Tim Hortons set to launch order app after months of delay and controversy

Tim Hortons is set to launch its mobile order-and-pay app on July 27, according to a franchise owner. Franchisees launched a protest in March to block an earlier release of the app.

Franchise owners launched a protest in March to block an earlier release of the app

The Tim Hortons app will allow customers to order and pay for their selections before entering the restaurant. (CBC)

After an almost four-month delay, Tim Hortons is finally ready to unveil its mobile app that will allow customers to order and pay for menu items before arriving at the restaurant, a franchise owner tells CBC News.

Wade MacCallum, who owns six Tim Hortons in Alberta and B.C., says the coffee shop chain has set a launch date of July 27.

When asked about that date, a Tim Hortons spokesperson would only confirm a beta version will be available to customers in Canada sometime this summer.

But MacCallum insists that sometime is next Thursday. 

"This is the real deal," he says of the launch. 

Not all Tim Hortons locations will adopt the app next week, MacCallum adds. That's because if a store needs more time, it will be allowed to take another week or two to prepare. However, he believes most locations will likely be ready.

The app will display pictures of menu items that customers can select and then modify. (CBC)

MacCallum says the app is easy to use. It displays pictures of menu items that customers can select and then modify if they want, such as requesting a double-double or extra bacon on a sandwich. The app's technology will also know when customers get close to their chosen Tim Hortons.

"The team will start making the product while you're pulling into the parking lot," MacCallum says. "You can walk in, grab it, walk out."

He's confident the launch will be a success. "We're good to go."

Stop the app

MacCallum wasn't so optimistic back on March 21, when he and other franchise owners sent a letter to Tim Hortons head office laying out major concerns about the app.

According to the letter, Tim Hortons had previously planned a March 30 launch. The franchisee group, known as the Great White North Franchisee Association, claimed the restaurant chain wasn't ready and had to delay it.

"We had very serious concerns," MacCallum says. "We felt it was going to cause a lot of chaos from the operations side."

The letter accused Tim Hortons of not properly testing the app, claiming it had only tried it out with a small number of customers in 25 locations in the Toronto area and Hamilton.

MacCallum says the big fear was that if Tim Hortons wasn't ready for the influx of mobile orders, it would suffer a fate similar to Starbucks when it launched its own mobile order-and-pay app.

"That's a worst-case scenario," he says.

Starbucks launched its order-and-pay app in 2015. (Starbucks)

Starbucks began rolling out its app across North America in 2015. Once it became popular, many customers started complaining about long waits to pick up the orders they'd made in advance.

"The volumes were much higher than what they expected," says Toronto-based industry analyst Robert Carter with NPD Group. "You would order and then end up waiting longer than people who'd just come in and wait in line."

According to Starbucks Canada, it took steps early this year "to better and more efficiently handle increased demand."

MacCallum says Tim Hortons has resolved its app issues in time for its new launch date. He believes the restaurant chain delayed the launch because it listened to its franchise owners.

When CBC News asked Tim Hortons about the delay, it said it had instead decided to focus on launching its new espresso lattes while continuing to test the app.

MacCallum says the second time round, he believes the restaurant chain designated 300 test locations and had 40,000 customers try out the new technology.

"There were kinks, there were hiccups, but we worked through them."

App needed to stay in game

Carter says Tim Hortons needs to launch its app to stay competitive in the restaurant business, where sales remain flat.

"To grow within that, you need to be stealing customers from competitors," he says.

One way to steal clientele is to offer a mobile order-and-pay app that's convenient and saves time. Along with Starbucks, pizza places like Domino's have also released one. McDonald's is expected to soon add an order-and-pay feature to its current app. 

"The operators that are slow to the game, they really need to increase their rollout of these apps to connect with consumers," Carter says.

While the Tim Hortons app is finally rolling out, franchise owners still have other beefs with the chain's owner, Restaurant Brands International (RBI).

The Great White North Franchisee Association says that ever since RBI bought the iconic coffee chain and merged it with Burger King in 2014, their costs have increased.

Last month, the group launched a $500-million class-action lawsuit against the parent company for mismanagement of the brand, accusing the chain's owners of making it harder for them to stay in business.

The company has denied all the allegations.

MacCallum says he believes the fact they were able to resolve the app issue is a good sign that disgruntled franchise owners and the company will be able to work out their other issues.

"They listened to us, which is all we ever wanted," he says. "We've been in Canada for 50 years. RBI's been here for two."


Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Based in Toronto, Sophia Harris covers consumer and business for CBC News web, radio and TV. She previously worked as a CBC videojournalist in the Maritimes where she won an Atlantic Journalism Award for her work. Contact:


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