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Driving Forward With Drive-Throughs: Tim Hortons (Canada) U.K. Expansion Plans

26 Jul 2021 - This weekend I drove past my local cinema complex and noticed that the fast food pizza restaurant that had been operating there for over a decade has closed down. Instead, a large billboard heralds the forthcoming opening of a Tim Hortons outlet in its place. It will be the second Tim Hortons to open up in my small corner of North East England in the same number of months, and is clear evidence that Hortons' ambitious plans to expand rapidly throughout the United Kingdom are now coming to fruition.

For those who, like me, are as yet unfamiliar with the Canadian fast food franchise brand, Tim Hortons was founded in Ontario in 1964 by the Canadian ice hockey player Tim Horton and his business partner Jim Charade. Their first venture into the fast food world was to launch a string of hamburger restaurants, an enterprise which didn't generate much success. Charade had previously operated some donut stores and persuaded Horton that donuts could be the way forward. The rest, as they say, is history. The first Hortons franchisees came on board in the late 1960s and Tim Hortons, now a subsidiary of Restaurant Brands International which also owns Burger King and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, has in excess of 4700 units operating worldwide and offering a range of baked good and beverages including its famous "Double Double" coffee and "Timbits" donuts.

Tim Hortons first made the journey across the pond and launched in the U.K. in 2017 with its first restaurant in Glasgow, opening to long queues of customers keen to sample the Canadian brand's offerings. It's fair to say however that the brand isn't as well known amongst us Brits as some of the other fast food franchise chains , but this looks set to change. In October 2020 Tim Hortons U.K. and Ireland announced that they plan to open an outlet in "every major town and city" over the next two years.

Whilst the sector has undoubtedly suffered significantly during the pandemic, Hortons is planning to capitalize on the increased demand for drive-through dining. Whilst Britain still has a significant way to go for the popularity of drive-throughs to catch up with statistics over in the U.S., market researcher NPD reported that the trend for ordering food and drink from our car windows skyrocketed between September and November 2020. 121 million visits were made to Britain’s 2000 quick service restaurants offering drive-through in those three months in 2020, a 14 percent increase on the same period last year, with total spend up by 45 percent over the time frame. It's perhaps unsurprising then that the Chief Commercial Officer of Tim Hortons U.K. and Ireland Kevin Hydes said, "Despite challenging times for the sector, our drive-thru and flagship locations have delivered exceptional performance and our model is proving to be well attuned to the evolving needs of customers at this time."

Recognizing the increased competition in the drive-through dining marketplace and more sophisticated customer demands, since 2020 Hortons has been rolling out a program of modernization of their drive-through locations. This includes digital screens and predictive selling technology which can tailor promoted products and offers to the individual customer and geographical area based on buying trends. Of course this rollout will not only to help the franchise brand keep pace with its competitors, but also assist franchise outlets through streamlining the processes, enabling them to serve customers faster, minimizing queues at busy periods and offering more relevant upselling opportunities.

So whilst Tim Hortons U.K. two year expansion plan might seem ambitious to outsiders, it's great to hear of a fast food franchise brand expanding during the pandemic. It could just turn out to be a recipe for success.

Fiona Simpson
Forbes

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