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McDonald's is getting rid of self-serve drinks and some locations may charge for refills

McDonald's to launch $5 meal promo amid rising fast food prices
McDonald's to launch $5 meal promo amid rising fast food prices 00:47

McDonald's is transitioning away from self-serve beverage stations and some locations may start to charge for refills that were once free.

The fast food giant will slowly remove self-serve beverage stations – fountain drink dispensers – and be completely rid of the stations by 2032. 

The change, a representative for McDonald's told CBS News via email, is intended to make customer experiences consistent no matter where you order – on the app, in the drive-thru, in the restaurant or other methods.

Without the drink dispensers, in-restaurant customers can't pour themselves their own drinks – and individual franchises have the power to decide if they will charge for refills, the McDonald's rep said.

Darren Tristano, CEO of Foodservice Results, which conducts research on the food service industry, said he thinks other fast food chains will follow McDonald's lead. "McDonald's is a leader and most other fast food chains are fast followers," he told CBS News via email. 

Some social media users have shared photos of the barren countertops at their local McDonald's where the self-serve drink station once sat. Others expressed outrage over the change, with a Reddit thread on the matter racking up nearly 350 comments. "Seriously, this is such a bad idea. This is a huge reason I would choose McDonalds over another option. Shooting themselves in the foot with this one," one person wrote.

"This is the last straw," another quipped.

One person said in the Netherlands, they never had free refills at McDonald's – and other people from Europe agreed. 

Others pointed out that's up to individual franchises to decide – so some locations might not charge for refills. 

In 2023, McDonald's reported global comparative sales increased 9% for the year and had grown more than 30% since 2019.

Still, the company announced earlier this year that foot traffic to its restaurants had slowed as inflation increased. Many fast food chains have boosted prices in recent months, but to try and lure people back into its stores, McDonald's introduced last week a $5 meal promo.

CBS has reached out to McDonald's for more information on how many franchises are expected to charge for refills. The majority of McDonald's 14,300 restaurants are franchises. The company employs a whopping 2 million people at the restaurants and another 150,000 employees at its corporate offices.

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