Is soda water a complimentary water or a paid fountain drink?

At fast food restaurants where they have soda machines, you can either pay for a fountain drink or ask for one of those teeny tiny cups to receive your free water. Is it ok to use your teeny tiny cup to get soda water or is soda water restricted only to those who have paid?

For people who have worked at such establishments, is there an official policy on this?

Tap water = free

Soda water = same price as any other soda

Everywhere, every time.

The soda water is still using the restaurant’s CO2 supply so, yes, you should still pay for it.

What about ice? Are free water drinkers allowed to use the ice dispenser?

I don’t think there are hard and fast rules about ice. The right thing to do is ask when they give you the tiny water cup.

I’ve never asked for ice before. Never has occurred to me to do so.

At my college’s cafeteria, water, seltzer, or an empty cup were all 10 cents each and you could have ice. They eventually stopped selling Sprite because everyone was pouring themselves Sprite and saying it was soda water.

Ask, I have found that soda water is the same as water as far as price goes most every time,so most of the time free. Easy way just ask for soda water with your order, see how it is rung up.

They could very well skip charging for the soda water. If they don’t have a key for it on the register they’ll probably make it free, and what matters to the cashiers is how many cups they give out. There’s no tight correspondence between costs and per drink charges with those soda fountains. There’s a lot of loss from over-pouring, varying amounts of ice, free refills, out of date syrup tanks, broken hoses, etc. That’s why they keep track of the number of cups they hand out for cost control. The actual cost for carbonated water and syrups is very low on those machines, often exceeded by the cost of cleaning and maintenance.

Which places with DIY soda fountains have soda water? In my world, that only happens when they run out of syrup for the sodas.

I would think that if you went to a sit-down restaurant, even non-fancy ones like Olive Garden or whatever, if you ordered a soda water they would charge you.

However I would assume if you went to a fill-it-yourself place that no one would really say anything if you filled your cup with just the soda water. I would even doubt that a fast food joint that fills the cup themselves would charge you for soda water because they would hear the word “water” and immediately think it’s free

Generally at bars, they won’t charge you for soda water.

Right. Bars are keeping track of liquor, beer, and wine. Plenty of bars won’t even charge for a Coke or anything else out of their squirt guns.

Sometimes when we’re at a restaurant, if I or my wife has a bit of an upset stomach, we’ll ask for a glass of bitters and Seven. Never get charged for it.

That’s partly because bars have an interest in being accommodating to folks who aren’t there to drink, such as designated drivers.

Frankly they should charge you for plain water too. The highest part of the cost of a fountain drink is the cup.

Or, just give everybody a cup with their food order and price food accordingly. Some cafeteria/buffet restaurants work this way. All drinks are “free” and unlimited.

In almost all fast food or fast casual joints where you pour your own soda, the dispenser machine has dispenser heads for 6 or 8 flavors of soda+syrup. These machines usually have an ice dispenser between the centermost two dispenser heads. Example:

On one of the heads there will be a small lever to dispense plain water. With a small label on it saying “water”. On another head you’ll often find a similar lever labeled “soda”.

The small soda levers are pretty common on soda dispensers installed in the last, say, 15 years.

I drink only seltzer (if available) so I can offer a lot of empirical evidence in this discussion.

I’m charged for plain soda water about 15 percent of the time. Another five percent of the time it’s a convenience charge, like 25 cents. I live in Chicago but travel a fair amount.

Unless I’m in New York City, there’s always a big discussion about do I mean water or soda? And what flavor of soda water? If the attendant is a Mexican immigrant, they get it pretty quickly. If it’s an African-American teen in the South, they often are utterly baffled by the concept of drinking something that doesn’t taste sweet. Certain chains are better bets than others: Sbarro and McDonald’s nearly always have it; Wendy’s and Taco Bell almost never.

The self-serve machines have been a godsend for folks like me, especially the freestyle ones with the touchscreens. Since I don’t use any ice, I don’t feel much guilt just asking for a free “water cup.” Occasionally at dodgy-neighborhood Burger Kings, the water cups are given to you full of water, to prevent chiseling—and I’ve encountered a couple who absolutely refused to give out a cup of water. They’d only sell me a $1.89 bottle of water.

Is that 15 percent of restaurants consistently charge you for soda water and the rest never do or is it a crapshoot wherever you go?