good question for the great taste of soda.
September 8, 2005 3:52 PM   Subscribe

why does coca-cola at mcdonalds always taste better than coca-cola at other fast food places?

do all mcdonalds have some kind of soda fountain with a special proprietary mix they must adhere to?

there's something about the coke from a mcdonalds soda fountain that has that perfect balance of syrupy sweetness and carbonation. and it's pretty much any mcdonalds all across the country. i never notice this in burger king or jack in the box or in-n-out.

has anyone else noticed this? or is it just some kind of subconcious childhood happiness manifesting out whenever i see ronald mcdonald?
posted by sammich to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
McDonald's quality control (read consistency) is probably better than many other places.
posted by kindall at 3:53 PM on September 8, 2005

Well, Burger King uses Pepsi, for one thing.
posted by bcwinters at 3:55 PM on September 8, 2005

I've noticed this as well (it's true of McDonald's in other countries too) and like kindall, I think it's probably down to better quality control.
posted by lia at 3:55 PM on September 8, 2005

Response by poster: Burger King switched to Coke like over ten years ago. Well at least the ones in the Bay Area.
posted by sammich at 3:57 PM on September 8, 2005

My cousin, who used to assistant-manage a McDonalds, said that the soda machines had to be cleaned out regularly otherwise they would develop mildew problems. In spite of McDonald's reputation, I think some of their stores would be more prone to do things by the book and clean their equipment. Other places, caveat emptor.
posted by rolypolyman at 3:57 PM on September 8, 2005

I have noticed it.
In fact, there was a Jackpot mini-mart I lived next door to in college whose fountain Pepsi was so good that I briefly believed I preferred Pepsi to Coke. Alas, I have never been able to find such good Pepsi again, and there's little chance of me moving back there. But if you're ever in Walla Walla, man, stop into the Jackpot for some fountain Pepsi. You'll be glad you did.
As for insight or actual answers to your question, I got nothin'.
posted by willpie at 3:58 PM on September 8, 2005

oh my god, I thought I was the only one who noticed this! I've always thought that, weirdly, it tastes just ever-so-slightly saltier than Coke in a can or from any other chain. If that's true, then I wonder if the extra hit of sodium A) gives a hint of savory to the soda's overall sweet taste, and B) triggers a sense of being thirsty even as you're drinking it, which makes you want to drink more.

That's my theory, anyway. Maybe I just always eat a lot of fries when I'm there, and that's what's driving my impressions.
posted by scody at 3:59 PM on September 8, 2005

Even though BK uses coka products in general, it is somewhat weird since they have Dr Pepper--not a coke product--instead of Mr. Pibb in at least most markets (some McDonalds do have Mr. Pibb--normally Pibb Extreme now).

To answer the question, I assume it's because McDonalds is better at making sure not only that the ratio is correct, but that the lines are clean and well function. And since they probably have the highest turn over of any fast food place, the syrup will be fresh. But, I have my share of badly mixed soda from McDonalds (ranging from too much water to too much syrup, which is rather tasty, if a touch flat).
posted by skynxnex at 4:01 PM on September 8, 2005

could it be the fat straw?
posted by ernie at 4:01 PM on September 8, 2005

It's probably a combination of a higher-than-average concentration of syrup and the water used.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:09 PM on September 8, 2005

They probably just have a higher syrup : carbonated water ratio than the Coke that comes in cans or bottles.
posted by interrobang at 4:10 PM on September 8, 2005

I had this same discussion with a friend of mine not too long ago, and she claimed to have read somewhere that McD's spends quite a bit of money testing their fountain drinks to ensure that they achieve some perfect (I'm guessing also addictive) mix.
posted by AlliKat75 at 4:10 PM on September 8, 2005

My theory, oddly enough, has always been that the straws at McDonald's are just a little bigger around than at other fast food joints. Seriously -- the straws at Wendy's and KFC and BK are definitely slimmer and their Coke isn't nearly as good.

Now, I am embarrassed to have spent so much time analyzing straw diameter and eaten so much fast food.
posted by justonegirl at 4:11 PM on September 8, 2005

Oops...what ernie (more succinctly) said.
posted by justonegirl at 4:17 PM on September 8, 2005

I've always thought Diet Coke and Dr. Pepper at Wendy's was superior to most.

And I've always liked soda out of a styrofoam cup better than out of a paper cup. Probably because it kept the ice from melting and maintained the right balance longer.
posted by mullacc at 4:23 PM on September 8, 2005

I believe they get a lot of special care and treatment from Coke too.... the best equipment, the best support, etc. Being #1 has its perks, I think it's safe to assume.
posted by spilon at 4:30 PM on September 8, 2005

Is it true that Coke tweaks the formula in different markets, etc? Could be a reason . .
posted by Boydrop at 4:54 PM on September 8, 2005

Maybe it's the wax/plastic leaching off the inside of the cup?
posted by misterbrandt at 5:05 PM on September 8, 2005

I always assumed there was more syrup and carbonation per unit volume in fountain drinks to deal with dilution from melting ice...I love fountain coke, and can't stand it from bottles and cans. However, McD's coke *is* better than a lot of fountain coke...anyone have any younger siblings employed there? It shouldn't be too hard to scope out the equipment manuals...
posted by hototogisu at 5:16 PM on September 8, 2005

Best answer: Having (sadly) worked as a manager at McD's, and the person primarily responsible for the Martin Brower shipments (they not only deliver the food product, but also packaging, soda syrup, and the CO² for the fountains) I used to be the one that would help clean-out both the syrup distribution and fountain systems. On average, at the restaurants I worked for, all of these components were cleaned on a weekly basis by well trained staff. My guess is that (and I really do not know for sure) either other restaurants do not check these systems that often (and they should, at least for safety sake) or the staff that are responsible are not very good at their job (part-time students, young managers etc.).

Here's how the soda fountain system worked at the McD's I worked for (and, I suspect, at most restaurants):

Note: It's been over 7 years since I've stepped foot into a McD's or any other fast food restaurant so this description may not be accurate any longer.

If you look around the side of a restaurant (usually near their loading dock/area) you'll probably notice a small panel or hose. This is for the CO² fill-up. The delivery person usually has a special key or code to unlock this panel in order to attach the hose. Once attached, the CO² is stored in cannisters either on the roof, in a well protected area in the basement, or in a adjunct area off the restaurant (I personally prefer the latter).

The syrup is shipped in smallish brown boxes about 2" feet long, 1" foot in length and depth. They are very re-enforced as they hold a thick plastic sack that contains the syrup. At one end of the box there is a small cutout for the plug. As far as I know, these boxes are fairly standard for all restaurants that carry a certain product. They are marked as manufacturer, not McD's. These are attached, via the plug, to a pressurized system somewhere in the restaurant that immediately starts sucking the syrup up into distribution nodes. In some restaurants, the length that syrup and CO² will travel to a fountain at the front of the restaurant is quite far (in one restaurant, it was probably over 200').

The CO² pressure is checked at the time of fill-up (at least once a week). Again, this is done by the delivery person (these people are usually well-trained in these tasks and are responsible for more than one restaurant). When a fountain tab is pressed it releases the pressure on the CO² and the syrup stored at the distribution nodes. They combine in carefully metered amounts at the fountain where it is mixed with the amount of water that each type of soda requires (the water is the variable factor as the syrup and CO² concentration are fairly standard).
posted by purephase at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

McDonald's has always been my favorite place to get a Coke too, if I am driving around and I am thirsty I'd pull into the drive through.

That is until moving to Central Florida. The taste of the ice makes the whole drink taste like sugary swamp water. I love the freezing cold of the drink but I have to get it without ice and it just isn't the same.
posted by Jazz Hands at 5:54 PM on September 8, 2005

I and my friends, all Coke addicts from a young age, all think McD Coke is far and away the best. So you are not alone.

Thanks for that tech. info, purephase. I have always wondered why it's so good at McD, and you info. would tend to suggest maintenance. (It'd almost have to if the Coke syrup boxes are the same).
posted by teece at 6:18 PM on September 8, 2005

IIRC the bigger straws at McDs are because of their shakes.
posted by deborah at 6:22 PM on September 8, 2005

I have also attributed it to the fat McDonald's straws.

My theory is that the fatter straw allows more CO2 to get to you with each pull (bigger bubbles), which changes the texture of the Coke, and also plays into the salty flavor scody mentioned.

I'm pretty sure that the Coke formula isn't tweaked for anything (such as geographic regions), but the fountain formula is definitely different than the bottled formula. I'd be surprised if McD's had their own slightly different formula, but I wouldn't be shocked -- McD is a financial powerhouse.

I also have a theory for the reason for the fat straw, which is that it allows you to drink faster, which increases the chance that you'll finish your drink before the "full" signal is sent, increasing the possibility that you'll want more (more Coke, or more food, whatever). Whether you buy more or not is almost beside the point -- you'll remember that desire, which will weigh in McD's favor in the future.

I eat at McD's about twice a year, so, yes, I think about this stuff a little too much too.
posted by o2b at 6:25 PM on September 8, 2005

although, now that I see deborah's comment, the fat straws help out with the shakes quite bit, so maybe they lucked into it all.
posted by o2b at 6:28 PM on September 8, 2005

I have taken the liberty of emailing rob, the proprietor of, to request scientific inquiry into this important subject. Face it, we need an expert here.
posted by theora55 at 6:37 PM on September 8, 2005

I'll be damned. I thought that I was the only one who thought this.
posted by puddinghead at 6:42 PM on September 8, 2005

If any of you are ever driving around Southwestern Connecticut, stop at a Duchess (local fast food chain) and get one of their Cokes. Waaaay better than McD's, I promise. (And yes, I've tried them both enough to taste a difference and choose a favorite.) Even my mom raves about Coke from Duchess, and she's pretty picky.
posted by AlisonM at 7:13 PM on September 8, 2005

It's not the cups, as the Coke at McD's tastes the same whether it's a paper cup, a thin plastic cup (large size) or rigid plastic cup (super/summer size).

It's not the straw -- drinking a Burger King or Wendy's Coke with a McD's straw doesn't produce any noticeable change in taste.

What I've noticed is that the taste of McD's Coke changes substantially if you order it without ice. What scody characterized as a "salty" taste I've always thought was a chlorine taste, like you get from municipal tap water in some cities. Given that and the connection I've found between taste and ice content, I've thought that it might have something to do with the filtration system that water goes through before getting to the icemaker or before it's used to clean the soda dispensing system.
posted by Dreama at 7:45 PM on September 8, 2005

has anyone noticed that drinks at Jack in the Box have a cooking oil aftertaste?
posted by Satapher at 9:46 PM on September 8, 2005

Best answer: It's definitely the quality control. I used to work with a company that does promotions for both McDonalds and Coca-Cola. At one time they wanted to do a promotion centering around the two companies close relationship and careful inspections and quality control to make sure that "McDonalds has the best Coke." Unfortunately, the promotion never took place. Maybe something having to do with trying to find a way of saying "McDonalds has the best Coke" that sounded better than...well..."McDonalds has the best 'Coke'"?
posted by edjusted at 10:21 PM on September 8, 2005

Not only does McDonald's have the best Coke, they also have the best Mello Yello.

(I concur with the findings in this thread. McDonald's is really the only fast-food restaurant I'll order Coke at.)
posted by neckro23 at 10:36 PM on September 8, 2005

edjusted has clearly dominated this thread, but I'm just throwing this out: I know that the fountain version of sodas is always slightly different. Maybe McDonald's gets the fountain version and the rest use the normal? (It's kind of borderline which kind a fast food place should get, I'd think)
posted by abcde at 10:46 PM on September 8, 2005

Very true... I always wondered why cola was better at Mac!
posted by webmeta at 11:27 PM on September 8, 2005

I have never noticed this. But then, I only drink diet soda. Diet Pepsi being the preference. Subway's fountain Diet Pepsi is good.
posted by Radio7 at 6:05 AM on September 9, 2005

Well, having worked far more fast food and eaten far more fast food than is really good for me, I'll say that Burger King's cups (except their king size, which is plastic) seem to deteriorate rather quickly, releasing nasty waxy stuff. If you're just drinking one glass rather quickly with your meal, OK, if you're a poor college student who gets a lot of refills & wants to take a cup home with you, they get nasty.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:19 AM on September 9, 2005

It is really weird that so many of us have thought the same thing (that Coke tastes better at McDogBalls). I've also attributed it to the larger straws, but I guess that theory is pretty easy to test (use the McD straw with somebody else's fountain Coke). Anybody else (from the Old Days) ever like to get water at McD's fountain because it would taste like the orange soda?
posted by spock at 10:31 PM on September 9, 2005

I'd always assumed that the syrup:water ratio was higher at McD's than at other places and that they got a special 'dispensation' from Coke allowing them to do this.

McD's Coke is definitely the best, that's not in dispute.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:59 PM on September 9, 2005

I am late to this party, but I wanted to add my $0.02 as I have spent way too much time thinking about this in the past and testing theories.

I am in the straw camp. Sure, it helps the shakes and the taste of the coke is affected as an aside. I now collect extra straws everytime I am in McD's with my kids. I use them whenever I drink any soda product including seltzer. It increasing the amount of carbonation coming into my mouth at any one time. It changes the "bite" of the soda. I have no scientific basis for this (or anything I do) but I am sure of it as I am sure that a bear uses the woods.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:10 PM on July 19, 2006

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