. Maybe Timmy is not as popular in Quebec as in the rest of Canada.

  18. Funny isn’t it. Timmies isn’t a coffee shop anymore. Crowded with a varied menu it attracts all sorts of business. And yep, surprise a great many people are paid more than $40 an hour so a 40 average sounds just right. The people who should be paid more aren’t the managers or CEO but the workers. They are the people at the end of this line not the customer.

  19. Ban drive-thrus. I’m not some eco-nutter, and I’m not a whining progressive socialist. Drive-thrus are merely a symptom of First World laziness, wastefulness and entitlement. Get out of your GD car and go get your coffee inside. Idling in line is lazy, wasteful, stupid, selfish behaviour, and I bet most of the people who do it are obese.

    The lineups that form on the street, blocking traffic when the Timmy’s drive-thru reaches its capacity are ridiculous. Anyone holding up traffic waiting to turn into a drive-thru should be fined. The Timmy’s on Richmond Road here in Ottawa had that problem for awhile, until the cops started handing out tickets. The chorus of whines from obese morning commuters was deafening. Not sure if they’re keeping that up or not but they should (the tickets that is, not the whining).
    As for the obvious question, “Have YOU ever lined up at a drive-thru Cranky?” The answer is, YES, back when I was a lazy, self-centred, wasteful, 20-something with his head up his butt. Precisely what I think of today’s drive-thru idlers, regardless of their age. I was young and stupid. What’s their excuse?

  20. Next time you are actually INSIDE a Tims or other fast-food restaurant with a drive through, look for a sign noting expected service time for those at the window and those at the counter. Servers are generally expected to serve drive-through customers in a shorter amount of time. (i.e. Drive through 90 seconds, counter service 3 minutes) Why is that? Is their time more valuable than those who decide to come inside for service? Why, because they are wasting gas?

  21. The whole purpose of drive thru is so you don’t have to pack everyone out of your car to get a coffee. I don’t like to eat inside so hence the drive thru. They need better speaker boxes so we can understand each other more clearer when placing our order, they need more staff on the drive thru to keep it running smoothly and quicker. They need to designate the proper staff to the proper sections of the store. Able to speak English CLEARLY. Enough said.

  22. the problem are the people who do their grocery shopping through these windows. They turn what should be a simply request into a complex assortment of this and that and they all have to be cooked or toasted which takes time when done right. All food items should be walk in and only drinks for the drive thru.

  23. Don’t like waiting for your donuts? Try parking your car and waddling your fat ass inside.

  24. No, this is a stupid idea that causes *more* road rage. Waiting in a single line sucks, but I don’t get mad about it. The dual-lane-merge-into-one system makes me go ballistic though, because so many people try to cut you off. Left lane orders and pulls up, right lane orders and pulls behind them. I’m in the left lane next and my order is done, just waiting to move up–then some rude you-know-what in a Mercedes Benz in the right lane that orders a minute *after* me tailgates the right lane and refuses to let me in. Really ma’am? Think about how hard it is to change lanes or pull into traffic sometimes because people think they own the road. The two independent lanes like Checker’s/Rally’s is the *right* way to do it.

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