Is McDonald's nixing free refills? Here's what to know as chain phases out self-serve drink machines


McDonald's is nixing self-serve beverage stations from its U.S. fast-food restaurants, and some locations may soon begin charging for refills.

The fast-food chain announced plans last year to slowly remove the machines, with a goal of eliminating them from all stores by 2032. Some Golden Arches franchise holders away from self-serve drinks, the State Journal Register, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported last year.

Now, McDonald's says you may encounter charges for drink refills, depending on which location you go to.

Individual franchisees will decide whether their restaurant will charge for refills, the company confirmed to USA TODAY via email Tuesday.

The company's motivation for doing away with self-serve machines is to foster a consistent experience across all methods of ordering − delivery, mobile, kiosk, drive-thru or dine-in, the company previously said.

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Some McDonald's have already eliminated self-serve drink stations

For now, customers who visit most locations can still pour their own drinks and top them off, but some stores have already have begun the transition.

“It’s an evolution towards convenience and (the result of) the growth of digital service,” Mikel Petro, who operates more than a dozen McDonald’s in central Illinois, previously told the USA TODAY Network.

Last fall, one of Petro’s locations in Lincoln − − had crew members fill dine-in customers’ initial soft drink order and deliver it to the table along with their meal.

Several McDonald's franchise holders confirmed the company plans to slowly remove self-serve drink machines from some locations and plans to eliminate them from all stores by 2032.

At that time, Petro said, remodel project at that store was slated to start in October to install a behind-the-counter drink station for crew members to fill drinks.

Announcement comes after McDonalds pledged to focus on affordability

According to its website, the company has and employs globally.

The move comes after the fast-food mogul announced it planned to focus on affordability after soaring prices drove some customers away.

The uptick in cost in recent years resulted in less revenue from low-income customers and reduced foot traffic in stores. As a result, Chief Executive Officer Chris Kempczinski said in a late April first-quarter that McDonald's has to be "laser focused on affordability."

In May, the company promised to lower prices and said it would explore additional ways to win customers back.

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'McDonald's has lost its mind'

The announcement to eliminate self-serve drink stations and potentially charge for refills drew swift reaction on social media.

"McDonald's made over $25 billion in profits this year, but they're charging for soda refills. Absurd," one X user posted.

Another person "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 it's mind."

Some users reported their local McD's do not have self-serve drink stations or have not had them for for a while.

"My local McDonald's stopped free refills years ago," one person posted on X.

"One of our local McDonald's doesn't have a drink machine in the restuarant, you have to ask for refills at the counter," another person posted on the social media site.

Contributing: Mary Walrath-Holdridge, Gabe Hauari and Natalie Morris

Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at nalund@usatoday.com and follow her on X @nataliealund.