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Your opinions on pricing drink refills?

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My family went to a "50s diner/maltshop" type place last weekend (not a chain). We like this type of place sometimes, and one of the treats for me is to get a vanilla coke. Their pricing was: sodas $2.69, flavored sodas $2.99. However, the plain sodas got free refills and the flavored ones did not.

This was a first for me. I've been to places where both get free refills (or neither), and also where just the difference in price was charged for the refill (meaning, the 2nd drink would have been 30 cents). Needless to say, this did annoy me when we got the bill, but checking the menu showed yes, this was the case, so we paid it, didn't short on the tip at all (although my mother in law tried, but we made sure to cover it) and left. I don't think we'd return though.

Is this the norm and have I just been lucky up until now?

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  1. There is a place by me that serves regular soft drinks in addition to its own hand-crafted sodas, and I believe the refills on the hand-crafted sodas are full price.

    The way I look at it, the restaurant doesn't have to give anyone anything for free, even if it's become customary in many places to offer free refills on non-alcoholic soft drinks. If refills on beverages are not free, though, I think it's wrong for a restaurant to refill a glass without the customer requesting it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rweater

      I totally understand on the hand-crafted sodas. But this is just a fountain Coke with a pump of syrup added to it.

      1. re: lstormont

        And it's the pump of syrup that is the issue. Restaurants that give free refills on fountain soda, do so because the cost to them is miniscule. The pump of syrup probably is not so miniscule, so they charge for it. I don't understand what the issue is. Restaurants don't even have to give free refills on soda. They do, presumably because the chains do, and people have come to expect it. What you are getting is soda+. I would never expect not to pay for it.

    2. I've actually seen the same arrangement at a diner / coffee-shop 'round here - regular sodas come with free refills, flavored sodas = no free refills. I kinda think that they should just charge the difference ($0.30 in your example) to refill the flavored soda, but maybe that's just me.

      At another diner-ish place (sadly now closed - they had grand food!) had a policy that always puzzled me - along with free refills on the sodas, they also offered free refills on both iced tea and lemonade. But they charged full price when I wanted a second Arnold Palmer (half iced tea, half lemonade)! I paid and didn't grumble, but was amused.

      And at a local burger stand, they have one price for sodas and then charge $0.15 more for juices and iced tea ... but only at the drive-thru. In the burger stand, which is a "fill your own drink cup" kinda place, the charge for sodas, juices, and iced tea are all the same (and at the lower price). Guess they figured that it was too much trouble to police who was filling their cup from what machine.

      1. I don't know if this may be a regional thing, but in NYC, I rarely see free refills unless you're at a fast food joint that has a soda fountain for the customers. I have to pay for every extra glass I get. As I don't really drink soda, it's not really an issue for me.

        But I have encountered free refills when I travel. As I'm used to paying for every single glass, I find it to be a treat.

        1. I remember one time my husband and I went to a place that charged for every refill of iced tea- an we didn't know that they started to do so. He and I used to drink about 3-4 glasses each (regular glasses, not mongo huge ones) and always free refills. So..at $1.99 per glass we were shocked when the bill came. This was a diner either in NJ or NYC-and there was really no warning because they didn't bring a new glass each time, they just refilled and marked it down I suppose. We paid, but gave them the hairy eyeball and didn't go back because we Italians can really carry a grudge!!

          Many, many little mom & pop places, chains, and a few $$ places have free fill-ups on soft drinks. Once I took my then-14 yr old nephew to a chain and he ordered root beer one after another. They came in the bottle. The waitress kept them coming like he was at the bar ordering Miller Genuine Drafts! I stopped him after he ordered his 5th bottle because I wanted to make sure he had room for the $19 plate of salmon over pasta he ordered (at a sports-bar mall type chain, he found the most expensive plate on the menu that little sh!t!!) Little did I realize that each bottle set me back around $3. My fault, it was probably on the menu. Was I happy? Of course not, but it wasn't a fountain drink and it was Christmastime- I was slow on the uptake to realize what was happening before I was paying more for his drinks then my $7 soup and salad!

          I only sip water during a meal now (unless it's a wine night) and almost always they put lemon or lime in it at the places we go.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Boccone Dolce

            If his root beers came in individual bottles, why on earth would numbers 2-5 be free? I don't see why you would think they would be free - refills usually refers to soda fountain or from a pitcher type beverages.

            1. re: Catskillgirl

              You are right, bottles aren't free. I never said that I thought they were. I mentioned I didn't actually think of the cost as he was saying "yes" each time she asked if he wanted another one. Just sharing what I thought was an amusing story.

            2. re: Boccone Dolce

              Yeah, I would be mad about the iced tea... especially if I am paying for it, you better bring me a new glass every time! The bottle thing is different, but you realized that.

            3. The discussion is a moot point if you're someplace other than the USA. Drink two glasses of iced tea or soda, pay for two glasses of iced tea or soda.

              I suppose the coffee refills started this expectation "More coffee, hon?". There is a funny gray line as to where it stops. No one has ever topped off my wine-by-the-glass when it empties.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Sherri

                and you don't get coffee refills either anywhere in Europe. You pay for each one. Then again they don't walk around with the coffee pot in Europe it's generally made individually in an espresso machine (thank goodness!).

                1. re: Sherri

                  Typically, soda and iced tea are refilled free b/c the cost of the beverage to the restaurant is almost nil (relative to wine or bottled soda). They're also served very weill iced, which makes a free-refill policy more useful.

                2. If it's marked on the menu, there's no reason for annoyance.

                  1. I suspect restaurants only give free refills because it's the norm in some locales, not because they want to, so it's to be expected they'd take advantage of any reason not to give a free refill.

                    I never drink pop and I don't expect a second anything to be free, but if the server comes with the coffeepot and asks "More coffee?" and adds it to what I still have in the cup I expect it's free. If they ask if I want another coffee and brings a new cup and saucer I definitely expect to pay for it. If I did drink pop and I was being charged for second drinks I'd definitely expect a fresh glass, fresh ice and new garnish.