Fat Louis - Februaru2 2014
An Odd Thought
By
Fat Louis

Okay, so glazed chocolate Timbits can’t compare to mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup in terms of “comfort food.” But still there’s something nice about familiar food — even if it’s familiar fast food. That’s why Tim Horton’s works so well in hospitals. Doughnuts might not be the healthiest food choice, but those sugary treats sure raise the spirits. And sometimes, like when you’ve been waiting in the ER for eight straight hours and still haven’t been seen, that’s enough.

Franchises are a common site in many Canadian institutions. These range from small kiosks and satellite storefronts offering limited menus to full-sized restaurants featuring all the bells and whistles. Sudbury’s hospital, Health Sciences North, boasts two Tim Horton’s. The local university has several different franchises: Tim Horton’s, Starbucks, and Subway.

It’s easy to see why companies — especially coffee companies — want on campus: access to a large and free-spending customer base. The fact that most college/university students are caffeine obsessed (students can easily consume multiple double-doubles in a single “cram session”) and immobile (few, especially those living on campus, have the opportunity to venture far in search of their next cup) guarantees a forced loyalty. And this is the biggest benefit of all for companies. If they can imprint young minds with a brand then that particular brand, and its parent company, has a customer, more or less, for life.

Hospitals don’t seem as obvious a fit. Until you think of the hundreds of employees and thousands of visitors. Add in the stress, pressure, and long hours of waiting and you soon realize that hospitals are virtual gold mines for many companies.

But it’s not just the corporations pushing these deals. The institutions have embraced this type of arrangement, often called “corporate synergy,” wholeheartedly. And for the hospitals and schools it’s all about getting paid.

There are fringe benefits, like jobs to be had and products to be consumed, but the guaranteed money is what set the proverbial hook. The franchises themselves, especially popular ones like Tim Horton’s, can also be selling points. Prospective students can be swayed by the smallest of factors — never forget universities and colleges are selling an educational experience — and the smell of fresh brewed coffee is a significant factor to an eighteen year old soon to be pulling “all-nighters.”

Drawbacks abound. Litter tends to be an issue with fast food. Disposable containers don’t always get disposed of properly and so empty coffee cups proliferate on campus faster than academic demerits. Hospital waiting rooms accumulate used napkins and doughnut crumbs like some sort of plague.

Health issues are also a concern, especially in hospitals where many customers are already suffering problems. Throwing sugary baked goods into the mix can affect regulated diets and even skew some test results. College/university students are different. Generally young and healthy, they often have far less concern with eating right than the general public. Combine that with the majority of students’ shocking lack of skill in the kitchen (assuming they even have access to a kitchen, not all residences offer such luxury) and you have “the freshman fifteen” weight gain phenomenon.

Regardless of institution type — university or hospital — this franchising trend will continue. People like familiar things and what can be more familiar to Canadians than a franchise. Generations have grown up surrounded by corporate logos and reassuring brands. From coast to coast to coast they are the same. Sure the language spoken at the counter might vary from English to French, but the uniforms, the menu, and most important the dining “experience” won’t change.

Rest assured wherever you visit, be it a university or hospital, there will be a franchise near by, waiting with all the familiar fast food comforts … and, if you’re lucky, some glazed chocolate Timbits.

Read Fat Louis' previous columns