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February 22nd, 2006

Free Water Cup Abuse

It’s a common but unadvertised practice for take-out restaurants to offer free water with your meal. You can simply ask for it by name when you’re purchasing your meal, and you’ll get a small – usually styrofoam – cup of water. If the restaurant has an open fountain, you can help yourself to water.

It always dawned on me that the free water cup would be an easy way to get, say, free soda. After all, the only thing stopping you from getting Coke instead of water is your conscience. But Pingers, it really bothers me when I see people abusing the free water cup.

A couple of weeks ago while dining out, I noticed a woman who clearly had iced tea in her see-through water cup. And it really bothered me. This wasn’t a mom-and-pop restaurant, but it was still wrong. I wondered why that woman went ahead and did that, instead of just ordering an iced tea. Why lie? Something for nothing?

Don’t worry – I stared down her iced tea every chance I got.

Posted in Consumer Commentary

FROM: Joseph
DATE: Wednesday February 22, 2006 -- 10:59:56 am

She should have at least been smart and gotten one of the clear sodas to put in her free water cup, like I do.

FROM: Steve A.
DATE: Thursday February 23, 2006 -- 3:09:32 pm
Being a chef I've seen it all. I even knew of a customer in Virginia who would frequent a well known chain (I didn't work there, but had friends who did) who would ask for either water and LOTS of lemon, then make lemonade with the sugar packets at hand or a cup of HOT water and use a tea bag she had brought along for the specific purpose.

It irks me too. We figure beverages as part of our food cost. Yup, every time you get more refills it's coming out of the "kitchen's pocket." Granted, there's a formula to use, and basically each guest drinks about two to three glasses of any beverage, but nonetheless, if a customer doesn't pay, someone else does ~ one way or another.


FROM: Larry
DATE: Thursday February 23, 2006 -- 11:02:21 pm
I was a manager for a fast food restaurnt for 12 years and when anyone tried to get soda with the "clear" water cup I would go up to them and demand payment or get the cup back! These people were stupid! when they put Coke or other beverages! if you are going to do that at least put in Sprite it looks like water!

FROM: Joseph
DATE: Thursday February 23, 2006 -- 11:10:23 pm
at least put in Sprite it looks like water!

See? Even employees who are supposed to enforce the water cup rule appreciate reasonable soda heisting. You can have it, just don't make me look stupid or unattentive!

Actually, I only did the free clear soda thing at a certain Taco Bell that probably blew down during Hurricane Katrina anyway. I don't usually drink soda anyway, so I'm not motivated to steal it. But at this Taco Bell, the water always tasted strongly of bleach. Their soda did, too, but at least the soda masked it a bit.

If they did it the bleach taste accidentally, then they owe me the soda for the undrinkable water, in my book. If they did it on purpose, so that I'd give up on the water and buy soda instead, well, screw them! But I still took Sierra Mist instead of inviting investigation by taking something colored.

FROM: Cat [E-Mail]
DATE: Friday February 24, 2006 -- 1:29:51 pm
Steve: I'm not sure why the hot water thing is a problem? They aren't stealing anything, they're just not ordering your tea.

For various reasons, there are often few drink choices for me at a restaurant. I've never done it, but it would be nice to have a cup of my favorite tea with dinner. Well, except that I hate tea. But you get the idea.

FROM: Merle [E-Mail]
DATE: Sunday February 26, 2006 -- 10:40:02 am
Cat: the problem is that profit margins on food are pretty small, but on soft drinks it is enormous. A glass of soda might cost ten cents for them to produce (including staff time), and the expectation is that some good percentage of customers will buy sodas -- just as the expectation of waiters is that there will be a tip.

Movie theatres are the same way. Some actually take a loss showing movies, because the distributors charge so much for them. But since half of the people there buy a popcorn and a soda, they can make up for it by charging extra for those.

FROM: Cat [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday February 28, 2006 -- 10:17:17 am
Sorry, but I don't feel I should be obligated to buy any particular thing at a restaurant, and it absolutely irks me that a restaurateur should feel some entitlement in this matter. But then I don't buy movie food either (though I would if it weren't ridiculously priced).

FROM: Paul
DATE: Tuesday February 28, 2006 -- 12:13:24 pm
See, I don't see a problem with getting hot water and BYOT (Tea, of course). Not at all. What if you only have that sugary-sweet crap being passed off as tea? What if you don't have a beverage I want? I'm not going to bring in a Pepsi if you sell Coke (as I'm sure that's not allowed, somehow) but my using your hot water is, in my opinion, no big whoop.

Milo April 6, 2007, 1:13 am

A little background, this is at Jack-in-the-Box. I eat there 2 to 3 times every week. I’ve been told that they have problems with kids doing this. They even went for a period of time where they wouldn’t give out water cups. Also, it has affected me in the past, because I usually put ice in the water cup, and mix my sugar with tea in the other. After mixing, I poor the tea in the ice and drink. But, because of these guys, they made it difficult to do that. Management recognized me, and just gave me two soda cups. That was their solution in the past.

Well, 3 college kids came in. Two got water cups, and filled them full with coke, and while standing at the machine, drank and refilled. They offered some to a third friend, while I was standing behind them, and he replied, “no thanks, I don’t steal”. Hearing those words, set me off.

I walked up to the group, and told them I too did not appreciate them stealing.

They said it wasn’t really stealing.

I said it was.

They said, it doesn’t cost hardly anything.

I said it didn’t matter, you didn’t pay for it, it’s stealing.

We talked a little more, then I grabbed my drink and walked up to the front counter to speak to management.

Front counter was busy, so I sat down, waited a few minutes until things were less busy, and I walked up and told management.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t have a happy ending. Today, the manager was a lady who speaks mostly spanish, and didn’t quite understand me. I realized this when I went up to get my food, and I’m guessing she heard water cup, and just put an additional one on my tray.

Oh well. I was so upset, it ruined my lunch (though I ate it all still).

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