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Tim's coffee shop of the future

If a pint of coffee-flavoured beer gets you salivating, then Tim Hortons has a few other ideas that could change how you think about the restaurant chain.

Executives have lifted the curtain on a new concept store, buried deep inside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, as part of an invite-only convention this week for store owners and suppliers that is essentially a visual brainstorming session.

The full-scale model offered the clearest idea yet of where Tim Hortons (TSX:THI) is headed and how it thinks Canadian tastes will evolve, including expecting more than just coffee, doughnuts and sandwiches.

"It's not your dad's Tim Hortons, so to speak," said chief operating officer David Clanachan as he looked around the store.

"Our franchise partners are all going to be here. We want them to think outside the box, along with us, to say 'What if...' and 'What could we be?'"

Certainly there were plenty of ideas to chew on — some even controversial.

Consider the beer taps that pour brews inspired by Tim Hortons' trademark coffee flavour — and a strawberry lager for the sweeter tooths. Or how about a unisex washroom that centres around a communal sink.

And there's even a conceptual design for a new Tim Hortons logo that's features only a bright red coffee bean.

Some of the ideas will never see the light of day, Clanachan admits, while others are certain to land inside your neighbourhood stores only years from now.

Tim Hortons first showcased digital menu boards at its previous model store concept seven years ago and only recently have they become part of the store design.

Redefining itself in the highly competitive food services industry will be a challenge for a mainstay brand like Tim Hortons, but as more companies try to encroach on its dominant position in the Canadian coffee market it's not like there's much of a choice but to find ways to be different.

"The consumer is much more savvy today than they have ever been in the past," Clanachan said.

"They have opinions on what they're looking for, and they have high expectations."

Companies like Starbucks have raised the bar for the local coffee shop, while McDonald's has lowered the price of a cup of coffee and even gives it away for free several times a year.

Tim Hortons executives say that where they can excel is providing something different — a combination of convenience and creativity.

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