Brian Towner has to have his large coffee, “double double,” from Tim Hortons in the morning.
“I love the coffee, hands down. For me, it’s the best there is,” he said.
But when the North Tonawanda resident looks for a place to eat lunch or dinner, the Canadian chain doesn’t even cross his mind.
That’s why Tim Hortons – and some other traditional morning coffee stores – are pouring millions of dollars into new efforts to keep you coming back later in the day and staying a lot longer.
For Tim Hortons, it’s a Cafe and Bake Shop store model with a sleek interior and exterior redesign complete with cushy club seating, flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and stone fireplaces.
For Dunkin’ Donuts, another big morning coffee stop locally, it’s a similarly lux makeover, an expanded all-day menu and half-priced drinks during an afternoon “happy hour.”
For Starbucks, its an expanded “all-day refreshment” cold drink menu and plans to test a specialty soda fountain.
Meanwhile, some traditional drive-through and afternoon fast-food places, like Wendy’s and McDonald’s, want you to come in earlier. They are focusing on breakfast meals and new blends of coffee, along with soft music, comfortable seating and flickering fireplaces.
“It’s a question of ‘Can I entice a consumer to choose me over some other place?’ ” said Harry Balzer, a chief industry analyst at consumer market research firm NPD Group.
Breakfast is the meal that is least likely to be bought outside the home, according to Balzer. Lunch, dinner and even snacks account for a greater number of purchases.
It’s no surprise, then, that Dunkin’ Donuts has opened 90 of the deluxe new stores, which can cost up to $700,000 to build new, and hopes to have another 600 open by the end of the year.
Tim Hortons isn’t looking back, either.
Every new location will be built in the Cafe and Bake Shop style. As franchisees remodel existing stores (which they do every seven to 10 years), they’ll be required to follow the new design criteria.
By the end of 2013, a full 50 percent of the chain’s U.S. locations will be flying the bake shop banner.
The Canadian chain already has a lock on the morning coffee crowd in Buffalo Niagara with a 50 percent market share. But it could stand to capture more of the folks who might otherwise end up at McDonald’s or Panera Bread at other times of day.
“Sometimes it’s about convenience and going to the drive-through, and sometimes it’s about taking a load off and sitting down for a few minutes,” said David Clanachan, chief operating officer of Tim Hortons Inc. “We see great opportunity there.”
Though the company has long boasted a full menu of snack and later-day meal items such as fresh soups and made-to-order sandwiches, the Cafe and Bake Shop concept brings the food to center stage.
While the dining room makeover pulls people inside, its open kitchen design and counter displays put food at the forefront.
Where the old doughnut shops might have prebaked loads of doughnuts the previous night for sales the next morning, Tim Hortons’ kitchen reconfiguration allows the restaurant to bake on demand and tailor orders to individual customers’ tastes.
In the new stores, food is everywhere. Customers can smell it and see it being baked as soon as they walk through the door.
“People want to see all the action going on – they don’t want food that’s passed through a hole in the wall,” Clanachan said.
At the same time that coffee and doughnut shops are trying to bring customers in later, other quick-service and fast-casual restaurants that previously focused on lunch and dinner are trying to bring them in earlier. They are beefing up their breakfast game and have begun touting premium roast coffees.
Subway, Wendy’s and even Taco Bell have launched breakfast menus. Panera Bread, Burger King and McDonald’s have all upgraded their beverage programs.
“Customers have more options than ever before when it comes to places to get a good cup of coffee,” said Sam Oches, editor of QSR magazine, a restaurant trade publication.
McDonald’s is a particular threat.
The behemoth has been steadily revamping its restaurants since 2010, going for the same cozy coffee shop vibe.
It also has put tremendous effort into making over its coffee program.
McDonald’s offers a vast line of gourmet drink creations from a barista-manned McCafe coffee prep station and has run a series of aggressively marketed promotions, including several free drink giveaways. Currently, it’s offering its premium roast coffee in any size for 79 cents.
In Canada, which has indisputably been Tim Hortons country, McDonald’s has taken a sizable bite of the market share and is renovating its stores at a much faster clip.
At the same time new food and coffee options are popping up, people aren’t eating out any more than they did before.
Consumers are actually visiting restaurants less often than they did a decade ago. That raises the stakes in the restaurant wars.
“The pond has a lot more fish in it, but the pond itself isn’t getting any bigger,” Balzer said.