McDonald’s Phasing Out Self-Serve Drink Machines – Are Free Refills Next?

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jun 03, 2024

McDonald’s is undoubtedly the largest fast food chain in the United States, with more than 13,500 restaurants throughout the country. In fact, nearly 70 million people visit a McDonald’s every day in one of the fifty states.

For years, the McDonald’s menu and service have remained essentially unchanged, but now, the beloved company is making one big shift that will affect hundreds of millions of people: McDonald’s is removing its self-serve drink machines, and free refills may be next.

McDonald’s Will No Longer Offer Self-Serve Sodas

Historically, when a customer orders their favorite food and drinks at McDonald’s, they receive an empty cup that they can take over to the self-service soda machine.

A hand filling up their cup from a self-serve soda machine

Source: iStock

From there, customers could fill their large cups with as much ice and soda as they wanted and then continue to go back for more over the course of their meal. However, McDonald’s recently announced that they will be removing those popular and easy-to-use self-serve drink machines.

Why Is McDonald’s Removing Self-Serve Drink Machines?

The company says it will take until 2032 to remove the self-serve drink machines from all 13,500 restaurants in the US, but some locations have already done so. Now, many customers are wondering why McDonald’s decided to make such a big change when the system worked just fine.

A customer drinking a soda in front of a McDonald’s restaurant

Source: Reddit

McDonald’s said in a statement, “This change is intended to create a consistent experience for both customers and crew across all ordering points, whether that’s McDelivery, the app, kiosk, drive-thru or in-restaurant.”

McDonald’s Is Moving Toward a Completely Digital Experience

Technology has grown exponentially over the past decade, and giant corporations like McDonald’s have certainly taken advantage. Thousands of McDonald’s restaurants now offer user-friendly electronic kiosks where customers can order and pay in seconds.

Several McDonald’s customers ordering from electronic kiosks

Source: iStock

But these kiosks and other new tech devices within the restaurants aren’t just for customer satisfaction; they also save McDonald’s billions of dollars in labor costs. Using machines is far less expensive than paying employees.

Doesn’t Removing Drink Machines Mean More Work for McDonald’s Employees?

Mikel Petro, who owns more than a dozen McDonald’s restaurants, told USA Today that the removal of the self-serve drink machines is “an evolution towards convenience and (the result of) the growth of digital service.”

Three smiling McDonald’s employees at work

Source: McDonald’s Corporation

However, removing the drink machines actually means McDonald’s employees will have more work to do filling the cups themselves. So, how is this decision an evolution of digital service? Some say it’s not, and this is really a ploy by McDonald’s to simply make more money.

Customers Are Less Likely to Ask for Refills

When customers are allowed to pour their own drinks, there is often spillage and waste. Additionally, they are more inclined to head to the self-service machine for a refill, even if they don’t plan to finish another full cup.

A McDonald’s restaurant with several customers waiting in line

Source: Depositphotos

Therefore, using employees to pour the drinks behind the counter will almost immediately save McDonald’s a substantial amount of money. Plus, customers are less likely to ask for a refill from an employee, especially if the restaurant is busy unless they are absolutely sure they want more.


McDonald’s Might Cancel Free Refills

While many people are certainly upset by McDonald’s decision to remove its self-serve drink machines, the far more controversial rumor is that the mega-company will soon eliminate free refills.

Source: Reddit

Because McDonald’s is a franchised corporation, some restaurants have already chosen to stop giving free refills. But there is talk that McDonald’s will soon announce that no restaurant with their name will offer soda refills without some kind of upcharge.


How Much Does McDonald’s Make in Profits Every Year?

McDonald’s has already received an incredible amount of backlash for the decision to remove self-serve drink machines, but the rumor that they will soon stop free refills has resulted in widespread anger.

A pile of US $100 bills spread out on a table

Source: Freepik

McDonald’s reported $25.49 billion in revenue for 2023, $10.38 billion of which was made in the United States. As one X, formerly Twitter, user explained, “McDonald’s made over $25 billion in profits this year, but they’re charging for soda refills. Absurd.”


McDonald’s Says They Are Focused on Affordability

While customers worldwide are wildly frustrated with the company, especially its constantly increasing prices and other big changes, McDonald’s claims it is dedicated to ensuring its products remain affordable.

A faceless man holding an empty wallet with several coins in his hand

Source: Freepik

Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s CEO, recently said that the company is “laser-focused on affordability.” And a spokesperson for the company recently promised that prices will decrease this year.


McDonald’s Is Definitely Guilty of Shrinkflation

However, many McDonald’s customers have noticed that the fast food chain is exceptionally guilty of shrinkflation. Shrinkflation occurs when companies charge the same price, or sometimes an even lower price, but simultaneously decrease the size of the product.

A newspaper, blurred, except for the title “Shrinkflation Same Price, Smaller Package”

Source: Depositphotos

Essentially, they make it seem as though customers are getting a great deal, but they are actually getting far less than they used to. A great example would be if McDonald’s lowers the price of a fountain soda but stops offering free refills, which will likely happen in the very near future.


McDonald’s Has “Lost Its Mind”

One X user responded to the rumor that McDonald’s would soon be forbidding refills: “Beef patties now smaller than bun, cost is equal to nicer restaurant, would get more food elsewhere for that cost, refills for even more money you wouldn’t spend elsewhere. McDonald’s has lost its mind.”

Source: Reddit

And they are certainly not the only person who feels this way. According to one survey, 78% of Americans feel that fast food is a luxury. Prices have increased so much over the past few years that McDonald’s and other fast food chains are no longer an affordable option.


McDonald’s May Struggle to Retain Customers This Year

Americans are currently struggling to pay their bills, let alone spend money on fast food, and McDonald’s has noticed. Therefore, to ensure they don’t lose all their customers, McDonald’s will lower its prices this year.

A McDonald’s employee serves a customer their meal on a tray

Source: Shutterstock

However, if they decide to stop offering free refills and keep making unfavorable changes, like removing the self-serve drink machines, the company will likely see disappointing sales again in 2024.