Snowflake coffee cups
December 14, 2010 9:01 AM   Subscribe

My mother loves McDonald's large coffee cups and I would like to get ten or so for her for Christmas. What's my chances of going into a McDonald's and talking to a manager to see if they'll sell me the cups without the coffee inside (ideally for less then the full price)?

How should I approach a manager about this? Is it even worth attempting? My general idea was something like:

Royalsong (RS): *walks into local mcdonalds* Hello. Can I speak to a manager?
KidAtCounter: Uh.. *shouts for manager*
Manager: *walks up annoyed, thinks RS is here to complain*
RS: Hello. My mom loves your coffee cups. She reuses them over and over until they fall apart. I would love if I could get her some as a Christmas gift. Is there any chance I could buy like 10 cups and 15 lids for about $10 without the coffee inside?
Manager: Sure!
Manage: No Way!

Welcoming any ideas or suggestions on how to get my mom these cups she loves?

Things I have tried that haven't worked:
To buy her reusable eco-friendly cups in a similar style
To buy her disposable cups in a similar style

Things that have worked:
Going to McDonalds once every week or so and buying a large cup of coffee and asking for an additional lid.
posted by royalsong to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Probably a nice manager will let you do this. I don't know if they inventory the cups, though. They might make you buy the cups as if there were actually coffee in them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2010

I'm willing to bet if you walk into a McDonald's and ask, they'll give it to you for free.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:04 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't think you need to immediately escalate. Say to the cashier "Can I have 10 large hot cups?" She/he'll either give them to you, tell you that there is a charge or say no. If she/he says no, then ask to speak to a manager. And make the same request.
posted by Pineapplicious at 9:04 AM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]

I think the key to this is asking late at night when the person most likely to give a shit is not there.
posted by hermitosis at 9:05 AM on December 14, 2010 [23 favorites]

I'm guessing you'll have a greater chance of success if you go during a non-busy time. The cashiers won't be as harried and will probably be in a better mood.
posted by pluckemin at 9:07 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, if one McDonalds says no, try the next closest one!
posted by Grither at 9:07 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think the keys to success are the actual manager you get and the timing of the request. I think you have to go when it is slow and you have to get the nice manager. I would consider sending a 14 year old to ask so he can get his Grandma the gift. Makes it a little more heart warming of a story. If I did not have initial success, I would try several stores at several times. I was just at a McD's and loved the retro hat one of the workers was wearing and asked for one nicely. They got me one.
posted by AugustWest at 9:08 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have done this for sweet & sour sauce for a similar gift idea/project. The (assistant) manager gave me around 40 containers and several staunch refusals to pay. He suggested I donate to the Ronald McDonald charity instead if I was really itching to get rid of some cash.
posted by KevCed at 9:08 AM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

It will probably not work. I have asked (at McDonalds and similar) for just a cup before, and have received answers ranging from "sure" to "they count them at the end of the night, so no" to "we don't have cups" (with a clear pile of cups mere inches away). And while many managers would probably be fine with the proposed transaction, they'll probably not be allowed to do it and afraid they'll get caught (there's no button on the cash register for empty cups and lids in exchange for money).

This would be my game plan:

Buy one cup of large coffee. Ask for an extra cup, for insulation. There's one. Wait a minute or two (this will work better if it's a little busy) go up front, jiggle your cup with a confused/sad look on your face and say, "do you think I could get an extra cup? Mine's dripping..." There's two. Repeat the confused sadface routine several times in front of different staff. There's the rest.
posted by phunniemee at 9:09 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to work at a McDonald's when I was in high school. Any of the cashiers (myself included) and most of the managers would have given you the hot cups for free if you asked nicely, as long as you were in either the drive-thru lane or had ordered a to-go meal. (The only reason we would have had for not giving you the hot cups either for free or maybe for a few cents per cup is that sometimes people ask for a cup in order to steal soda from the fountain, or to come back and ask a different cashier for a "refill" of coffee.)
posted by kataclysm at 9:11 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have done this for sweet & sour sauce for a similar gift idea/project.

That's because they represent nothing in the grand scheme of things. However, when I was a wee lad and worked at BK, we counted cups at the end of shifts in order to count inventory. So, number of cups gone had to equal number of coffees sold. This is why these chains have "courtesy cups" for things like free cups of water--they're not counted.
posted by dobbs at 9:11 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

addendum: Now that I think of it, it will depend on the individual Mickey D's in question, its managers, and their relationship with the franchise's owner. If the franchise is having bottom-line issues or is run by fascists, they might not give you the cups. If the franchise is doing OK and the managers are nice, you'll probably get the cups.
posted by kataclysm at 9:14 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

At the very least, you can buy 10 large cups of coffee and tell them to hold the coffee.
posted by litnerd at 9:16 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Be careful with this - franchisers can be really annoying about this stuff, and you could inadvertently get someone in trouble if they don't have a manager's okay.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:20 AM on December 14, 2010

To be honest, I think this is a question that has no real answer. It all depends on who you ask in the store. Luck of the draw really.
posted by dougrayrankin at 9:26 AM on December 14, 2010

Depends on the franchise rules, the managers on duty and the way you ask. Go in during a slow part of the day (maybe mid afternoon on a weekday) and ask nicely.
posted by inturnaround at 9:29 AM on December 14, 2010

Yeah, a lot of places count the cups. Just ask, though, what's the worst that can happen?
posted by empath at 9:30 AM on December 14, 2010

I think you're more likely to have success in the suburbs than the urbs.
posted by maryr at 9:53 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

maybe i am small town naive, but i can't imagine them telling you a flat out no, unless you insist on a freebie.

cups are the largest cost in the price of any drink, so don't be surprised if they want you to pay something.

If it were me, i would go at a slow time during the day when a manager is likely to be there and ask, "what would it cost me to get 10 hot cups with lids for a christmas gift?" i would not go into the thing asking for them for nothing. let them make that call if they wish.
posted by domino at 9:53 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gonna third the depends on if its a franchise or corporate run.
The franchise McDonalds in my area put up signs in the window charging .10$ for every extra cup of sauce... Corporate ones will just grab you a fistful if you ask nice...
posted by Redmond Cooper at 9:55 AM on December 14, 2010

I'm fairly certain you'll find this is quite easy.

I was once astonished to watch my girlfriend march into a McDonalds, ask politely if she could buy a handful of the M&M's they use in their ice cream things, and then negotiate a 25 cent fee with a manager on the spot.
posted by kingbenny at 9:57 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you show up during a slow time and ask nicely, I'd say you'll probably have a good chance. If it doesn't work, just go to another McD's.

I say this as someone who received 1000 McDonald's ashtrays as an 18th birthday present.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:03 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you do offer money, do not offer $10 for 10 cups/15 lids. That is an absurdly high price. At McDonald's style volumes, their cost for cups is measured in pennies. I'd start by asking for them for free as a gift for your mother, preferably while you're purchasing a meal. If that doesn't work, offer a buck or two, but realize the money is likely going into the employee's pocket, as they have no way to charge or keep track of such things. I'd just keep trying different locations until you find one that will help; shouldn't take more than a couple tries.
posted by zachlipton at 10:34 AM on December 14, 2010

I worked at Jack in the Box as a teenager. We were supposed to charge some fee (like, 3 cents, almost nothing) for a cup. The reason is, the register software kept track of how many cups we were supposed to have and giving them away screwed that up. Even then, being accurate to the cup wasn't that important, it was just a "you need to reorder cups soon" thing. A 10 cup error is not going to cause the store to skip ordering more cups and get screwed.

Unless you got an experienced register operator, you'd probably have to wait for a manager to come tell the operator how to input the charge (if the operator cared enough to do it instead of just shrugging and giving you the cups. "Ooh, I'll be in trouble for giving away a cup. Whatev.") Most of us would just ring them up and give them away for free anyway if it was only one or two. We didn't get in trouble if the register was off by 12 cents at the end of the day, so who cares? If it was in conjunction with an order, the few cents would get charged onto the order.
posted by ctmf at 11:27 AM on December 14, 2010

Perhaps coming in with a $10 check made out in advance to the Ronald McDonald House charity (if it still exists) would grease the wheels?
posted by de void at 1:03 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, just try. I once asked a Tex-Mex chain restaurant for a big stack of their salsa to-go cups and lids and received even more than I needed. I wouldn't even tack a price onto my offer; I'd say something like: "I'm willing to pay what I need to for them but would rather not pay the full price of a cup of coffee."
posted by wallaby at 1:12 PM on December 14, 2010

I think they use the cups as a form of inventory, so they may not be willing, but IANAMcDE(I am not a McDonald's employe - yippee!). You could order tea, which usually gets you hot water and a tea bag on the side, and the cup can be easily dried with no coffee stain. or, and I recommend this, get her a McD's gift cert., so she can get a big cup of coffee and a cup to re-use. Sweet question.
posted by theora55 at 3:10 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, be aware that there is a common practice by the extremely frugal of keeping an empty McDonald's coffee cup in their car and running in for a quick "refill" whenever they pass a McDonald's. Which explains why my in-laws have several in their kitchen cabinets...
posted by MrZero at 5:05 PM on December 14, 2010

Unless you got an experienced register operator

Yeah, I'm thinking that this is the key part. I have a friend who used to be one such operator back in the day, and now he knows about all sorts of things you can buy from McDonald's. Did you know you can buy a bag of ice for a dollar? It's true, but most cashiers don't know about what buttons to hit to ring it up. I'm guessing that empty cups would be the same way.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

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