Coronavirus likely has ended the soda fountain era at McDonald’s

McDonald’s Corp. likely won’t offer help-yourself soda fountain drinks at any of its 14,000 restaurants nationwide after implementing new health safety guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

Last week, McDonald's released 59 pages of instructions that spell out sanitation protocols as thousands of franchisees prepare to reopen their dining rooms as national virus lockdowns are eased, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The restaurant’s reopening plan will enforce social distancing measures in the dining areas and keep beverage bars “closed or sectioned off” or “staffed in restaurants,” meaning customers probably shouldn’t expect to walk in and pour a fountain drink in cases where a staff member cannot be regularly deployed to spray and wipe down the machine.

The world’s largest fast-food chain acknowledged the potential difficulty of continuously sanitizing the beverage bar as more customers file in and out of the lobby, each with the potential to contaminate utensils and equipment.

Employees are also now responsible for cleaning the bathrooms every half hour.

“From the beginning of the crisis in February our safety and sanitation practices have been informed by guidance from both our own third-party contagious disease experts and the CDC,” the McDonald’s release read. “Now, we’re evolving these health and safety guidelines further by implementing nationwide standards for restaurant operations across all 14,000 U.S. restaurants.”

McDonald’s has maintained drive-thru service since virus lockdowns began in mid-March, with company President Joe Erlinger saying “many people are depending on us right now for a hot meal.”

“Since the pandemic began, my team and I have been meeting three times a day to evaluate and adjust our plans while also adopting best practices from our franchisees and global markets. To date, we have implemented nearly 50 process changes in restaurants and increased training for restaurant crew. Now, as cities and states begin to ease restrictions, we are moving thoughtfully and judiciously with guidance provided by local authorities.”

Why we picked this story

At our morning team huddle, we discuss stories that are “talkers.” People are primed to look for driving forces in the world, ones that we can explain through our collective experience. This is one example.

Carbonated fountain drinks have been around in America since the early 1800s.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, they were still popular in just about all restaurants, concession stands and convenience stores.

In the 1940s and 1950s, soda fountains were more widespread in pharmacies, candy stores, department stores, train stations and such. Venues that sold soda in those days were considered an important public space where neighbors could socialize and catch up on gossip.

The machines have long been a mainstay at the home of the Big Mac.

McDonald’s began selling fountain drinks after Ray Kroc, the company’s first franchisee, struck up a deal with Coke in 1955 to sell its soft drinks at the young chain, helping both companies become two of the most-recognized brands in the world.