McDonald's refill policy in America

What’s the most fascinating thing for Germans when visiting America?

Free refills.

When a classmate of mine and I went to Arizona on a student exchange, this was one of the questions that has been much on our mind ever since. We discussed it today again, and since we couldn’t come up with a proper answer I call my fellow dopers for help.

In American McDonald’s restaurants (well, at least in the one we went to, but I dare generalize and say in ALL American McDonald’s restaurants) you can buy one soda and have as many free refills as you want.
The sodas are, however, sold in different sizes.

So what’s the point in buying a large coke when you simply can buy a small one and take a refill? You’ll have the same amount as with a large one, while paying much less.

I understand some people take their meals away and thus vcan’t take the refill, and some might simply be too lazy, but to us this can hardly account for this insane practice. Any information available?

Said classmate, btw, insists on having seen different sizes of soda bottles (apparently, one and two litres) in a supermarket for the same price. I don’t remember this any more, but I think while one could come up with an explanation for the MacRefill, you certainly won’t find one for this. Or is it more or less usual in Yankee stores?

I wondered the same thing, but maybe the takeaway market does justify the practice. This would certainly hold true if drive-through sales outweighed actual visits.

Also when I dine in I like to bye a large so thet I can refill and take it with me when I leave. As for the supermarket the only thing I can imageine is that the 2 litres where on sale.

Yep, on occasion I have seen 2 litre bottles of soda for the same price as the small 20 oz ones. At my grocery store, they’ve had A&W Root Beer 2 litres on sale for $0.79 lately, which is pretty sweet!

It’s not necessarily a regular thing, but it does happen from time to time.


Call me foolish …

Everybody: You’re foolish!

… but a couple of weeks ago I went to buy a six pack of Coke for some company we were having and the cashier reminded me that due to a sale, the 12 pack was actually a dime cheaper. No thanks, said I, I’ll just take the six (I don’t drink soda at home).

I also get routinely ridiculed at the local donut shop when I go in to buy my medium coffee and single donut. “But stupid-customer,” they tell me, “for five cents more you can have two donuts!” I then point to my ample figure and say that one is prolly enough.

At our local supermarket (H-E-B), I’ve noticed a NEW soda size: the 1.5 Liter (of Coke), along with the disappearance of the goof ol’ 2L size. All I can think of as a rationale is that 1.5L is NEARLY a reasonable size to carry around and drink, while 2L is cleary too much.

Ah. But they will soon be selling you the 1.5L size for the same price as the 2L. It’s the old candy bar/coffee trick: Don’t raise the price, make the product smaller.

It’s, btw, surprising to see that in the US, the metric system was able to win recognition among bottle sizes, but only there.

I was traveling up I-95 from NAS Jax, FL to Norfolk, VA with 50 other military types on a bus, which courtesy of the US Navy promptly broek down in Georgia. We ambled to a truck stop, and my Northern bretheren ordered Cokes and other carbonated sodas. I ordered Iced Tea. When I got as many free refills as I wantedm they really thought I knew the server. Iced Tea refills are forever free in the True South.

Fast-food drive throughs (and McDonald’s is the epitome of these) make waaay more money from the drive-through window than the counter service, according to everyone I’ve ever talked to who has been in this business [1]. Add to the drive-throughs the (not insignificant) portion of the indoor/counter business that gets their food “to go”, and you have plenty of reasons to have different size cups at different price points. So the real wonder is, why give free refills?

  • The soda itself is dirt cheap; these are high-profit margin sales. Without free refills, the cup is actually a significant part of their cost per item. When my family and I go to eat fast food, our average number of sodas poured per person: two. [1] It doesn’t cost much to give free refills, but has the following bonuses:
  • It actually saves the staff precious time at the register. You think you’re getting a service. Actually, they’re making you do the work of getting your own drink, and making you grateful for it. (Which, I’ll admit, I am - I like the free refills.) Less staff-minutes spent pouring drinks means faster throughput. (In theory, anyway.)
  • It gives them a competitive advantage over other nearby fast-food places. Let’s face it, for most of us, these bland hamburger places are pretty similar, or else are driven by what toys the tots want this week. But if this one has free refills, and that one doesn’t… it may tip the balance and give them more business.
  • If you hang around drinking soda, you may buy one of their tasteless, overpriced desserts, like the cardboard they call turnovers, or the spackle they lable as ice cream, or a cookie, or more fries, or whatever.

[1] Warning: That is only Anecdotal Evidence ™

I have to assert that calling the practice of selling various size drinks insane is insane. There are a few good reasons for this, two of which were listed in the OP, but another good one is that if it’s the lunch hour in fast food restaurants, the lines can be heinously long. Spending an extra 40¢ can easily be worth not having to wait 10 minutes in line.

One reason I can think that 20oz. and 1L drinks being priced nearly as high or as high as 2L drinks is that they’re often refrigerated, whereas 2L are not.

Why A Duck - you are not foolish. I do the same thing.

It happens mostly at my supermarket - something is buy one get one free, and I am not going to USE the second one, it will be THROWN AWAY, I won’t take it! Seems futile to me. Know what I mean?

And oddly, I have never known or seen a McDonald’s that did refills of soda - coffee, yes, but soda, nope. I’m not saying they don’t, I am just saying I never knew that. But I don’t drink much soda. I usually order milk when I go to McD’s.

A couple of points from articles that coincidentally appeared in my local newspaper this week.

One said that 60% of McDonald’s sales come through the drive-through window.

The other article talked about how the major local supermarket was responding to the presence of a Wal-Mart supercenter in town by switching away from its old policy of big sales in favor of one that featured lower prices throughout the year. One thing that was specifically mentioned was that 2-liter bottles of soda would no longer go on sale for 99 cents as a loss leader.

All of the new McDonalds i see have serve-yourself-drinks (like Burgerking started doing a while ago).

However, in McD’s where there aren’t drink stations, i’m almost positive that you can ask for a free refill at the counter, it’s just not publicized. SOMEtimes it’s printed really small on the menu.

And to address the OP - yep, Americans are very very lazy. And have you not seen $1.25 20oz bottles of Coke in the same store where they sell 2 liter Cokes for 79 cents? You’re paying for the convenience. And we are lazy. And capitalists :wink:

20 oz soda is a luxury, while 2L soda is a commodity.

Generally, at normal prices, the 2L costs more than the 20 oz. But because 2L is always on sale, to get people into the store, it often dips below the smaller size, which is kind of wacky. But the two sizes are definitely aimed at different markets, and someone who needs the small size a 20 oz is usually not interested in the 2L at all.

I’ve also observed that every major fast-food chain I can think of has come to offer free refills (McD’s, BK, Jack in the Box, Wendy’s, In-N-Out), although some are more overt about it than others. Most Wendy’s, IIRC, don’t actually tell you, but if you come to the counter and ask for a refill they’ll give you one.

As has been pointed out, some places have a self-serve drink tower out front, while others don’t. There’s inconsistency within chains on this, too. I can think right now of McDonald’s and Burger Kings set up both ways.

While both styles offer free refills, it’s a much bigger pain to avail oneself of them when you have to go to the counter and get somebody to do it for you (especially when they’re busy!). I often wonder whether the busy employees would be appreciative or resentful if I were to reach around the drink machine (sometimes mounted on the front counter, facing the kitchen) and helped myself. I’m rather meek in nature, so I usually just stand there until somebody comes to do it for me.

I consume lots of liquid with my meals, so free refills are a BIG positive in my food-shopping eye. It’ll definitely tip the balance in favor of the free-refill place unless the no-refills place is especially good, or some other special circumstances apply.

Actually, my dealer sells cocaine in kilos.

I think the reason 20 oz are just as much as 2L is because as mentioned above, the fridge.

At the United Dairy Farmers (UDF) i go to, there are loads of 20 oz for 1.00 and next to them are 2L for 1.00. The 20oz are fridged, the 2L are not. We all know how nasty it is to drink warm soda, shudder and it’s not like we’re gonna drink a whole 2L just if we’re a little parched. So, it’s a fairly good deal.

Although, even more funny, at a nearby supermarket, they’re selling 20 oz for 1.50 outside in their machines (cooled), 20 oz inside for 1.25 (not cooled) and 2L inside (not cooled) for 1.05.

At the same supermarket, 7UP cans are 50 cents (cooled in the machine outside), inside 6 cans are 3.50 (not cooled). Generally things are cheaper in a larger quantity, but i guess not this time… lol go figure that one out. (i think the reason that supermarket is disfunctional is because it’s near a yuppy neighborhood and isn’t a chain supermarket, but fancy individually owned.)

I want to know why they never do the free refills in UK? Why’s it only America??? Pisses me off.

Jeepers, maybe I’m missing out on all the free sodie, but unless I see clear signs to the contrary, I assume that you don’t get free refills. I’ve seen many places with self-serve soda with signs that say, “No Free Refills,” so I’ve assumed that’s the rule, not the exception.

Oh, well, I usually don’t want much more than a small soda, anyway.