McDonald’s to end public soda fountains due to coronavirus pandemic

The new normal in a post-coronavirus world may come without a beloved American institution, the self-service soda machine. 

At least for the 14,000 McDonald’s (MCD) restaurants In the country. In a long memo reported by the Wall Street Journal, McDonald’s is reevaluating a mainstay of its locations, the customer-operated soda fountain, because of the challenges involved in ensuring its hygiene.

The company confirmed this by pointing Yahoo Finance to a press release and roundup of new safety guidelines, including the fact that “beverage bars will remain closed or sectioned off and staffed in restaurants.”

As states begin reopening, companies are looking to ensure the safety of workers and their clientele, a daunting task that requires a lot of thinking, creativity, and a willingness to be flexible in the face of a new normal.

For McDonald’s, the game plan is a 59-page booklet replete with copious cleaning and social distancing guidelines as well as the change to the soda fountain. 

McDonald’s detailed some of its precautions it’s taking. Many more might come as a memo dozens of pages long is being circulated. (McDonald’s)

The guide, which the Journal reported as being illustrated, asks its restaurants to either close the soda fountains or have a staff member monitor them. The Journal said the guide had particular concern for the machines, because they’re difficult to clean, and interviewed a franchise owner who said he was opting to shut down the machine rather than deal with the hassle.

McDonald’s referred Yahoo Finance to a message from Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, which said that “many people are depending on us right now for a hot meal,” the rationale for staying open. At the same time, he said, safety is priority with 50 process changes in effect to enforce social distancing and hygiene — one of which is the closure of soda fountains.

Besides the closure of the beverage bars, play areas are also closed, protective panels on counters and drive-thrus are installed, contactless payments are in use, and social distancing floor decals are in place to help guide customers. The company said it’s offering 10% bonuses on pay earned in May as well as two weeks of sick leave for company-owned restaurants (some are franchised.)

McDonald’s details some of its new practices. (McDonald’s)

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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