An association representing Tim Hortons franchisees is threatening legal action if parent company Restaurant Brands International refuses to meet with store owners to fix a computer virus that recently knocked out cash registers at an unconfirmed number of locations, inflaming an already-tense relationship between head office and frontline workers.

In a letter addressed to Restaurant Brands CEO Daniel Schwartz and obtained by BNN, a lawyer representing the Great White North Franchisee Association (GWNFA) “insists a meeting be convened” no later than this Friday.

The malware first affected Tim Hortons’ point-of-sale terminals a week ago and spread to hundreds of locations, according to a source who spoke to BNN on condition of anonymity.

“The cash registers just plain don’t work,” the source said. “Many of the stores had to close totally. Some had to close their drive-thrus and have customers go into the stores to one or two working registers.”

Tim Hortons customer Ben Verret tweeted an image of a customer-facing monitor with an error message in Lévis, Québec. It reads “a recent hardware or software change might have caused this”.

“The cash registers didn't work except for the drive-thru,” Verret wrote in an email to BNN. “They say it has been buggy for a week.”

The Globe and Mail earlier reported hundreds of stores were affected by the virus.  

The letter from GWNFA’s lawyer states Restaurant Brands must compensate franchisees for lost sales, spoiled food and labour costs associated with lower productivity.

“It’s been a tough week,” a source told BNN. “It has impacted sales greatly and pissed off customers greatly.”

The malware attack, which comes amid Tim Hortons’ popular annual Roll Up the Rim promotion, is the latest flashpoint between Restaurant Brands and franchisees.

Some store owners have complained of draconian cost cutting by the company’s new owners, resulting in lower-quality products, a damaged brand and weaker profits.

After months of recriminations and multiple lawsuits, the situation reached a boiling point last month when some franchisees scaled back benefits and cut paid breaks for store staff in response to Ontario’s minimum wage increases.

The franchisees accused Restaurant Brands of refusing to raise menu prices to offset the added labour costs. In response, RBI said the reduced perks were the work of a “rogue group”.

The latest letter from the GWNFA’s lawyer notes the malware attack comes on “the heels” of the minimum wage increase, and is putting “tremendous downward pressure on the value of the Tim Hortons brand.”

Tim Hortons has not responded to BNN’s requests for comment. 

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