Friday, March 01, 2013

Which Line is Shorter at Tim Hortons?

A couple of times this week I have stopped off at Tim Hortons (100 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa) to grab a coffee.

This Tim Hortons location is three blocks from Parliament Hill and one block from the City of Ottawa's Main library.  Thus, it is   pretty well as the middle of downtown as you can get. The location serves pretty well standard quality fare but has service issues that leave you scratching your head.   Yesterday's visit was a prime example of the visits I had all week.  

I arrived at 11:45 A.M. on Thursday to find the place with a moderate amount of customers.  Upon entering this Tim Hortons it is a little different.  The location uses the flexi ribbon system between metal poles to guide customers to the front.  The difference is that unlike other Tim Hortons locations, the flexi ribbon system is set up to so the customer must choose the cash they wish to be served by after entering the store.  At other Tim Hortons locations, including the nearby Tim Hortons locations at the Rideau Centre, customers get in a common line for all cashes and the first available cash when the customer gets to the front of the line is where the order is placed.

But at this location, the customer must choose which cash to be served.  It was like going to the casino to see if you were going to be a winner.  There were three choices to choose from on Thursday with all 3 cashes open.  I choose the first one on the left and got in line behind a gentlemen in a suit.  He was behind a lady already at the cash.  Seemed promising as the other two cashes had at least one more customer in line.   Sadly, like shopping at Wal-Mart, I have a knack for finding the wrong cash line to get into.   This one turned out to be first the lady and then the gentlemen separately ordering lunch combos.  This meant that drinks and food had to be gathered.  With one cashier and no help on this cash it meant the cashier had to fill the order herself.  The only help there was that the prepared sandwiches came from the bakery.   I peered over to the third cash, the lady that arrived after me had coffee in hand and was leaving.   Shortly after I finely gave my order.

The Order: 1 Medium Black Coffee.

But my troubles were not over yet.  The lady from the bakery happened over to drop off some of the prepared sandwiches to previous customers still waiting for their order to be filled.  The cluttered area near cash 1 and the pick up area for prepared food didn't help matters.  Thus, my cashier had to help juggle some trays out of the way and rearrange some other items to make way for service.  Literally there was a lot of unnecessary stuff on the counter that could easily either be disposed of or placed elsewhere.  Some of this detritus included a small bucket with water in it and rag that appeared to be used for cleaning tables and counters.  Extra coffee cups were seen on the counter instead of put away in the stacks.   It really seemed to hinder serving customers the prepared orders as the sandwiches couldn't be brought over in groups by the runner placed down on the counter and then distributed to the customers.  Not to mention it made the work area of a food establishment look untidy.    Eventually my cashier poured my coffee and I was off.

Since visiting this Tim Hortons, I've pondered about the way this location ques it's customers.  Lining up at individual cashes at a Tim Hortons is frustrating for the customer.  If the customer chooses the wrong cash a significant frustrating wait ensues.  This stems from a couple of reason mainly due to other customer choices which include:

1. A Large order that takes additional time to fulfill. Example: Ordering a dozen donuts takes additional time to fulfill as the customer selects each donut individually and then the employee must find the correct donut flavour and add it to the box.  Then comes the usual question from the customer: "How many more do I have to select?"  

2. The customer gets to the cash and has no idea what they want or has to inquire with their kid. This is perhaps the most annoying thing in fast food.  People who stand in line waiting to be served only to go up to the cash to order and return a blank look to the cashier or can't make up their mind over the options.

There are probably other time consuming annoying orders that would obviously cause issues in single options to go the cash.  Tim Hortons locations usually let the customers get into a single line served by all the cashes as well as augments the individual cashes with an additional employee during busier times to prepare drinks and gather additional items like donuts or muffins.  This ensures that if one cash is tied up by a customer in one of the above scenarios at least the other cash can help out in moving the customers through.   Sadly though this location at 100 Metcalfe Street, doesn't take advantage of that.

Overall, this Tim Hortons could easily improve customer service by rearranging their flexi ribbon to have a common que for all the cashes.  This would speed up flow of customers and prevent frustration on having to wait additional time for either customers or employee issues in processing orders.  Otherwise the food is average for a Tim Hortons location.

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