Share and Enjoy: The Decline of a Canadian Icon

I’ve never liked Tim Hortons. I don’t drink coffee or tea and I’m not a fan of doughnuts, which is what Tim Hortons built their business on. But on top of that, I’ve always been kind of annoyed by the almost obsessive devotion so many Canadians have to the brand. It’s not so much that people really, really like their Timmies. It’s more the way they look askance at those who don’t. (More than once, I’ve been accused of not being Canadian because I don’t want anything on the Timmies run.)

The lineup at my local Tim Hortons drive-thru the morning before Hurricane Dorian hit. After the storm, radio newscasts included updates as to which Tim Hortons in the city had power.

Beyond not much liking their products, I’ve also had not the best experiences in my dealings with Tim Hortons over the years. I used to eat at Tim’s on occasion when with friends who wanted to go there. Maybe a decade ago, they had a wrap I liked, but it had chicken in it, which I don’t eat. The chicken was in tender form, so it was an easy thing to hold, which I would ask them to do when placing my order. But unlike every other fast food chain out there, Tim Hortons cashes weren’t set up to account for special requests. My asking to hold an ingredient invariably caused a huge kerfuffle. The cashier would get either flustered or argumentative and tell me they couldn’t do that, but then also insist that they couldn’t cancel my order, either. Convincing them that they could just speak to the person prepping my food, who was never standing more than a few feet away, shouldn’t have been so hard, but it was.

Then there’s the waste. I’ve always been very waste conscious, especially when it comes to packaging. Part of it’s just the way I was raised, but when I was a teenager, word about the negative impact waste was having on the environment kicked me into high gear. So Tim Hortons waste has always made me twitch.

A few years ago, after watching the number of Tim’s cups that got thrown out at work on an average day, I thought I’d try to mitigate things. Since Tim’s cups are recyclable in my Nova Scotia, so long as they’re returned to a restaurant, I’d try to encourage workmates to keep them out of the landfill.

My plan was to set up a recycling bin for cups and once every couple of weeks do a draw for a gift card for participating. Because Tim Hortons as a corporation was touting their environmental responsibility, I stopped in at the location closest to my workplace to see if they’d spot me some gift cards for the program.

They told me I’d have to call corporate.

I called corporate. They told me to contact the franchisee, but wouldn’t give me any contact information.

I went back to the shop I’d been to before and asked how I could contact the franchisee. I was told I couldn’t. Nor could I speak to the manager, who was never there when I stopped in, no matter what time of day it was. I was also told (in a hushed aside by a staff member) that there was a good chance any cups I did bring back would end up in the garbage because most franchisees were upset about the extra work required to recycle them and were instructing staff not to bother.

Suffice to say, my recycling program never got off the ground.

So I can’t say I’m terribly upset about Tim Hortons fall from grace. The Canadian public seems to be getting fed up with the chain. Stories about employee abuse and cut benefits, lack of response to heightened consumer environmental awareness, and poor customer service have all contributed to the company’s sales falling last year.

I’ve found genuine enjoyment in watching the company flail about, trying to revamp their image. Moving their Roll Up the Rim to Win contest to a highly-criticized app was entertaining. Watching them double down on it with a tone deaf commercial that features three generations of customers discussing the app, which the senior refers to as ‘lit,’ added a new level of fun.

But my personal favourite is their take-with coffee carafe.

Okay, I get this might need require some explanation. If you’re not familiar with Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy … Well, first of all, why not? Seriously, stop reading this and go listen to the radio plays. Or read the books. Or watch the BBC mini-series.

Just, please, not the movie.

If that’s not in the cards right now, I’ll do my best to summarize. One of the recurring themes in Hitchhiker’s is the problematic nature of corporations. The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is a common thread throughout the entirety of Hitchhiker’s in all its incarnations. The mega-company is bloated and ineffective, and all of its products are inherently flawed. Like, for example, the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser.

The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Meanwhile, “Share and Enjoy” is the slogan of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s complaints department, which “now covers the major land masses of three medium-sized planets and is the only part of the Corporation to have shown a consistent profit in recent years.”

The motto stands – or rather stood – in three mile high illuminated letters near the Complaints Department spaceport on Eadrax. Unfortunately its weight was such that shortly after it was erected, the ground beneath the letters caved in and they dropped for nearly half their length through the offices of many talented young Complaints executive – now deceased.

The protruding upper halves of the letters now appear, in the local language, to read “Go stick your head in a pig,” and are no longer illuminated, except at times of special celebration.

Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

During such special celebrations, five million robots sing the company jingle. Of course, even that doesn’t go right, as the robots voices are “exactly a flattened fifth out of tune.” (No transcription for this bit, because it requires the audio to get the full impact. Seriously, push play.)

So to recap, Tim Hortons, a company famous for its hot beverages, has adopted a slogan most closely associated with the complaints department of a fictional mega-corporation best known for its incompetence in making products like one whose sole job is to provide hot beverages.

If the Tim Horton’s marketing department is trolling us, they’re doing an excellent job at it.

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