- Tim Hortons has launched two new restaurant designs, including a 900-square-foot drive-thru-only model and 1,600-square-foot restaurant with a 24-seat dining room, according to a press release emailed to Restaurant Dive.
- The drive-thru-only model is designed to integrate with Tim Hortons' app for order-ahead operations, and features a mobile pickup shelf and mobile order parking spots. The first drive-thru only model restaurants will open this summer in several states including West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and New York.
- Tim Hortons becomes the latest restaurant chain to experiment with drive-thru-only or digital-only formats. Sweetgreen, White Castle, Jimmy John’s and Taco Bell are also adding digital or drive-thru-only units.
Tim Hortons is already testing several prototypes in Canada, including a location with an automated drive-thru lane and a unit that serves only mobile orders. In the U.S., its new formats could help the brand better compete on convenience in the coffee category, particularly as 90% of new Starbucks stores are slated to include drive-thrus. Drive-thru coffee chain Dutch Bros also continues to grow. Other QSR brands are ramping up their drive-thru channels by adding lanes and technology features to expedite ordering.
Smaller formats are cheaper to build and operate and generate energy savings and require less labor, which could help franchisees’ bottom lines. Tim Hortons' drive-thru-only model is 700 square feet smaller than a standard drive-thru unit from the chain, and about 1,600 square feet smaller than a legacy Tim Hortons store, the company wrote in an email. The menu for the drive-thru-only model is also pared down from the brand’s traditional menu, though it does include new items like energy drinks and refreshers alongside signature offerings such as Timbits and coffee.
Because of these cost efficiencies, Tim Hortons could use these models to accelerate its expansion in the U.S. market. The chain is eyeing Texas, Georgia and Florida, Tim Hortons said, looking to grow in major markets in the southern U.S. The chain also plans to bring the drive-thru-only model to more existing markets, primarily in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in addition to Ohio, New York and Michigan. The two store model options could also appeal to franchisees and potential franchisees who may want more flexibility in their format options based on market. The chain has 634 stores in the U.S., and about 87% feature drive-thrus, the company said.
Guests may also be attracted to the seamlessness of the model and its integration with the Tim Hortons app, which allows them to earn reward points for order ahead and pickup orders. The Tims Rewards program has been successful in Canada, helping to generate a third of its sales through digital channels. By enabling such orders for off-premise pickup through a dedicated restaurant format, these numbers are also likely to increase in the U.S.
From February 2020 to February 2022, drive-thru orders grew by 20%, while digital ordering overall grew by 117%, according to NPD Group data. However, drive-thru concepts have recently experienced a decrease in traffic due to stubbornly high gas prices that have deterred some consumers from driving as much. But the drive-thru remains an attractive feature for operators and consumers alike.
Correction: A previous version of this article had two factual errors: the number of drive-thru-only units Tim Hortons will deploy in the near future and the model that integrates with Tim Hortons' app. The company has not committed to a specific number of drive-thru-only units by the end of the year, and the chain’s 1,600-square-foot store model integrates with its app.