Is soda water soda or water?
January 19, 2008 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Is soda water free at fast food restaurants?

When you say you just want water at a fast food restaurant, is it okay to take soda water?

I know that people say "just water" at fast food restaurants all the time and then just take whatever soda they want, and while I assume that nobody has EVER been thrown out of a fast food restaurant for filling up their "just water" cup with a soft drink, that's still stealing. Is it stealing if you take soda water?

The problem is a lot of places give you a clear plastic cup when you say "just water" (to discourage you from stealing soda?) and when you fill it up with soda water it looks like you're stealing Sprite or 7-Up or whatever.

Where does water end and where does soda begin? I think that's the essential question here. Does soda begin at carbonation or at the addition of syrup?

P.S. I have tried asking cashiers about this and they have met the question with blank stares.
posted by hypocritical ross to Food & Drink (24 answers total)
 
Take the soda water. The soda costs them about one cent a glass, they aren't losing any sleep over soda water thiefs.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:54 PM on January 19, 2008


I worked at McDonald's once. I am 95% sure we didn't charge for soda water.

P.S. I have tried asking cashiers about this and they have met the question with blank stares.

Sounds like you're in the clear.
posted by jpdoane at 12:56 PM on January 19, 2008


The soda costs them about one cent a glass, they aren't losing any sleep over soda water thiefs.

This isn't about cost or the sleeping habits of fast food workers. This is about ethics.
posted by hypocritical ross at 1:13 PM on January 19, 2008


It's not stealing if you inform them of your intentions and they aren't telling you NOT to do it.
posted by desjardins at 1:16 PM on January 19, 2008


I doubt they care, but just ask the manager. "Hey, I like to drink water, and I know you give out plain water free, is it OK if I take soda water too?"

There is a slightly higher cost involved in carbonating the water, I doubt they'll care. The cup costs more...
posted by gjc at 1:23 PM on January 19, 2008


To the question of where water ends and soda begins, I say soda begins at carbonation. I wouldn't say water if I wanted something carbonated, but that could just be because I prefer still water.
posted by harrumph at 1:24 PM on January 19, 2008


What is or isn't free isn't universal across all fast food restaurants, even within the same franchise (e.g., here is a McDonald's that charges for regular water).

P.S. I have tried asking cashiers about this and they have met the question with blank stares.

That's the crux of it right there. If they don't know what you're talking about (which probably means there's no button on their register menu that corresponds to your request) then you're in the clear. There's no reason you should expect to know more about your responsibilities as a customer than the employees.

while I assume that nobody has EVER been thrown out of a fast food restaurant for filling up their "just water" cup with a soft drink

As an aside, I have seen people thrown out of fast food restaurants for this.
posted by camcgee at 1:37 PM on January 19, 2008


When you've asked cashiers about it, has it been at places that you're sure serve soda water? Because I don't know that I've ever been in a fast food place that sells soda water (except maybe individual bottles of Perrier or San Pellegrino), so I can see how a cashier would be confused. But maybe it's just not very common where I live.
posted by korres at 1:38 PM on January 19, 2008


^ camcgee has the right answer, ethically. If the cashier doesn't have a product code to punch in for it, it's free to take within reason.
posted by panamax at 1:39 PM on January 19, 2008


In the phrase "soda water", the word "soda" is being used to modify the word "water", so it's still technically water; you're ethically in the clear.

If an employee tres to argue with you about this, say in the most grating, high-pitched voice you can, "SODA WATER! THIS IS TECHNICALLY WATER. EXACT WORDS, EMPLOYEE, EXACT WORDS."
posted by Greg Nog at 1:41 PM on January 19, 2008


(korres, some self-serve drink fountains have a small "soda" bypass tab that vends unflavored soda water, which in most places is configured to just vend filtered tap water)
posted by panamax at 1:42 PM on January 19, 2008


Ethically... make up your own mind! If you don't feel like what you're doing is right, then don't do it. It's a subjective world out there, and you're allowed to have your own opinion.

As far as my own opinion goes, I'd say you're in the clear.

And as a side note, where do you even get just soda water?
posted by joshrholloway at 2:03 PM on January 19, 2008


Maybe I should have clarified this, but I'm talking about situations where the soda machine is self-serve.

I guess maybe this isn't as common as I thought (I live in Chicago for what that's worth), but at some restaurants they have a dedicated tap on the soda dispenser that just says "Soda" on it. I run into this at what I guess would be considered "high end" fast food places (Corner Bakery, Au Bon Pain, etc) but I've seen them all over.
posted by hypocritical ross at 2:17 PM on January 19, 2008


In most self-serve situations I've encountered, that is, where the pop machine has plain carbonated water as a choice among the colas, you pay for the cup before you can pour. So whether you're going to fill it with Diet Pepsi or just soda water, you should probably still pay the piper, as those cups do cost the restaurant some money.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:21 PM on January 19, 2008


I drink soda water when I can, mostly because pop is too sweet for me, and the answer to your question is that some places care and some places don't. I got yelled at once when a restaurant in Lansing (Qdoba or something?) thought I was taking Sprite, and they demanded to taste it when I told 'em it was just carbonated water. The assistant manager got indignant, but the manager didn't care and told me I was fine. I don't think most places have a real policy on the issue, and only get pissed off if you're stealing flavored soda. So I pretty much do it without asking, and when it comes up I just don't return to the restaurant.
posted by klangklangston at 2:34 PM on January 19, 2008


Ethics has NOTHING to do with whether there is a button on the register or SKU on the product. Is it free to take the Equal packets because they don't charge for them? No, of course not. It's their soda water, ask the manager if it's free or not. In 99% of cases, the head manager of the store makes these sorts of policy decisions, ask that person.
posted by gjc at 3:41 PM on January 19, 2008


I have never seen fast food places that had soda water on its own, but I'm in Canada.

However, *I* have thrown people out for filling a water glass with pop. It was so bad when I worked at one place that I started using a big fat felt pen to mark Xs on the water cup, so that I could spot offenders from across the restaurant. We kicked people out all the time. 15 years later, I have no idea why I cared.
posted by acoutu at 3:45 PM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know what makes me crazy? When you ask for a water and they will only sell you a bottle. Urg.
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:26 PM on January 19, 2008


The restaurant isn't "losing" money when you take the soda, they're just not gaining the additional money that you would have paid them to take it. The actual product itself is essentially worthless. That goes for Coke too. The chemicals that differentiate soda from water cost next to nothing. The distribution and packaging systems we build around brand name sodas incur costs, but that's about it. The psychology of consumerism makes certain products have a perceived "value", but you can't count on that relating to what the product actually costs to produce.
Anyway, my point is, water is free in America because we've all decided that's how it works. If you were to change that and start charging the same amount, people would get upset. But that's all just a decision we've made. It doesn't really reflect the cost of soda versus water. And where that line lies is a frail psychological one.
As far as your question: probably best to ask the person when you order. Or buck the system and steal that soda. As I said, we're all getting screwed by the intractable Soda Water Lobbyists and their Evil Scheme.

Did I mention they kill and eat bunnies? But just their ears. The rest goes to line the inside of their Hummer's tires.
posted by dosterm at 5:48 PM on January 19, 2008


>Is it free to take the Equal packets because they don't charge for them? No, of course not

huh? Why do they put them out then?
posted by panamax at 1:32 AM on January 20, 2008


No. Regular water is free because it comes from the tap. Soda water doesn't. Therefore, not free.
posted by sophist at 2:36 AM on January 20, 2008


I don't know that I've ever been in a fast food place that sells soda water

Most self serve fountains have a non-carbonated drink such as lemonade, with a small tab that you can use to get just water. There is also usually an identical small tab on the sprite/sierra mist that likewise dispenses unflavored carbonated water. I suspect that many people don't know this - I didn't until I worked at McDonald's.


There are two good answers to your question, depending on how ethically conservative you want to be:

#1 Order "soda water". Explain what it is if you have to. Pay what they charge you (I'd be shocked if it wasn't nothing).

#2 Order water. Avoid the hassle. Take soda water. Enjoy.
posted by jpdoane at 9:14 AM on January 20, 2008


I think I will most like continue to go with option #2. Thanks guys!
posted by hypocritical ross at 10:46 AM on January 20, 2008


As somebody who works in McDonalds, I would have to say that unless you are being served by a high ranking manager, nobody really gives a fig! I am sure if you ask (particularly at a busy time) then the person serving will give you it without comment to keep the queue moving.
posted by pocketfluff at 10:16 AM on January 21, 2008


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