McDonald’s is phasing out self-serve soda stations — here’s why

Akash Arjun

Global Courant

Testing out all the possible soda combinations at your local McDonald’s will one day become a thing of the past.

McDonald’s USA has confirmed to that it will be phasing out what has become a signature part of the McDonald’s experience: self-serve beverage stations. This means no longer will customers be handed an empty cup by an employee then add ice and their beverage of choice away from the point of sale.

McDonald’s is transitioning away from self-serve beverage stations in dining rooms across the U.S. by the year 2032. The chain says the change is intended to create a consistent experience for both McDonald’s workers and their customers at all ordering points — meaning that whether you order your Big Mac Meal via McDelivery, the app, kiosk, drive-thru or in-restaurant, you’ll get your grub the same exact way.

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The news was first reported on Sept. 8 by the State Journal-Register, who spoke to Illinois-area franchise holders about the new strategy.

While this means that McDonald’s won’t be fully transitioned to staff-poured sodas for nearly a decade, some of these locations, at least, have already begun to change the way sodas are served to customers.

“It’s an evolution towards convenience and (the result of) the growth of digital service,” Mikel Petro, an Illinois McDonald’s operator, told the State Journal-Register.

Other franchise owners interviewed by the newspaper mentioned theft prevention, food safety and fewer dine-in customers as contributing factors for getting rid of the stations.

“The crew pour system — which actually will use automated beverage systems to mechanically fill drink orders — minimizes human contact,” reported the State-Journal. “Crew pour also eliminates theft and emphasizes the brand’s new focus on creating a more relaxed dine-in experience complete with servers delivering meals to the table.”

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Petro, who operates 15 McDonald’s throughout central Illinois with his family, said one of his locations in Lincoln has already started the transition by having staff fill initial beverage orders when customers dine-in, having these drinks delivered to tables along with each meal.

For now, customers who place takeout orders at this location’s counter still receive an empty cup to fill at the self-serve drink station. And customers can still get their own refills, but that will change by 2024, when a remodeling of the store’s front counter will move plumbing behind the counter, allowing the self-serve drink stations to be removed for good.

Other franchise owners say they’ve either started the transition already or are planning to implement them in the next year or so. Franchise owner Kim Derringer said that late 2024 would be the earliest any of her restaurants would fully become crew-poured-only. She also stressed that people needn’t worry about free refills going extinct.

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“Free refills are a big draw for people,” she said. “I don’t see anything taking that away.”

Reaction online has been somewhat mixed, with those in favor of the change concerned with the hygiene of the current system, and those against the switch concerned with personal preference on ice-to-drink ratio and having to ask for refills.

“Considering the last McDonald’s drink station I used was moldy and not clean, probably a good move. They don’t have enough staff to monitor them and make sure they’re getting cleaned,” commented one person on Facebook, while another wrote, similarly, “The drink stations are always a mess, so I would prefer someone serving the drinks!”

“This is the worst idea ever. It’s hard enough to get someone to get you a refill and you can forget ever getting the ice level you want,” commented another Facebook user, while someone else echoed this sentiment, writing, “I go inside so I can fill my own drink!!! I like lots of ice and mostly unsweet with a little sweet tea! Will not go to McDonalds if I can’t fill my own drink.”

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McDonald’s is phasing out self-serve soda stations — here’s why

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