The Fast-Food Water Cup

Generally speaking, I do not consider asking for a glass of water to be an outlandish request.

For starters, it’s not like water is scarce. It is actually the most abundant resource on the planet. And it’s not like drinking water is abnormal, since consuming several glasses a day is necessary for human survival.

However, the fast-food industry feels differently. And they have collectively decided that ordering water in one of their establishments will include being publicly maligned, stigmatized and hassled whenever possible. Consequently, while I myself usually do not order water at fast food places, I do enjoy watching other people order water.

Let’s be honest here, nobody orders water on the basis of taste. In fact, even though water has no taste whatsoever, it still somehow manages to taste horrible when mixed with fast food. I don’t know why, but it does. Everyone knows this. So as I see it, people choosing to order water at a Burger King generally have one of these afflictions:

1. Overt Cheapness.
2. Misplaced Health Consciousness.

Now, I can understand why the fast-food industry doesn’t want to cater to either of these demographics. As for the first group, it takes a flamboyantly cheap individual to prolong the wait in line for everyone else by deviating from the Value Meal menu and individually ordering all the components of the Value Meal, except for the soda, just to save forty cents.

Naturally, the cashiers are prepared for this trick and always have a head shake or eye roll ready. This seems to be the universal reaction to ordering water at a fast food place. I firmly believe that this is actually part of the employee training.

As for the second group, there are actually people that believe that they are making a healthy decision by opting for water over a soft drink. Yes, I will admit, water is healthier than Coke. Hell, drinking paint thinner is healthier than Coke. My point is that a patron abandons any pretense of a healthy lifestyle the instant they walked through the door of a McDonald’s or Burger King. Ordering water or asking for an extra piece of lettuce on a triple Whopper won’t change that.

They’re not fooling anyone. Simply put, ordering water with a fast food meal does not make you health-conscious. It makes you health-oblivious. It’s like smoking a pack of cigarettes outside, so that you can get some fresh air while you inhale cancer.

Having to begrudgingly serve water to these types of customers ultimately inspired the fast-food industry to innovate. Since they were unable to taint or poison the water itself, they focused their efforts on the cup it was served in. They wanted to somehow make a cup that was small, inconvenient, and even subtly insulting to their customers. Soon, they invented a product borne of their collective hatred of water drinkers: the fast-food water cup.

The first step in the process involved training the cashiers. Whenever water is ordered, the cashier should slowly hand the water cup over, smirk at you in condescension, and fold his arms. This is done to draw unwanted attention to the patron in front of the other customers. Honestly, I think certain cashiers live for this moment. Let’s face it, being an employee at a fast food restaurant is generally unfulfilling, until a water order provides an opportunity of comeuppance. Since they generally don’t have real employee benefits, like health care, this is the only perk they get.

Here is a typical example of the sarcastic customer service a water drinker will receive:

Cashier: “Ok, here is your change sir. And here is your FREE water cup. Would you also like some ketchup packets or a coffee stirrer? Those items are also FREE!

As I mentioned earlier, this is actually part of the employee training, as it seems to pervade every restaurant I’ve ever been in. It’s a tossup whether the cashier has been instructed on how to make change or operate the register, but they unfailingly have been taught how to persecute water drinkers.

Second, as further proof that fast-food places hate serving water just look at the cup they give you. In most cases, you can see the cup dispenser by the register: small, medium, large and extra large cups are waiting. This is just a tease. When water is ordered, notice that they don’t just hand you the cup used for a small soft drink. They actually go to the trouble to stock a special water cup. And as you might expect, it’s smaller than their small cup for soft drinks. It’s even smaller than their child-sized cups.

This provides a second opportunity to humiliate the consumer. Forcing a grown man to be seen with a tiny water cup is pretty emasculating. Seriously, try picking up a woman while holding a ridiculously small cup of water. I guarantee you won’t get far.

On top of that, none of the lids will fit the water cup. So not only must the consumer hassle around getting refills after every third sip, they must also do so with the risk of crotch spills from the lack of lid. And during these trips to the crowded beverage station every two minutes, there will be plenty of awkward encounters with other patrons trying to get refills for the soft drinks they actually paid money for. Ideally, a few frustrated sighs from the people behind the water drinker should help reiterate the fact that they are a second-class citizen at Burger King.

Also, it should be noted that the fast-food water cup is always completely generic and made from plain Styrofoam. They don’t even bother to print their logo on it like their other cups. It’s like the fast food companies don’t want to be associated, in any way, with water. Apparently, water is bad for their image. And the last thing they want is for their brand to be tied to the deadbeats and health-obnoxious people that order it.

Finally, if you do want water with your meal, they won’t even go to the trouble of charging you for it. Sure, even though it’s water, there are costs involved. The cup, for instance. Actually, that’s pretty much it. They could charge you for the cup. But they don’t. And they do it to insure themslelves the right to publicly humiliate the consumers that try to get free water from them.

Keep this in mind next time you dine on fast-food. I don’t know, it seems like you’d be better off just paying the 40 cents.

9 thoughts on “The Fast-Food Water Cup”

  1. Many Fast Food restarunts I’ve seen give you a clear cup so they can make sure cheap bastards don’t cheat the system by “Dewing the Dew” or get Coke “Always” (I’m just a product of marketing slogans). God Bless you Sprite!

    That little water lever is a bit of a pain sometimes! And they NEVER put the water lever under the Sprite fountain…check it out yourself.

  2. I’m with you all on this one. That’s why I am in constant battle with the fast food industry. But my war is fought on the sly, in the small confines between the counter and the soda fountain and condiment island. Amidst this battlefield, I’ve amassed a few tactics to get back at them for their constant barrage of humiliation.

    First, if they reach to give me the tap water thimble cup, I immediately ask for ice in it. If they have control over the ice, they instantly realize that it is impossible to put even just one cube of normal size ice in this cup so they toss it aside and grab a small soda cup.

    If that fails and they give me the dixie cup, I go Solo (see comment above) all over them. I don’t care if they see me. I don’t even try to hide it. Gimme the Hi-C Orange flavored drink in there, with its almost neon-like glow. And if I am still thirsty. I’ll just stand there and get a couple swigs in. I have never been hassled while doing this. I’m guessing that is because two thimbles of soda costs less than the electricity to run the ice machine.

    Third, if I get the normal size water cup, I also fill it with soda because I lied to the cash register attendant about my intentions with the cup. I was never going to get water. Water and fast food go together like McNuggets and kangeroos. And some part of me like to stick it to them for all their manipulative business practices.

  3. I love how you people are talking about “sticking it to the fast food industry.” Yes, fountain pop probably costs 12 cents to fill up a 20 oz size cup, but either way, you just paid $7.00 for a big mac and fries. Why should those restaurants give you free cups? Those cups aren’t free to them….and stop complaining about not getting a logo and a lid….that probably doubles the cost. And you bastards that are soooo sneaky to put orange pop in your “water” cup…….what’s your address so I can send you a dollar, because you obviously need it more than I do.

  4. I think you left out one more affliction:
    3. Carbonation
    I often order water because I don’t really care for carbonation of soda pops. Sometimes I will get lemonade if they have it, but I also really don’t care for FF establishment’s ice tea.

  5. I work at Tim hortons in Canada and we don’t give out water unless its in a mug. If they want it in any sized cup they have to pay 18 cents for the Tim bit, but get the cup instead. Places are concerned about stock to make sure no one is stealing coffee and etc so if cups are randomly dispersed then it will ruin the stock of cups and think they are improperly given away or something. So that’s where the NON counted small water cups come in, where as many can be given away as liked. Maybe its because I’m Canadian, but I’ve never been given dirty looks for getting water, even from my trip to NYC that I just got back from yesterday. Thanks.

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