Facebook Twitter

McDonald’s is getting rid of self-service soda machines. What’s next?

This change with soda machines is indicative of a growing trend for customers to ditch dining rooms for drive-thrus

SHARE McDonald’s is getting rid of self-service soda machines. What’s next?
A McDonald’s restaurant in Springfield, Illinois.

A McDonald’s restaurant in Springfield, Illinois.

Seth Perlman, Associated Press

The days of filling up a crisp cup of Sprite from McDonald’s on your own are over: The chain confirmed it would phase out self-service machines.

So, if you want more of your Diet Coke or other soft drink, you will have to ask the cashier up front for a refill.

McDonald’s is known for its signature products: shoestring fries, Big Macs, McChickens. But the chain’s soda has not gone unnoticed.

The Sprite served there has been described as “crisp” and “powerful” by Reader’s Digest. It’s spurred a series of memes on social media, and the chain’s other sodas like Coca-Cola are also known to taste a little different because of how McDonald’s receives and stores the syrup and filters water, per The Daily Meal.

Why is McDonald’s getting rid of self-service soda machines?

The stated reason was consistency. McDonald’s told The Associated Press that it wanted to “create consistency for customers and crew members across the chain’s offerings — from in-person dining to online delivery and drive-thru options.”

The pandemic changed customer behavior and McDonald’s is changing to reflect what customers do now. Drive-thru and delivery services like UberEats and DoorDash boomed and so, fewer customers eat in the chain’s dinning rooms, per CNN. Forty percent of the chain’s earnings now are coming from digital sales, like delivery services and the McDonald’s app.

The hamburger chain reportedly will focus on drive-thrus in the future and include “restaurant designs with smaller or no dining rooms (and high-tech drive-thrus) to reflect that new reality,” CNN reported.

Will some fast-food restaurants phase out dining rooms?

The move to eliminate self-service soda machines comes during a time where fast-food restaurants are reevaluating how their drive-thrus work and considering reducing the role of dining rooms in restaurant designs.

As Taco Bell develops its Cantina concept (a restaurant with a custom menu and alcoholic beverages), the chain also is piloting a new style of drive-thru.

“The new design eliminates the indoor dining area and adds dedicated parking for mobile and delivery orders with the walk-up window. It also has a two-lane drive-thru,” Axios reported.

The decision to innovate the drive-thru experience came after the chain experienced a lot of customers in the drive-thru at night. “This is really born out of a problem that we’ve had. The drive-thru gets really backed up at late night with the new delivery channel coming through,” Scott Mezvinsky, Taco Bell’s managing director for North America, said to Axios.

Taco Bell isn’t the only chain to try eliminating an indoor dining area. In 2020, Chipotle announced its first-ever digital-only kitchen called Chipotle Digital Kitchen. “It is unique because it does not include a dining room or front service line and guests must order in advance via Chipotle.com, the Chipotle app or third-party delivery app,” Chipotle said in a press release.

Chick-fil-A is expected to start testing two new restaurant concepts in 2024 — both of them emphasizing drive-thru and walk-up orders. “Digital orders make up more than half of total sales in some markets — and growing — so we know our customers have an appetite for convenience,” Chick-fil-A said in a press release.

While the growing use of technology may reduce human contact, the chicken chain is still planning to keep human interaction in its new, more high-tech design.

“We want to leverage technology to elevate the human touchpoints in our restaurants. These new digital formats make the customer and team member experience more seamless, and therefore more memorable, and give back precious time to connect with each other,” Chick-fil-A said.