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Refills To Go at Sit Down Restaurants

I want to get some feedback from my fellow ‘hounds on something. I regularly have lunch with co-workers. I really enjoy their company, and we are great about trying new places as a group, but there are a couple of them that do something that I find a little embarrassing.

At the end of the meal in sit down restaurants after we have paid the bill, they will often ask for an additional soda in a to-go cup. We are a very open with each other as a group and joke with each other all the time. I have called them out for doing this (in fact, I told the group today I was going to post here about it), but they see nothing wrong with it, reasoning that they have paid for a soda with free refills. They usually have at least one refill while we are there; sometimes they have several. In my mind, asking for a refill on the way out the door is inappropriate. Am I right to be embarrassed by this, or do I need to lighten up?

Thanks in advance for your input. We are all looking forward to seeing the responses.

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  1. I think it is fine. We own a restaurant and see plenty of people ask for to go cups and we specifically ask people if they want a to go cup or a refill if they are buying take out before they leave.

    2 Replies
    1. re: vttp926

      We don't ask (and I hardly ever accept if offered) but some places offer. My wife is a fountain soda junkie so it thrills her. I can imagine the cost is way offset by the goodwill it creates.

      1. re: vttp926

        I like it when a server offers me a to-go drink at the end of my meal, but I rarely take advantage of it. It's pretty common where I live.

      2. Well, if I were to get all Emily-Post about it, I'd say that the free refills are intended to apply while dining. Same idea as all-you-can-eat shrimp; but no one's going to let you out the door with a to-go container of that, eh? Fountain soda is cheap enough that the place can shrug it off.

        I wouldn't do it, myself. Seems chintzy.

        1 Reply
        1. re: DuchessNukem

          Agree with DuchessNukem...and others here.

        2. Do they think they're entitled to an endless amount of refills?

          The markup on fountain soda is ridiculous but that isn't the point.
          My feeling is that when the bill has been paid, you're ready to go, then a 'to go' cup and its contents need to be paid for.

          1 Reply
          1. re: latindancer

            That's the way I've always looked at it as well.
            If the server offers it, that's a different story.

          2. I would find something else to worry about or be embarassed about (dining partner flatulance for example)... let the restaurant tell them 'no' if they want to. I actually think it's a win-win. The person is happy feeling they got something extra and the restaurant has a likely repreat customer.
            BTW... I seldom drink soda either out or at home.

            1. My opinion is that asking for somethong so clearly inappropriate lacks class. It is inappropriate because the free refills are normally going into a reusable glass which is already dirty, so there is no extra cost there. And the service is obviously intended to ensure that a diner will have enough to drink with the meal, not to provide for a snack later. I'm surprised a restaurant would go for it. It costs them extra for the to-go cup and lid, and requires extra service. (The cost of the soda itself is a pittance.)

              2 Replies
              1. re: GH1618

                Agree with GH1618

                I thought I had seen it all (at least most) but I have never seen a customer ask for a to go drink cup for a non-alcoholic drink.

                1. re: GH1618

                  I have a favorite lunch spot down the street from my workplace. From the outset when dining there, I will order my diet Pepsi in a to-go cup with lemon, just so I don't have to ask for one later and they don't need to dirty a glass cup on my behalf. They always ask if I'd like a refill before I leave, but I'd never dream of asking them for one. It would make me feel like a total cheapskate.

                2. Once you pay the bill, you're done. You can't ask for extra free food.

                  A restaurant may go along with this request so they don't create unhappiness with a regular customer.

                  This does not mean the customer is acting appropriately.

                  1. To me it indicates a "cheapness" as well as glee of "getting one over on someone" behavior. I would not like it. If the restaurant let's it be though, I guess your best action would be to do that yourself. But do keep in mind that the displayed behavior is present in all their life decisions, so don't be surprised when one of them uses it on something that directly affects you.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Quine

                      I think this may also be a regional thing. I lived most of my life in the Northeast and in Southern Florida and would never have thought to ask for an additional Coke to go after the meal. However, for the past five years I have lived in Texas and I find that people do this regularly. The caveat is that all of the people I have been with only do this for iced tea, not actual soft drinks. I had come to the conclusion that this was a Southern thing based upon years of sweltering heat and no air conditioning and the need to keep cool. I still find it a little odd and have never done so myself.

                      1. re: ronaldpedwards

                        This is a regional difference. In our part of the country (NC specifically), unlimited refills on both soda and ice tea are the norm. In fact, a menu needs to call out specifically if refills are not included. In a casual restaurant it is perfectly normal to either top of your drink before you leave or, less common but still entirely acceptable, to ask for a to-go cup. Sometimes it's even offered without asking.

                        Now I wouldn't do this at a white tablecloth restaurant, but at a quick serve or other casual lunch place? Absolutely. Oh, and I've never seen this done anywhere in the Northeast that I've lived. It just isn't the local custom.

                        1. re: rockycat

                          Yes....the places I do it are common, casual lunch places. Not higher end tablecloth, fancy places.

                          1. re: Janet from Richmond

                            Well, I learned something new today. I spent most of my life living in the northeast and never saw this practice, the exception being at the golf course where "travellers" of beer from the bar and/or leaving the lunch table are the norm.

                          2. re: rockycat

                            In agreement with Rocky and Janet.

                            It is regional and at the discretion of the restaurant.

                            Imagine our shock at paying for refills of itty bitty glasses of soda in a restaurant 'up north' when the menu didn't state anything either way.

                      2. At lunch, if I am at a sit down place I'll ask for my drink in a to-go cup when I order it. Servers don't seem to mind and all of them say "let me top you off" when I pay the check.

                        It annoys my husband though ;-) He sees it the same as you.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Janet from Richmond

                          I've never heard of asking for an extra beverage to go at the end of a sit-down meal, and it strikes me as tacky. Ordering your drink in a to-go cup is less gauche because it implies that you know you are not going to finish your initial serving. It's surprising that a top-off is offered, unless it's hot coffee, so as to keep it warm, though. If I order dessert when I know I only want a couple of bites, I ask that it be served in a to-go container, to save the server the bother of transferring the remainder.

                          1. re: Janet from Richmond

                            Janet, I think it's common in our area - I don't think twice about it.

                            1. re: jeanmarieok

                              At one place, El Paso on Hull Street, they even ask if you want a to-go cup when they bring the bill. That was what prompted me to ask for my drink in a to-go cup when I order it in the first place.

                              I get that for people who live in areas where it's not the norm, it seems odd, but here it's not abnormal at all.

                              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                Yeah, I feel like I should amend my earlier response. I can understand it's normal in some places, so obviously I don't think it's inappropriate or strange in that case.

                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                  Seems like the hotter the climate, the more likely people are to carry drinks around with them. I don't ask for an extra, but if I'm having Subway or something where they give you a to-go cup in the first place, I'll refill it before I walk out the door. I'm not a big fan of soda, so I usually only drink one glass with my meal, and take my 'free refill' with me.

                          2. I find that really inappropriate and I'd be mortified.

                            1. Although I've already replied to this and upon further thought...

                              I see no difference with this than asking for a 'to go' container, after you've paid the bill and begin to leave, for more salad or soup from an all-you-can-eat restaurant.
                              Who would do that?

                              1. Look up the word, schnorrer.

                                1 Reply
                                1. You need to lighten up.

                                  The cost of a serving of fountain soda is somewhere around $0.03.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Josh

                                    Bread is also cheap--would you find it odd if someone asked for more bread and tucked it into his pocket on his way out?

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      'Somewhere around $0.03"

                                      Yeah? So? What's that have to do with what the OP's asking? Price isn't the issue here.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        You might be surprised. Depending on where they buy it, the fountain syrup alone costs about 35 cents per 16-ounce glass in the five-gallon bags.

                                        Add in the cost of the cup, lid and straw -- and believe it or not the water and CO2 (I just did the math using the best prices I could find) -- and it's closer to 45 cents a cup.

                                        I've been pricing it out recently from various distributors for my new place. I always assumed it was about three cents too and was shocked.

                                        1. re: Josh

                                          The cost of a serving of fountain soda is somewhere around $0.03.

                                          this is incorrect.....even if you priced it at an ounce of finished product....and especially if you consider refills, no ice or ice included, paper cup, spillage, staff consumption and etc., which in part, is what this query is about.

                                        2. I'd find it mildly embarrassing. Along the lines of 'well, I paid for the soda with free refills', it'd seem like that's contingent on dining in. And while the soda itself is ridiculously cheap, the containers, lids, and straws are not. Also, I've never seen this in the Southwest.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: prawn

                                            Lived in Texas for 13 years and not only is it common, but most wait staff will ask if you would like a tea or fountain drink in a to-go cup upon presentment of the tab. Also, seen it in other parts of the South/Southwest.

                                            1. re: hawkeyeui93

                                              I've spent a lot of time eating out in Texas and never had a waiter offer a to-go cup along with the tab. I don't do that it has happened, but common? Not in my experience.

                                              1. re: taos

                                                It was so prevalent in my thirteen-plus years in West Texas, I would often ask for a to-go cup at the start of the meal to avoid the extra step of dirtying up a real glass ....

                                          2. It struck me as tacky but apparently it's pretty common after all. Here in Canada very few places even offer the whole free refill thing in the first place (except for coffee at breakfast), and I tend to even forget to ask when in the USA, so my opinion carries little weight here. And I'm not a huge soda person. I do love me some nonsweet tea and I can see the appeal of getting some to go on a hot day. But I hate the idea of extra garbage so I would hesitate to make this a habit, maybe once in a while. It's overconsumption IMHO.

                                            1. Let's change the question....It's been noted and accepted that the practice and policy is acceptable in certain areas....or even certain food businesses. The new question is this:

                                              Do you think it is acceptable or appropriate to ask for the to go refills when you are out of your area or in a business you have not been to before, have not been offered or is not stated as a matter of policy or program on the menu?

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                I don't see anything wrong with asking for what you want. They can then handle your request as they see fit.

                                                1. re: kengk

                                                  You most certainly can ask for anything you want....the question really is, should you expect to pay for it or receive it for free after the request is made.

                                                  1. re: fourunder

                                                    I would have no issue with paying for it if that was the policy. For me, the choice to take a drink with me is about convenience, not about money.

                                                  1. re: fourunder

                                                    You can always ask... and they can always say 'no, sorry, we don't do that' or charge you for an extra drink.

                                                  2. My first reaction is that it's kind of cheap to do that, but it does depend upon how formal the restaurant is.
                                                    In general if someone where to ask and the waitress/manager is good with it, I would not give it another thought.

                                                    The more I think about it. I can see the argument that you can take your leftovers in a doggie bag. Why not take your drink too?

                                                    This can lead to the question whether topping off before you leave a fast food joint or places with customer access to a soda fountain is appropriate too. You've paid for your food. You finished eating and heading out the door, but make a quick stop at the fountain to top off your drink.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: dave_c

                                                      That's what I liken it to....the out the door refill at a fast food place.

                                                    2. IMO the refills are for while you are dining at the restaurant. Asking for a soda refill to go would be like expecting a buffet restaurant to let you fill a to go container with food from the buffet.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: meadandale

                                                        One difference about a buffet restaurant is that you can't doggie bag your leftovers while at other restaurants you can.

                                                        I guess the more I think about this, I'm flip-flopping to suggesting the OP's "lighten up" as my answer.

                                                        1. re: dave_c

                                                          But restaurants that allow you to doggie bag allow you to take what you have left on your plate. The don't give you a fresh entree.

                                                          I think that the correct analogy would be getting a to go cup to take the soda you had left in your glass versus getting a freshly refilled to go cup with more soda then you had left at the table.

                                                          1. re: meadandale

                                                            With free-refills, you are essentially getting a fresh entree upon request, while dining.

                                                            In theory, a person can ask for a refill before the tab arrives. Now they have a freshly refilled cup to go.

                                                      2. I think it is very bizarre, but this new Vietnamese place has the most amazing tea, which you order by the pot. They put enough leaves in there to get 3 or even 4 pots out of it.

                                                        A friend and I each ordered our own pots of tea because we wanted different flavors our first time there. We each drank two whole pots and were near to floating after that and our pho.

                                                        The waitress however insisted upon brewing each of us a to-go cup (like a Venti size cup) with our tea leaves and fresh hot water. She then strained out the leaves, wrapped them in plastic wrap in case we wanted another after that, and gave us each the to-go cup of tea and the leaves.

                                                        It was the strangest thing, but also wonderful and generous.

                                                        We were quite flabbergasted, but pleased. We've returned dozens of times. I like to think that is more to do with the quality of the food, but I think the generosity might play a part as well.

                                                        1. I'm sitting at dinner right now at a DC restaurant chipping away at it while commenting.
                                                          I'll read the comments later when I go back to work, on my time though not theirs.
                                                          We do it often as we go out often. Usually we want to get going and hubby would like more coffee but is willing to leave and not have more of it if it means we get on the road again soon; so he fore fits his love of coffee for later in the day. I am same with iced tea.
                                                          So while he pays credit card bill I ask for to go cups of each which I pour rest of our beverages in, they top off.... I've never had them say no plus I always add a few bucks to the tip and hand it to the server cash. So in essence I'm paying for it anyway. Win for the server, win for the two of us.

                                                          1. A restaurant will give you free refills of bread, extra salad dressing on the side, as much ketchup and steak sauce as you need but it's tacky to the nth degree to take them home with you.

                                                            Anyway this obsession with constant drinking is very irritating. Really you need a 20oz takeout container of liquid AFTER you've already eaten and drunk to your fill? Look at how many people nowadays walk around with bottled water and other drinks all day long. It's totally unnecessary.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: smartie

                                                              Depends where you live and how often it's 90 degrees+ outside. I never leave the house without a bottle of water except in the middle of Winter.

                                                            2. Although we're all entitled to opinions, mine differs from the poster that mentions how irritating it is that many drink all day. To be frank I drink all day. It's neither irritating nor foolish because this poster has no idea why my intake of water or other beverages is important to me and my body.
                                                              So to each his or her own. I'll continue carrying bottles of water around in my purse because I can...

                                                              1. Way more interesting than whether it is "tacky" to get a to go cup, or whether it should be free or an extra charge, or even the scourge of excessive drink drinking; is how opinionated folks here are about the simple matter of getting a cold beverage to go.

                                                                Reminds me of the 10 minute argument I had years ago with a McDonald's employee when I wanted to buy a large cup of ice, hold the soda.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: kengk

                                                                  Wow, you must have drawn a worthy adversary!

                                                                  1. re: hawkeyeui93

                                                                    Would have been a beautiful Monty Python skit.

                                                                2. 1. Clearly it is tacky
                                                                  2. The cheapness of the product in this case doesnt make it untacky but does explain why restos dont make a big deal out of it.

                                                                  By analogy "(paper) napkins are cheap, let me take 20 to go". The resto wouldnt begrudge you 20 napkins to deal with a food spill etc. You cant say "so i'm entitled to them, why does the resto care when and how i use them."

                                                                  I think a lot of restos would roll their eyes but not do/say anything w.r.t. the napkins. The tipping model complicated the incetive structure a bit with some principal/agent issues but doesnt change the tackiness factor.

                                                                  I dont think this applies to say a fast food place with a self-help all you can drink soda fountain.
                                                                  Also ok if offer initiated by server ... that's a customer good will business strategy, not a social contract violation.

                                                                  1. OCSteve,

                                                                    I am with you on that one.

                                                                    It would be akin to asking for a "to-go basket" at an "All You Can Eat" restaurant, but then, maybe I am missing something?


                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      You're not missing anything, and I agree totally. This happened again on Friday. To add to awkwardness, the individual that did it tipped less than the other people at the table, and this is someone that used to be a server. I tip 20% as a general rule. I know that there are many that think 15% is perfectly acceptable, and that's fine, but it seems to me that you would want to show a some appreciation for the extra effort on the part of the server.

                                                                      1. re: OCSteve


                                                                        Thank you for that clarification.

                                                                        Based on the OP, plus that, I feel that someone was attempting to take advantage, but I will never know what was in their heart?



                                                                    2. Thanks everyone for your responses. I've enjoyed reading them. I don't think this post changed anyone's mind, but I didn't expect it that it would. At the end of the day, I really do enjoy the company of everyone in our group and will continue to dine with them based on that, regardless of our differing viewpoints.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: OCSteve

                                                                        Didn't think it would since this question is a "value judgement" question.

                                                                        Just curious what type of sit down restaurant is it? A linen table cloth, linen napkin joint or some place casual?

                                                                        1. re: dave_c

                                                                          More on the casual side. The two most recent examples were a sit-down pho restaurant and The Counter.

                                                                      2. I don't think it's a big deal as long as they'd accept no for an answer. I am surprised that some posters are so offended by the question...what about asking for extra bread to take with your leftovers? I've done that and I don't feel bad about it at all. Never occured to me to ask for a drink refill to-go, but I am certainly not offended by someone asking for one as long as they do it nicely. It would have to be a pretty casual resto or one set up with to-go cups, so it's probably not a big deal to them anyway.

                                                                        13 Replies
                                                                        1. re: akq

                                                                          <asking for extra bread to take with your leftovers>

                                                                          Actually asking for more? Never.

                                                                          1. re: latindancer

                                                                            I go to an Indian place for lunch that serves a large lunch sized entree and I always have some left for the next day...they always ask if I'd like more rice and Naan.

                                                                            I say yes and add a couple of bucks to the tip as a thank you.

                                                                            1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                                              When a restaurant "gives" me extras, I also tip well, and usually enough to cover any costs.

                                                                              Still, asking for more, when I have finished the meal, is just not in my makeup. Others obviously feel differently, and to a great degree.


                                                                              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                                                I have to admit, even though I love great food/wine, I have rarely over my lifetime taken food home with me. I order what interests me, eat what satisfies me, and leave whatever I don't eat on the plate. If the bread looks fabulous then I'll probably eat a piece and leave the rest on the table. To ask for more bread or if they ask me if I want more I'd simply say 'no thank you'.

                                                                                1. re: latindancer

                                                                                  I am with you, though part of that might be that we are in the air 250 days a year, so are very seldom dining at home, with the ability to reheat, and dine. We look for portions, that satisfy us, that night, and then are usually in another city, the next night.

                                                                                  Maybe that is why I just do not get gathering up everything possible, to take home?


                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                    "Maybe that is why I just do not get gathering up everything possible, to take home?"

                                                                                    Something tells me, Mr. Hunt, that regardless of whether or not you travel all those days of the year, you wouldn't be gathering food to take home.

                                                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                                                      You are correct. Even when dining in Phoenix (not as often, as I would like), seldom does anything go home with us, except for the shortbreads from NOCA, that are handed out at the door.


                                                                                  2. re: latindancer

                                                                                    Different strokes. If I like what I've got and only eat half of it, I'll have the resto box up the rest and look forward to it for lunch or dinner the next day. If part of that lovely meal was bread, or naan, or tortillas or rice and I don't have enough leftover (or some on hand at home), I might ask for some more of those things so that I have it to eat with the leftovers. If the resto wants to charge me, so be it, but usually they don't.

                                                                                    1. re: akq

                                                                                      "Different strokes"

                                                                                      Indeed. I think you and I can safely assume we have much different eating/dining habits.

                                                                              2. re: akq

                                                                                I am sorry, but I would group "asking for extra bread with leftovers" in the same light. Same for stealing the toilet paper from the lavatories.

                                                                                What one has "leftover," should be what they take away, and not a bunch of extras.

                                                                                Guess that I view things in a totally different light, but that is just me.

                                                                                What about asking for two more filets, as the diner has eaten half of one, and want to feed the members of the family, left at home? How about asking for three more entrees, just so that Little Jimmy and his siblings do not go hungry? Where would that stop? Maybe if one asks nicely, the restaurant will furnish them with ten meals, just because they bothered to visit?

                                                                                Sorry, but I will respectfully disagree.


                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                  To each his own, although I think equating a paying customer asking for bread to take home with leftovers with stealing toilet paper goes a bit too far.

                                                                                  For me, it's just not a big deal to ask nicely - why not tell the resto what you'd like? They can always say no or tell me that an extra order of bread is $2 or whatever they think is fair...or they can just say sure and pack me a couple of slices of bread to go with my leftovers. I guess to me it's no different than if I'd asked for more bread while eating my meal and, not having finished it, asked them to pack it up with my leftovers.

                                                                                  The example I had in mind was a few weeks ago I went to a favorite steak house for take-out to bring food to a dear friend who's just had a baby and was craving these nice steaks. Normally we'd eat there and I'd eat two orders of free bread (it's really tasty sourdough and I LOVE bread and butter). I asked them to put two extra orders of bread in the bag to go with our take-out ribeyes and they didn't bat an eye. It never occured to me that was rude or stealing...and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Maybe it's different because it's take-out, but if I don't finish my steak and decide to take the leftovers home, I might just ask for some of their tasty bread to go with it.

                                                                                  1. re: akq

                                                                                    It is your option to see it, however you like.

                                                                                    It is just not something that I would do.

                                                                                    You are free to choose.


                                                                                    1. re: akq

                                                                                      Asking for bread to go with a takeout order is fine, AFAIAC. It's what you would have gotten had you consumed the steak at a table in the restaurant. Most places would automatically include their standard amount of bread/rolls in a takeout order, unless you told them NOT to. This is different from consuming bread at the table there, then asking for additional bread to accompany the leftovers you take home. I'd consider that tacky.

                                                                                2. Oh wow. I'm actually kind of shocked by this answer. I've never seen it as tacky or rude, and have known countless friends, family, acquaintances and coworkers who have done it. I've even done it every once in awhile. I'm thinking this is more of a regional thing...

                                                                                  1. would NEVER do that myself.
                                                                                    poor form, imho.

                                                                                    1. We have one customer who will come in for a carry-out over her lunch period, purchase an iced-tea...and ask for "her free refill too". Yes we "cheerfully" oblige her and her family is in the Pub sometimes three times a week so we're ahead, but it does make me bite my tongue at times.

                                                                                      1. Florida Panhandle checking in. In the waiter service but very casual restaurants we're at on a semi-regular basis, they'll either offer a soda or iced tea "go cup" (We've close enough to New Orleans that term carries over.) to you when they're asking if you need anything else, or it's no big deal to ask for one at that point if server has made the offer in the past.

                                                                                        I definitely wouldn't ask for one at a more formal restaurant, but for where we usually end up, it's just part of the routine.