A slice of nostalgia for Canadians, but is Tim Hortons really all it’s cracked up to be?

Tim Hortons DubaiDubai; With all the buzz surrounding the opening of Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons – you just need to read Tahira Yaqoob’s feature in The National for a taster – we had to get cracking on a FooDiva review. Slight problem though, FooDiva doesn’t drink coffee. So to the rescue comes FooDiva follower, discerning foodie and ex-journalist, Sophia Puyn to share a guest review.  Here you have it…

Unlike Canadians, I wasn’t familiar with the iconic Tim Hortons – a veritable institution in Canada – but for the uninitiated, Tim Hortons is Canada’s largest quick-serve coffee and doughnut chain, with over 3,600 locations across Canada and the US. Originally set up by a famous Canadian hockey player (Tim Horton) who played 22 seasons in the National Hockey League, the humble coffee shop has a devoted following amongst Canadians. After learning that the local franchise, Apparel Group has announced plans to open 120 branches in the GCC within the next five years, my hopes were high.

The Tim Hortons orderAs you walk into Tim Hortons, you’re essentially joining the queue to order. As two people were ahead of me, a staff member at the cash register beckoned me over to place my order directly with him. I ordered myself two coffees (a weak decaf, with cream; and an extra hot skim milk latte). Big mistake. The server wasn’t sure how to handle an order that veered from the norm (and which obviously wasn’t on the touchpad screen), scrambling around for something – eventually settling on a napkin – on which to write my order.

He then asked me whether I “usually go to Costas or Starbucks, with that kind of order”, which I felt was more a reflection on his lack of experience in a coffee shop in this part of the world than my admittedly fussy coffee tastes. Surely I’m not his first customer in the first fortnight of opening to order something out of the norm, and surely my order wasn’t the worst he could have faced? He then proceeded to ask me how they should make a weak filter coffee, which wasn’t very reassuring.

Tim Hortons counterAnyway, I digress; I wanted to taste the famous Tim Horton pastries! In order to determine how they compared to those from better-known doughnut establishments like Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme, I asked for a cinnamon doughnut (similar to a chef asking for a piece of fish or lemon tart in a competitor’s restaurant). I was told that there were no cinnamon doughnuts but that I should order a sugar-glazed doughnut with sour cream. Yes, you read that correctly: a sugar-glazed doughnut with sour cream, which is possibly the worst combination of tastes I can imagine. As the sign above the counter was too small to easily read and there were other people standing in front of the doughnut display, I asked whether they had any plain sugar doughnuts, by which time the server was getting a little anxious and said, “I don’t know if we have sugar ones. Go have a look. In the meantime, I’ll just serve the gentleman behind you.”

Tim Hortons - the end productFinally, AED 47 dirhams later, and armed with my (plain sugar) doughnut, coffees and two boxes of Timbits – the bite-sized pieces of doughnut for which Tim Hortons is famous – I looked around to find a table. The dine-in area was spotless but basic – functional rather than aesthetic. The food packaging wasn’t much more appealing. The Timbits packaging was reminiscent of a McDonalds Happy Meal, and I half expected to pull a plastic toy out with my sweet treat. The Timbits (Dutchie flavour, which means sugar-coated dough ‘filled with raisins’ – I found two raisins in a total of 10 Timbits) were overly sweet and disappointing. The sugar doughnut was marginally better, although certainly no better than doughnuts offered elsewhere.

In summary, albeit a little overwhelmed by what are common requests in Dubai, the staff at Tim Hortons are friendly and the coffee is decent enough. However, unless you’re Canadian, I can’t see the pastries being any more – or even as – appealing than those offered elsewhere. By no means is Tim Hortons a destination coffee shop. It’s a cheaper, more basic version of Starbucks – which, incidentally, is right next door. The location of Tim Hortons on Sheikh Zayed Road is a shrewd choice, being within walking distance of the Canadian University of Dubai, and I suspect a large percentage of its repeat clientele will be pounding the pavement between those two Canadian institutions. Which one is more revered in the eyes of Canadians, however, remains unclear.

So tell us, what’s your experience of Tim Hortons here in Dubai? And Canadian FooDiva Friends, how does it compare to back home?

Tim Hortons is located on the Sheikh Zayed on the same strip as Shangri La Dubai. Open daily from 6am to 2am.

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16 Responses to “A slice of nostalgia for Canadians, but is Tim Hortons really all it’s cracked up to be?”

  1. Tara Rogers October 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Was given a tin of Tim Horton’s coffee a while ago from an enthusiastic Canadian – it was disgusting. Don’t want to judge until I’ve been to the outlet for a cup, but after your review, not expecting much. Clearly Canadian patriotism rules….

  2. Smruti October 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    As a Canadian I still have to give this a go – hopefully I’ll have better luck with the timbits than you (after all they form a “healthy” part of my childhood memories!) 🙂

    • FooDiva October 9, 2011 at 9:10 pm

      Would love to hear your feedback Smruti when you go 🙂

  3. Farah October 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Tim Hortons is not the type of cafe that you typically see in Dubai. It’s not meant to be some chic upscale coffee house. It is minimalistic- it is family friendly and it is simple. No they don’t have fancy drinks. For Canadians- that’s the appeal of it. It’s the type of place you go to get ‘double double’s and a box of Tim Bits for your kids hockey team at a 4 am practice. You did not order what Tim Hortons is known for, try an Ice Cap next time, or a maple glazed doughnut. Canada is known for it’s maple syrup. Did you do any research on the chain? I think you really missed the idea of Tim Hortons and what it’s about. You also went at a time when they had just opened & the staff was completely new and unfamiliar with the products. You need to cut them some slack. I was also there at that time and the place was packed and the lineup was chaotic because it was FULL. The massive lineups and happy faces that I still see leaving Tim Hortons, speaks louder to me than your review.

    • FooDiva October 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      Hi Farah. Sophia has very kindly penned this reply for you:
      Hi Farah, thanks for your feedback – Tim Hortons seems to have successfully divided opinion in Dubai stronger than I’ve seen anywhere else for a long time! To respond to your comments, I was open to suggestions of what was good, but unfortunately the staff didn’t suggest anything at all to me other than a sour cream doughnut, which is most probably a very Canadian taste. I did some research on the chain in advance before going, but other than a short press release, unfortunately there’s no other information online about their first Dubai franchise, and nowhere on its website does it say what their specialities are. I agree wholeheartedly with you that it’s a simple coffee chain, and in that sense, I think it will do very well in Dubai – no doubt boosted by its proximity to the Canadian University. To cater more for the non-Canadian clientele, however (after all, I presume that’s why they’ve expanded outside Canada!), I think the staff would benefit from some more training. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit, and may see you in there again when I give it another try in a few months time!

  4. Peter Cooper October 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Did not like the original in Canada this summer. The very worst sort of fast food – the original heart attack on a plate! I suppose whatever you grow up with has some appeal but really from any objective standpoint this is awful food!

    • Dave October 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Peter, you’re talking about bad food for your health? Everyone knows eating a lot of donuts is bad for you, as is Mcdonalds or most fast foods. If you enjoy a donut once in a while its fine. Tim Hortons donuts healthy content is no different from any another donuts eh?

      Lighten up a little eh and stop being a worry wart 🙂

  5. Sara October 10, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    I totally agree with the staff comments, they are terrible! i was first in the queue and there were about seven staff behind the counter all without a clue about what they were doing, it was about half hour before my coffee was ready and it was not what i ordered

    Coffee was awful, donuts were worse but the bagel i had was amazing !

    • FooDiva October 10, 2011 at 8:16 pm

      I’ll go for the bagel then Sara 🙂 Let’s hope they improve!

  6. Anthony October 16, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Please share your feedbacks

  7. Dave October 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    The queue layout should have been better thought out. This franchise will do well in Dubai. Coffee is great (if you don’t like it there are plenty of choices in Dubai eh), donuts are just like back home – sour cream is hit and miss some like it and some don’t. They are new so I’m sure they will improve with some time, like any new business in Dubai.

    Definitely a winner and welcome addition to the Dubai coffee scene, reasonably priced, and loved by Canadians.



  8. Wendy October 19, 2011 at 9:23 am

    We went this weekend right before a rush… We arrived to a line up (indoors) which soon became an outdoor line up right to the street curb. We desperately wanted our breakfast sandwiches! So yummy, the biscuit is delicious! Right after we arrived, a gang of Canadian parents showed up with their kids still in hockey gear! This put a massive smile on my face, felt like I was right back home. Now I know where the Canadian parents are, I’ll be signing my boy up for hockey next season, that’s for sure!
    Hubby loves his Timmies coffee, hope they open up a few more branches in more convenient locations. Timmies, if you are reading this, head closer to the Ranches, eh! This will definitely be added to our weekend routine 🙂

    • FooDiva October 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      Clearly Canadians seem to love it, so it appears they have managed to transplant a slice of home here. I think they are reading these comments, so you may get your Arabian Ranches location sooner rather than later!

  9. Pat Balan July 10, 2012 at 11:08 am

    My first experience with Tim was in Toronto Canada. I loved the hot poppy seed bagle with a lot of butt and lot of cheese and a black coffee. When i got to know of Tims opening in Dubai i was very happy. I ventured out to one of their outlets and the entire experience was saddening and depressing. The staff are clueless, and i was even told they didn’t have cheddar cheese. when i asked the staff are you serious he said in a joking way maybe something is wrong in canada and am like excuse me… The service is bad, the quality is bad. While they are in big hurry with expanding their presence in Dubai…. they should be very careful in hiring the right staff, provide them with proper training and then expand. All in all. Tims in Dubai is a bad experience. If it not where for the delicious bagle which is quite sad in Dubai i would never step into Tims…. Rather wait till am next in Canada and experience the real Tim. They are making a big blunder and ruining their reputation by being greedy and expanding without even being able to cope with customers. In three words, Bad service, bad product, bad experience…..

    • FooDiva July 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      Gosh that’s terrible Pat. Thanks for sharing your experience here. I am astounded at how rapidly they are expanding. Sadly we often see this with franchise operations here – TH HQ has very little control over the product. I hope they see the light before it’s too late.

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