McDonald's Sign - © WTTV

McDonald’s To Phase Out Self-Serve Drinks Refills

McDonald’s – which so often leads the way innovating the Fast Food business model – is phasing out self-serve drinks refills. By 2032, all McDiners will have to ask for refills of fountain drinks at the service counter. And even that perk may be temporary…

Self Serve Fountain - © 2023 CNNThe familiar self-serve soda fountains at McDonald’s dining rooms will be
phased out by 2032 as part of the Business Model of the Future…

McDonald’s and most other major Fast Food Chains offer free, self serve fountain bev refills to dine-in customers. It’s a cheap perk to flaunt. Fountain drinks are ultra-cheap to provide and make the chains lots of dough.

As we revealed in a December 2021 post, fountain bevs and coffee are every Fast Food operator’s greatest profit-makers. A coffee you pay $2 for actually costs the operator only about $0.62 per cup – including the cup and lid, one cream and one sugar! A medium fountain drink costs an average $0.05 to pour plus a dime for the cup and another dime for the lid.

Phasing out a popular perk

McDonald’s is the first of the Fast Food giants to announce it’s getting rid of self-serve refills. The others will probably follow suit soon.

Free self-serve refills were originally offered as a promotional move to attract customers. The regime freed up counter staff from the drudgery of pouring drinks. The idea was, they would be able to spend more time and brainpower on assembling orders – and getting them right.

Anyway, the competition was furious for a while, until the Fast Food joints all had free refills, levelling the field again, albeit a bit higher than it had been.

So why phase it out?

McD’s has also become the first Fast Food purveyor to admit that self serve free refills don’t fit its Business Model of the Future, where the vast majority of orders will be fulfilled via Drive-Thru, take-out or delivery protocols. That means the vast majority of drinks orders will be poured by staff, anyway. And the number of dine-in customers will (the operators hope) dwindle to a trickle.

One less machine to service, refill, clean and tidy up around several times a day.

Eagle-eyed readers will already have noted that the free refills are not, themselves, being phased out – just the self-serve protocol.

My take

I wonder why McD’s has made this relatively minor shift in its operational scheme the subject of a news release. I’d have thought the chain’s brain trust would have chosen to say as little possible about the move so as to avoid potential customer backlash.

Is McD’s cannily taking the opportunity to plug its Business Model of the Future again? To prime fans for the big changes afoot?

You can bet the competition already has plans in place to phase out their self-serve refills. And they’re no doubt planning to follow in McD’s footsteps.

Finally, I sense an ulterior motive in announcing a service change that will only be complete almost a decade from now. “See how open and transparent we are?” McD’s is saying, between the lines. “And we were the first Fast Food brand to warn fans of this potentially disappointing development!”

~ Maggie J.