The Real Reason Fast Food Restaurants Won't Have Self-Serve Soda Anymore

As dining rooms get ready to reopen around the country and multi-location giants like McDonald's are rethinking their rules for sit-down service, the beloved fountain soda may be a thing of the past — at least when it comes to serving yourself at the standard refill machine that graces most fast-food outlets.

Whereas the motto "help yourself" once prevailed when it came to topping off your soda supply in-store, those laissez-faire attitudes have become yet another casualty in a post-COVID world. Such changes probably don't come as a massive shock: Back in March, Convenience Store News reported that many convenience stores were already "suspending their self-serve food and beverage offerings in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus," with major players like Kwik Trip and 7-Eleven hopping on board.

But whereas those restrictions were previously enacted as precautionary measures, some states are making such changes mandatory as businesses prepare to welcome indoor diners. For example, notes that "a recent interpretation of Indiana's reopening executive order has led to local health departments advising gas stations and other locations" to halt their drink stations. The governor-mandated move, outlined in the state's Back On Track plan, bans everything from self-serve sodas to salad bars (via The Herald Bulletin).

Self-serve sodas are deemed unsafe

Fountain sodas have experienced their share of bad press over the years, from moldy ice machines to roach infestations (via Spoon University). But not many think pieces have been penned regarding the cross-contamination that's possible when you think of dozens or hundreds of diners pushing buttons, grabbing cups and straws, and dumping out ice overloads in an area that's often overlooked when it comes to sanitization procedures.

COVID-19 has brought these realities front and center, and some big-name brands are changing their in-store procedures to keep up. In a statement this week, the CEO of Restaurant Brands International (RBI), owner of Popeyes, Burger King, and Tim Hortons explains, "We have turned off our self-serve soda fountains and are offering beverages, extra condiments, and trays from behind the front counter" (via The Daily Meal).

According to Eat This, Not That!, there are other changes underway at RBI, like staff members outfitted in face masks and gloves, while Waffle House is doing away with their place mat menus. These adjustments may be only the tip of the iceberg for restaurants that are gearing up to reopen and serve safely once the crowds are allowed back in, but, at least for now, "business as usual" is being thoroughly redefined.