McDonald’s Plans to Phase Out Its Self-Serve Fountain Drink Stations

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holding fountain soda at McDonald's self-serve drink station

According to CNN, McDonald’s is planning to remove self-serve fountain drink stations from all of its restaurants by 2032. They’ve been a fixture in most locations for nearly 20 years, so this will be a big change for McDonald’s regular customers.

The good news is that free refills are expected to remain part of the McDonald’s experience, but they will eventually be poured for you by a crew member behind the counter.

Since McDonald’s is giving franchise owners plenty of time to adapt, dine-in customers can still expect to use the self-serve beverage stations at most locations for now. However, some customers are already reporting changes at select restaurants.

self-serve soda machine at McDonald's

McDonald’s corporate office explained this decision as part of a bigger push to standardize the experience for customers and crew across the chain. Franchise operators add that there are likely many other factors behind the move away from self-serve fountain drinks.

Removing the drink stations is expected to save money by reducing theft and eliminating the time spent cleaning these heavily used machines.

The COVID-19 pandemic really highlighted the issue of keeping these high-touch spaces clean. As a result, the new machines installed behind the counter will use automated beverage systems to mechanically fill drink orders, minimizing human contact. They will also use new cups for each refill.

holding a fountain drink outside McDonald's

In addition to saving money, this move is also a response to the shrinking number of people who choose to dine in at McDonald’s. Employees are already filling drinks for drive-in and app customers, so it’s hard to justify the space occupied by the drink stations for the small number of customers who eat inside the restaurant.

For those who do opt to dine in at McDonald’s, the brand hopes to create a more relaxed experience with servers delivering meals (and drinks) right to your table.

While it’s good to know that free refills aren’t going anywhere, many customers may not want a “standardized” drink experience. Will the automated machine behind the counter be able to pour me a Diet Coke with a splash of Dr. Pepper and light ice? Will kids still be able to enjoy the childhood tradition of adding a little bit of everything to their cup?

This news has us wondering whether it will be possible to truly customize a drink once the self-serve option goes away.

What do you think about the impending demise of McDonald’s self-serve drink stations? Does your McDonald’s still have this option? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the writer:

Jenna has a Bachelor's Degree from Lycoming College and her Master's from Penn State, holding 4 years of writing experience between a variety of publications and Hip2Save.

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Comments 23

  1. jill

    great, more plastic cups and straws in landfills….. way to go McDonalds. ๐Ÿ™


      Exactly what I was thinking when I read that part… Are they that out of touch with things like that? ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ

  2. SavingsMama

    I like to do it myself. I don’t see how using them using a new cup every time is going to help the planet. Plus, walking your food items to the table? They don’t have enough time or workers to do that. Let people enjoy free refills of whatever they want, how they want, with the same cup if they choose to dine in. I’m glad I have the memories of Playplaces and not Mc Cafes! Those indoor spaces were the highlight of my day as a kid and an inexpensive outing when I became a mom.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I have liked grabbing my soda myself too! ๐Ÿ™Œ It does seem this may take a while to be in effect at most locations. โค๏ธ

  3. Pat Goff

    We always eat inside. My brother is challenged so he will not ask a server to refill his drink. I will have to walk up there and do it for him. Just another way to chase their customers away I guess.

  4. Emily

    To be fair – the fill your own fountain drink area always felt a little dirty to me… even before the pandemic. I don’t like buffets for the same reason – there are too many people touching things. I might be diligent about washing my hands, but so many people are not.

    I don’t love the new-cup-every-time situation though. For dine in, a reusable washed cup would probably be more eco friendly.

    • Dee

      I wouldn’t want a washed cup!!!

  5. berry

    I still canโ€™t understand why they went from paper cups to plastic cups.

    • Alex L

      Liquids seep thru paper. Those cups are plastic-coated paper or wax-coated paper, which go in the trash. A full plastic cup is recyclable. That’s probably why.

      • Brandi

        They wonโ€™t recycle those plastic cups. ๐Ÿ™ There was never an issue with seeping through the wax coated cups, used them for years.

        • Alex L

          Oh sorry my first part was just clarifying because some people attempt to recycle those cups not knowing the coating is a thing. But hey I recycle every cup I get that is recycleable so there’s at least one person out there

  6. Dee

    Will they have the counter staff, or are they expecting the wait time to discourage refills & thereby save them money.
    The wait time for orders inside is ridiculous!!! I recently waited nearly 30 mins for my free McChicken sandwich!!!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for any more details on this change as they become available. ๐Ÿ‘€ Sorry to hear about the long wait time inside. ๐Ÿ˜”

  7. amyr

    Sounds like Chick-fil-A to me!

    • Alex L

      Difference here is that Chick-fil-A people will acknowledge you pretty quickly.

  8. Denise

    McDonaldโ€™s is slowly converting to AI automative technology like their first in Austin TX.

  9. Ashley

    When I go they usually don’t even have anyone at the counter to take your order because they want you to do it yourself on the kiosk which to me takes more time and doesn’t always take my.code for rewards.or deals. Plus I like to mix my sweet tea with unsweet

    • DianeNC

      Same – and this is at most of the McDonald’s (and almost all the fast-food chains) around me. You RARELY see anyone covering the front register/counter for those “walk-ins” who want to order something – they actually try to ignore you, lol. So where do they plan on finding employees to fill customers drinks, lol??? Ridiculous.

  10. Happy

    I take it as a way of reducing their costs because they are banking on a lot of people choosing to not put in the effort to request the refill. A lot of money was saved when the dining rooms were closed because there were no refills.

    • Missy

      I don’t get the whole saving money. Soda is horrible to start with, but fountain soda is just awful. Washed down stuff that probably costs pennies per cup and they charge at least $2. They are NEVER losing money on soda!

    • woopdee

      Right, even if refills are still free, less people will go up to ask. Are you supposed to get back in line just to request it? For someone with a small or kids sized cup, you may want multiple refills and have to go ask (and possibly wait) each time.

      Personally, the drink machine (and access to refills) is often the only reason I eat inside some places.

      • Barbara Dubec

        When I need a refill or a spoon etc. I don’t wait in line. I ask someone moving behind the counter to help me. Or ask the cashier while the customer is contemplating fries with that.

        • woopdee

          Yes, same for me, in general. But depending on the location and time of day, the team behind the counter could be quite busy.

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