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April 17, 2012


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I would not "take out" a free soda, but I have to admit I did it as a teen. 7-eleven has .99c refills if you bring in your Super Gulp mug (128 ounces).

I've always wondered how much fast food restaurants pay for those 5 gallon soda kegs?

In my experience, fast food restaurants have a system that combines syrup, pressurized gas, and water which get magically mixed at the fountain!

I've definitely filled up my cup on the way out... generally I don't feel like that's a rip off to the fast food joint, since it cost them pennies for me to drink refill after refill. I think this sign was mostly for people who'd bring in cups from previous visits, and just walk up to get a refill.

Makes me want to go buy an XL Lemonade at Chick Fil A (light ice of course - since they keep the fountains behind the counter) and refill it several times while sitting in the restaurant... :D

To me, "free refills" means you get a free refill 1X only in the same cup you bought, during the same visit when you paid for the drink. Yeah, you could technically get away with another refill or two, but it's called being a jerk.

Long ago, it used to cost more for the ice than the soda. I remember costing out a 16-oz glass at about $0.07. Recently, my brother (who runs a restaurant), said it costs about $0.30 for him to fill a 20-oz cup. He uses the 5-gallon syrup boxes.

I do not fill guilty having one last refill for the road, but like you, I am trying to cut way back on sugar and sweeteners.

Most fast food restaurants from what I understand make most of their money off soft drinks. Their largest profit ratio's occur there.

I almost always get a drink to go as well as fill up while I eat, that's part of the deal when they state "Free Refills". Even if I fill up 3 times, they probably still make a good profit.

If they weren't profiting from drinks with free refills after all these years, they would no longer offer free refills. Not to forget, Americans are consuming insane amounts of this stuff as well, cup sizes are larger than ever.

I know there are places where stores are crowded together and the employees of each are friendly to one another. This one Subway allows the nail salon next door to bring their cup over and refill all day, everyday. I see it almost every time I eat there. The sign was probably a result of something to this sort id imagine. Some manager just caught on...

I almost never do a "free refill" except maybe for water. I drink too much soda as it is!

I think you're overcomplicating the first message - the duration of your visit ends when you leave, not before. They certainly are aware (and presumably perfectly fine with) you filling up your cup on your way out.

The second line is poorly worded, but the meaning is also clear.

Kay is right - the syrup comes in boxes, and the machine mixes cold carbonated water (carbonation typically from a large CO2 tank) and the syrup right as it enters your cup - that's why dark sodas appear to be "unmixed" if you watch it pour out of the spigot - they are! If they had to bring in "kegs" of soda the delivery and storage costs would be astronomical.

And MC, I don't think it's the least bit unethical to fill the cup on your way out or to fill it more than twice total - free refillS means free refills (on that visit). What IS unethical though is to buy one and split it between two people, and refilling it extra times as a result.

I think its fair if you fill up on the way out and take "one for the road". They don't care if you drink it in the restaurant or not. The difference there is reaally only whether or not you sit down for a minute or two and drink soda before you leave or if you refill and go straight to the door.

To be sure though, you can always ask the manager if they mind. When in doubt: ask.

The soda itself costs them like 10-20 cents a glass so they are still making a high profit. If they don't want to give free refill(s) then they can stop the policy.

If they wanted you to have 1 refill only then they would say so. If the sign says "refills" then thats plural which means more than one. So more than 1 is OK. Its a take out cup and they don't care if you take your soda (full or half full) with you when you leave. I don't think thats being a 'jerk' at all. Plural means >1.

How about sharing a drink and then getting free refills for two people?

If you share a drink, I'd say a definite NO to any refills.

As many as you want during the same visit. After the 6th or 7th cup of coke you reach a point where you are actually losing. A coworker of mine buys starbucks, keeps the cup, and refills every day for free (its supposed to be "same visit"). Starbucks fills up a new cup for him and he continues the process on a daily basis. He still sleeps ok at night.

Since most sodas at restaurants/fast food cost $1.50-2 to a consumer, I have no guilt at all filling up 2x while there and once on the way out. I also almost always split a soda with my wife if we go to a sit-down place, as the drinks are upwards of $2 and cost under a dime to the restaurant.

Of all the "unethical" things going on the world, spending time even thinking about this one seems like wasted effort.

It's been nearly 20 years since I worked food service (thankfully!) so my perspective is a bit dated. We had free refills, but you had to bring your cup up to the counter for us to give you one.

And free refills was just that: Free refills. If you bought the drink, you could refill it as many times as you wanted. You could have a refill on your way out for the road, too. No problem.

Very few people ever got more than one refill during the visit and one more for the road.

I understand Noah's sentiment, but believe that every ethical thing is a big thing. Letting the little ethical decisions slide simply opens the door to letting bigger ones do the same. Integrity in all things is imperative.

I'm in the 'free refills' means free refills (plural) camp and agree that the duration of your visit includes one last refill for the road. I believe it is wrong for two to split a drink and get free refills. To me, the price you pay is irrelevant in whether or not the choice is ethical.

As many as you want during the same visit. After the 6th or 7th cup of coke you reach a point where you're actually losing. However, refill etiquette does exist. A coworker of mine buys starbucks, keeps the cup, and refills every day for free (its supposed to be "same visit"). Starbucks fills up a new cup for him and he continues the process on a daily basis.

Isn't it a sad reflection on our society that they need to put up signs like this? I believe 1 refill is enough, any more is greedy, you need to ask yourself if you were at home or paying for the drink what would you do. While I'm all for saving money where I can, everyone needs a fair deal. BTW where I live there are very few places where they still offer free refills, even at the big chains of fastfood providers. I feel that there comes a time when you need to examine your own behaviour and decide if it's the right thing to do morally

Soda refills are good promo for fast food chains; however, I am not much a soda drinker so I do not avail of this kind of service. I only drink the first cup of soda and then water afterwards. Moreover, etiquette says that you should not ask for a refill if you did not purchase any meal or avail of their service.

Wow- people really put a lot of thought into this, and are making a free refill into a morality issue? According to the responses, most people are using the free refill policy as intended, and if someone does get more than one refill, or makes one as they leave- who cares...?!

There's only so much pop that a person can drink during a course of a meal, and most places probably don't have a problem with people hogging up all their pop, or else they would move it back behind the counter if it's really becoming a problem with them losing money, and corportations account for every last penny- they are in the business to make money so, I wouldn't really feel sorry for them, companies aren't people.

If you really want to think about who's getting hosed in this ordeal, save your sympathy for the guy taking your order, or the other restaurant employees, and see how much he is losing out on a living wage. You're getting that free refill, because the corporate chain only wants to pay their workers the minimum wage, and even less if they could.

My take on it is- DRINK ALL THE DAMNED POP YOU WANT, DUMP IT DOWN THE TOILET FOR THAT MATTER. If someone really wants to brink in an old cup, or an outside beverage container, and they're willing to look tacky, or like a skinflint, let them, but most people don't do this, and the restaurants know this. Lighten up guys...

July61 - Saying something like "I believe 1 refill is enough and any more is greedy" is nothing by your opinion and most would disagree. "Fair deal"? If restaurants don't want you to have more than 1 refill, then they should post a sign stating "Limit 1 refill". The reason they don't is because it costs pennies per refill and telling a patron "No, you can't have any more refills" is likely to result in lost business.

Dirk - Well said and my sentiments exactly

I think you're right with both of your ideas, but I think if you're still in the establishment, it's still considered part of the duration of your visit, so you should be able to fill up one more time before you leave. The only people I know who would bring their own cup into a fast food restaurant would be a homeless person, so maybe this sign is up somewhere where a lot of them are around? Thats the only explanation I can think of.

"any more is greedy"


We don't have to worry about there being enough sugar water go go around nor fret that this will hurt McD's profits to the detriment of society. >1 refill of sugar water may be unhealthy but I don't call it greedy. These are profit based businesses making money knowing full well how their offer of 'free refills' is going to be used by their customers. Many customers will not get refills, many will get 1 refil and a small % will get >2 refills. McDonalds knows this data with high accuracy and makes a calculated business decision to implement this policy. They even know enough that putting the soda fountain accessible for self serve saves them money because they don't have to waste staff time handling the refills.

If it were a church or a novice small business then I'd feel a little more concern about over using a 'free' policy. But McD's knows exactly what they're doing down to the 100th of a cent.

Keep taking those free refills of sugar water.......while I buy more shares of Novo Nordisk.

My guess is that the restaurant had to put up the sign after experiencing people repeatedly abusing the free refills offer.

I personally feel okay about purchasing a drink cup and then refilling it while I'm eating there and then one more time to take on the road.

However, in places where there is a lot of foot traffic away from the cash register, I've seen people bring much larger containers (like a jug) and help themselves to way more beverage than they would normally consume while onsite.

To me, this is an issue of ethics of the consumer who is trying to be "frugal" when they're really being cheap. It's like people who boast (and I've seen this happen on message boards) that they're saving money by taking lots of ketchup and sugar packets and napkins from the self-service areas at fast food restaurants.

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

To me it means you can get your cup filled as many times as you want during your visit (assuming you purchased a drink there).

There is a furniture store near me that has a cafe in it. As you are shopping, you are free to get a drink or a snack for free. My salesman told me that during the day a car will pull up to the front door, kids will jump out the backseat, run in, get soda and candy, and run back out and leave. To me, this is just taking advantage of a nice perk for shoppers.

My first interpretation of "(in smaller type) No cups brought in from outside are eligible for free refill" was that people would buy the drink as expected but then load up "several free refills" into a thermos, water bottle, or similar large container before leaving.

is it worth a felony? not that I think a felony is an appropriate charge.

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