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Why do people buy a smaller size

Why do people buy a smaller size of Coke when going through the McDonald’s drive-thru than when they order from the counter?. No answer is given, but it’s not the small size of the cupholders. Any ideas?

Reader comments

jakeAug 05, 2005 at 10:20AM

it's obvious: when you are in the car, you don't want to have to pee, so you go for a more reasonable size.

erinAug 05, 2005 at 10:22AM

i do the exact opposite. inside i can refill, but in the car i can't.

BlakeAug 05, 2005 at 10:25AM

I think the larger cups are too big and flimsy to worry about while trying to drive (and bad enough when you're not driving), so I just get the medium ones if at all.

BizAug 05, 2005 at 10:35AM

Maybe drive-thru customers have all adapted some ethnographically interesting use for the cupholder (instead of using it to hold the drink) based on in-car eating habits and somehow, the smaller cup makes this work.

RebeccaAug 05, 2005 at 10:39AM

I'm with Jake.

GregAug 05, 2005 at 10:44AM

Inside you have as much time as you want, therefore you can slowly sip (or suck) a larger cup as you watch the world go by, in the car is a different matter, who wants a supersized (or biggie) cup for a journey that might only last 10 minutes?

BenjyAug 05, 2005 at 10:44AM

Maybe they can't clearly hear the "would you like to supersize it?" through those horrible drive-thru speakers....

Shawn KelleyAug 05, 2005 at 10:52AM

I get the larger size inside because I love ice - when going through the drive thru, even if I ask for lots of ice, it rarely happens, so I just get a regular size (usually medium).

PamAug 05, 2005 at 10:55AM

Maybe, when people go through dt, they're mostly buying for their kids.

Or maybe the type of person who goes through dt is different than the type who go inside.

I really, REALLY want to know the real answer, though. And what his recommendations were. I worked at McDonald's for two years in high school.

SarahAug 05, 2005 at 10:56AM

Maybe more people order happy meals for kids when going through the drive thru?

MargaretAug 05, 2005 at 11:00AM

I think it has to do with the difference between going somewhere and sitting down for a meal and getting a meal to go. It seems more "to go" if you get less.

daveAug 05, 2005 at 11:04AM

It's not the size of the cup as much as its height. You can make much sharper turns with a small.

davidAug 05, 2005 at 11:04AM

Benjy is the closest, I think. The counter service is one person relating to one customer, and has been trained to ask for the sale of the larger size. Drive through service is distrubuted among as many as three people (order taker, money taker, food giver). The responsibility of asking for the super-size order gets lost, and the drive through speaker is not a good salesperson (no emotion).

I suspect that is the money taker at the first window offered to upsize for 39 cents more, sales would go up.

PiersAug 05, 2005 at 11:07AM

My cupholders are always full of stuff (phone, iPod, spare change, wallet) so I put the cup between my legs. Bigger cups are too unwieldly for this. I have had to learn this the hard way, several times.

beerzieAug 05, 2005 at 11:09AM

It's hard to hold one of those mondo-sized cups with one hand.

CatherineAug 05, 2005 at 11:12AM

I get the medium becuase it's hotter in the car. This means that the cup sweats and things get wet, and it also means the drink gets watered down faster. This is also why I get the drink without ice. But I really do want to know the answer, too.

KAug 05, 2005 at 11:12AM

There are people who will drive-thru McDonald's but will not deign to cross its threshold except to use the restroom on interstate road trips. These people, me included, are McDonald's haters, Spurlockians, moralizing whingers who nonetheless rationalize the need for a McDonald's "hit" every once in a while (or, um, more than once in a while). Then there are people who think that McDonalds is, you know, a restaurant--a place where you take your family for quality slurry and the promise of diabetes and lifelong obesity. Of these two types of Mcdonald's patrons, the former (the window whinger, if you will) buys with a sense of guilt, which they mitigate by declining the vat-sized servings. Their waddling, counter-leaning counterparts, however, buy with a sense of entitlement or reward, which they indulge with bladder-bursting portions.

Or it could be the cup-holders.

Tony WhiteAug 05, 2005 at 11:19AM

Here's why I do it.

If I'm going through the drive-thru, I'm either taking it home or to work to eat. At home, I have my two-liters and cans that I bought at the grocery for cheap (especially compared to the prices at the drive-thru). Why pay extra for a larger drink, when for the same price I have a chilled two-liter in the fridge at home? At work, I bring my own soda cans, or I can one out of a vending machine for 60 cents - again, cheaper than what McD's would sell one.

BrandonAug 05, 2005 at 11:23AM

Chalk up another one for the crappy speakers - I always ask for a large drink, and 75% of the time I get a medium. I wouldn't put too much credence into the data.

barlowAug 05, 2005 at 11:23AM

I think it has to be a combination of cupholder size and the lack of an upcharge offer. I've never been prompted for a larger size through the drive thru. I have a family of six, so don't groan about our having a big minivan, but we've had two so far - a Dodge and a Toyota, and both have cupholders that really only fit the McDonald's "Medium" which is, itself, what they used to call a "large" when I was a child. I also think it is natural for the operators not to offer the drive-thru customer an upsize - they are usually more experienced orderers - working men and women who have time to drive through and order quickly with minimal banter.

The McDonald's medium cup is also just a wonder of design - the height to width ratio, overall size, etc. is just perfect.

Dan BolandAug 05, 2005 at 11:28AM

I'll guess it's because you can relax (and therefore indulge) in the restaurant, unlike in the car.

LizAug 05, 2005 at 11:29AM

In line with Benjy's notion, there's less of an availability to be upsold through the drive-in—you control your environment, and aren't surrounded by the menu and by other people ordering. Inside, just by waiting to order, you have the menu burning into your retinas and you're primed to supersize when asked.

matthewAug 05, 2005 at 11:42AM

i agree with what catherine said:

I get the medium becuase it's hotter in the car. This means that the cup sweats and things get wet, and it also means the drink gets watered down faster.

for sure.

snivlemAug 05, 2005 at 11:42AM

I wanna know why overweight people order up their supersized meals, yet get a diet coke, and when asked "why don't you just get a regular drink?" they give the poor excuse that they "like Diet tastes better.

snivlemAug 05, 2005 at 11:43AM

Damnit! Why didn't I proofread!

JamesonAug 05, 2005 at 11:50AM

I'm surprised it's not the cup holders. That would seem to be the obvious answer. I don't think the upsell argument holds water - I've never known a McDonald's employee to miss the "Would you like to Super Size it?" line. I think it must have something to do with the menu signage or cup design, based on this:

"Every time I drive by a McDonald’s, I look to see if they embraced my strategy or adopted any of my recommendations."

Maybe they just need pictures of the bigger Cokes on their menu.

MorganAug 05, 2005 at 11:56AM

I don't follow how personal preference is a poor excuse, snivlem. But if you need another reason, maybe they can't have the insane amount of sugar that comes in a regular Coke.

PaulAug 05, 2005 at 11:57AM

I wanna know why overweight people order up their supersized meals, yet get a diet coke, and when asked "why don't you just get a regular drink?" they give the poor excuse that they "like Diet tastes better."

I want to know why non-overweight people think this is relevant to anything, and why it's brought up anytime "soda" and "fast food" are mentioned. It's not funny, it's not "poignant", it's not clever, just... dumb.

NelsAug 05, 2005 at 12:06PM

K's got it for sure. I buy the Small Diet Coke, to offset the enormous amount of guilt-and-cholesterol-ridden calories I am about to ingest. Like just about every other kid growing up, I developed fond memories of their distinctly childhoodish flavor found in every single item on their menu, from their Big Mac to the Apple Pie. I think it's the tons of sugar they add to everything, which explains why I was such a nutcase kid. As an adult, however, being fully propagandized of the obesity epidemic in this country, I find myself torn between the childlike happiness I experience when biting into a double cheeseburger with fries, and the responsible, conscientious objections that always try and fail to overpower my poor-planning-induced hunger that surfaces during some commute, some day. Everytime I hear the prideful proclamation, "I haven't eaten fast food in years" by one of my foody-type friends, I certainly do not believe a word. Because, I know. They just order the Small Diet Coke with their Big Mac Value Meal.

mattAug 05, 2005 at 12:06PM

I had a spill once w/ a Carl's Jr cup whose bottom 4 inches fit nicely into my cupholder, but whose upper 10 inches of 44 oz dr pepper, decided to fall over, and spill all over my passenger seat and floor in my new gti. That pretty much soured me to large drinks in the car.

Eric BostromAug 05, 2005 at 12:11PM

i'm down for the pee thing, it motivates many decisions in my life beyond drink size. the less peeing the better.
also, no matter what size i get, i throw away whatever is left when i'm done eating. that's a recent thing so that i dont keep drinking soda and contribute to fat moreso. i could just not drink soda in the first place, but i'm not that old yet.

JimboAug 05, 2005 at 12:35PM

A large is too heavy to control with one hand on the wheel. Too unwieldly. The downsides of not controlling it as a bloddy disaster as I can attest to.

N.Aug 05, 2005 at 12:38PM

When you go drive through you are on the road, and have easier access to your choice of beverage, if you don't want a coke product. Or you're getting it and taking it home, where you already have drinks in the fridge.

DonnieAug 05, 2005 at 12:50PM

See Thorstein Veblen's theory on emulation and conspicuous consumption. When we dine inside, we are typically with others and need to show that we buy the BIGGER and BETTER things. Conversly, when you are in your car you are typically alone which therefore negates your conspicuous consumption habit.

deniseAug 05, 2005 at 12:56PM

i love coke - the more the better, but i buy the smaller size when i'm in the car because of the design of the
large cups. the medium size is normal shaped, but the large has that "knob" thing at the bottom, i guess so
that it will fit in a cup holder, but it only ends up making the drink top heavy so that it tips over.

David ElyAug 05, 2005 at 1:01PM

It's not bladders, spillage, or cup holders. In the post, he says:

» All the obvious answers had been exhausted. No, it wasn't that people were worried about spilling their Coke in the car. No, it wasn't that they were concerned about bladders filling and perhaps exploding on route. This is was for both McDonald’s and TCCC a WTF moment.

And then in the comments, he says that no one above had yet solved it, which rules out cup holders.

It's possible more children are taken through drive-throughs, or that they don't upsell enough, but I'm hoping it's something simple and slightly obvious, to elicit the gasp he refers to.

KAug 05, 2005 at 1:07PM

As much as I appreciate Nels seconding my two solitudes rationale (put simply: gulping fatties walk in, while sipping guilties only drive up), Jameson, obviously a careful reader, is on to something.

If the study's author can check the progress, or lack thereof, of his recommendations by simply driving by a McDonald's, then the reason has nothing to do with a difference between the motivations of people who walk in and those who drive thru. It must be something about the physical make-up of the building.

My guess? Two things:

1) the placement of the menu boards. They are usually positioned adjacent to or behind the order wicket, not before it, where you might have time to get your head together about what you want. Instead you are asked to place an order just as you've begun to survey the gazillion (and growing) number of choices.

2) I've never liked the design of the drive-thru, particularly the sense of rush instilled in you by the sharp turn you usually have to negotiate between order and pickup. I realize that, because of site and building size, there isn't much that can be done about this. But karmically speaking, that 90 degree bend is annoying. You feel like you're being herded toward your little patty of dead cow.

These two site shortcomings make feel you ill at ease, rushed, pushed, which makes you less likely to indulge.

essAug 05, 2005 at 1:07PM

I would go with the Benji answer along with the fear of flimsy cups - which might motivate both buyer and seller. I'm sure drive-through employees don't want to spill a giant soda on the average customer. Or maybe drive-through customers are more likely to be high and trying to act "normal."

Can't think of anyway to run tests on this. You could always ask people and get a huge pile of worthless date based.

When I was a youngster and had to man the drive-through, many people would buy their food from us and then go next door to get drinks. The manager said they wanted extra ice. When I asked why we didn't offer extra ice, I was put on dishwashing duty for a couple of days.

I never noticed a cup-size difference between the "dinning room" and the drive through although I quickly learned some things. Like how to tell when "with mayonnaise" means mayo instead of mustard with all the other "fixin's" and when it means with bread, meat, and mayo. Or, the useful skill of figuring out which teens were to baked to have counted their money (which means that they would change their order, which would give us unsold food, which would be BAD) and which ones would just hand over a credit card.

This is going to haunt me!

I personally order small or medium drinks because fountain drinks are pretty flat to begin with and when the ice starts melting they turn soapy. My hatred of ice is not normal (unless there is silent majority of fellow ice-haters, ashamed to show their faces inside brightly lit McD's where normal, ice-loving Americans are crunching away on giant cubes. In this scenario, less profitable drive-through customers stage a silent protest.) A carbonated beverage is going to be cold because of that whole thing where it's carbonated by a compressed gas.

Ice is environmentally wasteful! Shun the cube!! Beware the crushed!!! End part of our dependence on fossil fuel - ask for No Ice!

EliotAug 05, 2005 at 1:09PM

I think it's environmental factors. Inside you've got the sights and smells going, you're committed to the whole experience, so an upsell is like basking in it. In the car you're yelling into a crappy squawk-box and staring out your windshield. I'd be more inclined to behave more rationally and just order what I think I want under those conditions.

snivlemAug 05, 2005 at 1:12PM

"I want to know why non-overweight people think this is relevant to anything, and why it's brought up anytime "soda" and "fast food" are mentioned. It's not funny, it's not "poignant", it's not clever, just... dumb."

Well, I'm not funny, poignant, or clever, and I'm dumb, so my post was perfect.

KAug 05, 2005 at 1:31PM

I've got it!

Relieve the order-taking headphone jockeys from all their other duties (the poor saps are usually doing other tasks while taking orders) and install cameras and screens so that you see and speak with a real live human being when you order. (OK, not a real live human being, but a teenager.) Perhaps humanizing the process, albeit if only slightly, would come close to reproducing the warmer, fuzzier experience of ordering inside, thereby unleashing the latent American predisposition to over-indulge.

BPAug 05, 2005 at 1:40PM

Sometimes In-N-Out Burger has an employee walk the drive-thru line taking orders in person. Maybe they took the advice that McDonalds ignored?

Michael MoncurAug 05, 2005 at 1:57PM

A few others above have touched on this. Here's what I suspect is the answer:

Assuming that saying "yes" to upsell offers (Would you like to supersize that?) is a major source of large drink orders, as opposed to people who planned on ordering large in the first place - and it must be, or they wouldn't be so persistent about it -

Saying "no" is easier over the PA than in person.

The solution would be to have a live person (like BP said) or a teleconference set-up (like K said) and it would be obvious when driving by whether they had implemented it.

barlowAug 05, 2005 at 2:10PM

I also wonder if drive thrus are more popular with people with small children - thus smaller drinks. I certainly would rather not have to take four children into the "restaurant" so we usually go through the drive thru with them.

PaulAug 05, 2005 at 2:56PM

Those that mentioned the crappy speakers got me to thinking: why isn't there a better way of ordering at the drive-thru? Has anybody ever patronized a place that uses a different system, maybe some self-serve kiosk that would reduce the communication errors between customer and employee?

The only positive side of the often huge lines at the In-n-Out burger drive-thru is the guy or girl walking to each car taking orders: No CB-style communication, or bad speakers or mics to screw up the order.

NickAug 05, 2005 at 3:07PM

Pitty there's most likely little to no data from "drive-in" (not "drive through" -- or "drive thru" rather) restaurants to compare with these results. At the very least we'd be able to be more intelligent about if it was "the car" or "the method of ordering" then...

Ed KnittelAug 05, 2005 at 3:19PM

Ahhhh... I'm going insane seeing people repeat adnauseum that it's the cup holders or because of kids or because DT people are in a hurry or because of being fat... or whatever. Grant McCracken clearly states that he had a *solution* to TCCC and McDonald's problem.

The idea finally came to me, out there in the broiling sun, and when I gave it to my client over the phone, she gasped.

He gave a solution to the client. A solution that they have of yet implemented. The solution is something that McDonald's (and probably most fast food drive-thrus) would have to implement on their own.

So no, it's not cup holders because they have no control over the cup holders. No, it's not because people who use the DT have kids so they order more happy meals. McDonald's can't control or change that. Etc... etc...

Grant goes on to say:
Every time I drive by a McDonald’s, I look to see if they embraced my strategy or adopted any of my recommendations.

The solution, therefore, must be a visible one. One that can be seen from the road as one drives by. That's why although I like the idea of a teleconference/face-to-face ordering process I don't believe that's it because all of that takes place in the back of the McDonald's DT away from the view of those just driving by.

Like only a couple of observant people have suggested, I have to say that it must do with signage. You do not see the menu until you are on top of it at the DT and there is a line of people behind you waiting to order. You barely have time to think about the options. The faceless voice from the intercom asks "Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order?" and before you know it you're saying "Umm, ummm [eyes quickly darting across the menu yet you're unable to clearly make anything out - it all looks like sandscript] gimme 5 hot apple pies and a small Diet Coke!?!" Doh!

The solution: there should be signs all along the route of the drive-thru that mention various "specials" including the upsize for $.39. We've all had to wait in the DT line for the person up ahead in their mini van with the family of six to place his order (j/k barlow). What do you do while you wait? Turn the radio up and sign real loud? Check your teeth in the mirror? Pick your nose? There should be a sign in front of you that says "Sure is hot out? Maybe you should get the bigger drink for only $.39 more." Or appeal to their love of the French/Freedom(?) Fries and say "Our fries are damn good and you know it! You get more fore just an extra $.39, cutie."

If they did that I'd be like "Hell yea it's hot out here!" or "They just said I'm cute! And I do like the fries. And I do have an extra quarter, dime and 4 pennies."

NatAug 05, 2005 at 3:30PM

I think there are couple of reasons. The first, as someone stated early on, is that you can get refills in the (dare I say) restaurant, therefore justifying the 30 cents more you are going to pay for the large. And, secondly, when I am in the car, I am ususally ordering more than one drink, for my wife or one of the kids. In this case, there is definitely no space for two large drinks.

BillAug 05, 2005 at 3:32PM

Catherine has to be right. It's hotter in the car, it takes longer to drink a larger drink, so the drink gets warm and watered down.

Coca-Cola and McDonald's are probably already working on a new kind of water -- just for this purpose.

JohnAug 05, 2005 at 3:42PM

It all has to to with the size of the drink cup being in proportion to the size of the car cabin and the space available. A medium drink in my car looks amazingly large.

The other factor would be newness of the car. For example:

new car = no food, no drink whatsover.
1 year old = take out, occasional small beverage with some sort of holder.
5 years old = large drink crammed between passenger seat and emergency break.

MichelleAug 05, 2005 at 3:43PM

The people pointing out that the answer lies in something visible from the outside are right, that's a crucial clue. And I can't believe how much I want to know the answer. If the author of this article is trying to do some viral marketing to make a name for himself amongst bloggers as a Business Guru With All The Answers Guy, he's on to something.

If this were a few years ago, instead of the year 2005, I would be sure I had the answer:

I drive little cars. My old Saturn coupe met an untimely end last year; now I drive a Prius, one of the "classic" pre-2004 ones that's pretty darn compact. And I find that drive-through windows are always too tall for me to comfortably reach whatever I'm being handed, even though I'm tallish myself. This isn't an issue with a paper bag containing a burger, but if I order the vat-sized Coke (as I am wont to do: there is something about a fountain coke, as opposed to the Coke in my fridge at home, that is immensely satisfying) it's a problem. I have to reach up to get the Coke, and since the drive-through person is higher than me as he/she hands me the drink, I end up holding the drink nearer its bottom than its top.

Top-heavy vat of Coke, held by the bottom of the cup, above the level of my head. This is a recipe for disaster. The author of the article says it's not people being worried about spilling their drinks inside their cars, but he doesn't say a thing about spilling the drink before you even get it *into* the car.

If this were the problem, it's possible he recommended building drive-through windows in such a way that, perhaps, there are sliding trays at a couple of different height levels that the drive-through employee can choose from to deliver the food out to the customer's proper height. That's something you could see from the road. Maybe?

All of this may be moot now, in the Age of the SUV. It's such a huge segment of the market now (Keith Bradsher's book _High and Mighty_ is a fascinating read, but I don't remember the exact market numbers it contained now). But the author of the article does say "a couple years ago." For that matter, that might even help explain why McDonald's didn't do anything---maybe by the time they got their answer, they did some more research and found out that cars were trending taller?

Did I mention I really want to know the answer?

BillAug 05, 2005 at 3:47PM

I'm beginning to wonder if too much is being made of the "every time I drive by I look to see if they've implemented my recommendation" bit. That seems too open to interpretation. Could've been "every time I drive THROUGH" or whatever...

Ed KnittelAug 05, 2005 at 4:16PM

I'm beginning to wonder if too much is being made of the "every time I drive by I look to see if they've implemented my recommendation" bit. That seems too open to interpretation. Could've been "every time I drive THROUGH" or whatever...

But the author DID say "drive by" and not "drive through" which is why some of us (me) are choosing to interpret what he said that way. By thinking Grant didn't mean to say "by" but rather "through" - I wonder why you would think that he didn't mean what he said?

BillAug 05, 2005 at 4:24PM

Because in the original post there were a couple of grammar errors and typos. Hey, I'm just throwing that out there as a possibility. I'm looking out for our combined sanity here.

BenjyAug 05, 2005 at 4:31PM

While people seem to like my speaker theory, I've got some other ideas now that I've read more responses and thoguht about it more.

1) could it be a psychological thing dealing with interacting in person with the person taking the order? Contact with employees seems to impact consumer behavior, as Paco Underhill explained in "Why we Buy"

2) Being able to see the size options available. We may just go for a certain size unless we see what it is
and then choose another option. Especially if the sizing is off of expectations... eg. they only have Medium,
Large and SuperSize. So the smallest is named medium, and what people want is the middle sized drink, but that's a large.

Ed KnittelAug 05, 2005 at 4:38PM

Because in the original post there were a couple of grammar errors and typos. Hey, I'm just throwing that out there as a possibility. I'm looking out for our combined sanity here.

I'm past sanity. I MUST know the answer. It's going to slowly kill me - I know it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But day after day I'll be consumed with "Why?" and each day the not knowing will squeeze my brain and then I will die. Mark my words - the process has already begun.

Damn you, ethnography!

lauraAug 05, 2005 at 4:42PM

Here in Texas it is freakin' hot and everything melts within 1 minute of being in the car. So you don't want
your drink watering down. I have run errands during the day and stopped 3-4 times to get a small drink
just to avoid one large drink getting watered down.

Also, my car cup holder won't hold those mega-size cups.

KAug 05, 2005 at 5:34PM

Not again with the cup-holders. Arg!

To those of you who post without first reading at least a few of the previous posts, I urge you to take your time. This is not a drive-thru lane. There's no one behind you leaning on the horn to get you to make your post and move on. Go slowly. Bask in the collected wisdom of a bunch of low-productivity web-addicted busynoses.

Supersize your knowledge!

AdamAug 05, 2005 at 5:56PM

I have been through ONE McDonald's drive-thru recently where customers were able to view the menu in the usual place, but in the place of the speaker, there was a sign instucting you to place your order at the first window. It was being marketed as some new program, like "Face-to-Face" or something of the sort. Perhaps this is meant to give the order-taker a better chance of upselling the customer. And it would be visible from a drive-by. Perhaps they are finally beginning to implement the author's recommendation on a limited scale?

kellyAug 05, 2005 at 5:58PM

i bet it's because when they have those monopoly games you can (or used to be able to) get the stickers on the medium size... and the people who play those sorts of games usually want the greatest payout by putting the littlest up front. that's my theory.

ChrisAug 05, 2005 at 5:59PM

It's simple! When you buy from the drive-through, they always hand you your change and then immediately stuff the drink into your hands while you're still trying to get the bills into your wallet and get your wallet back under your butt, which is awkward. So, you unconsciously go with the smaller drink to make that whole drink-wallet-change shuffle a lot easier.

Obviously, he suggested a special device that slams the drive-through window shut and hold it shut until a specially made motion sensor determines you have crammed your wallet back into your pants and adjusted your butt back into your seat.

ChrisAug 05, 2005 at 6:04PM

On the other hand, it could be the cup holders.

Mike VAug 05, 2005 at 6:52PM

What does 'ethnography' mean? Why did Mickey D's ask an ethnographer in particular to solve this question? Maybe an explanation of what this person is an expert in would give a clue as to what the suggestion was.

Suggestion to Jason K" can you delete all the "I think it's the cup holders" postings?

swashbooklerAug 05, 2005 at 10:22PM

After they were named as a possible guilty party in various class action lawsuits linking them with creating a nation of elephants, Mcdonalds phased out the Supersize option. Unless you request a large beverage, you will get a medium drink with your meal. Those troubled souls who order single items, at a higher price, to avoid the artery killing fries, are unlikely to order a large beverage. Now, a better question than this, is the origin of the smear on my computer monitor, which I have noticed, several times before tonight, and have done nothing about, peering around it, too lazy to just wipe the blurry patch, thus, tormenting myself as an act of contrition for being on the Internet on a Friday night shamelessly answering questions about Mcdonalds. Was this smear an inadverdant act of my fingers or the work of someone trying to drive me mad?

essAug 05, 2005 at 10:52PM

Speaking as a diet coke drinker, I am moved to clutter up the comment list further. Th diet drink thing goes both ways.
My blood sugar issues require ordering diet drinks. People who are what might be termed "chunkier" often sneer "why do YOU bother?" Either you're intimate enough to ask a genuine question, or it's none of your freaking business.

That said, I urge all of my friend who are the kind who order large at the counter and smaller in the drive-through to come to my house right now and explain what the hell is going on. We can walk down the block to the Greek pizza place and have beer. Share with me. This is safe place. I'll bring puppy - reveal what is in your heart. Why why why would your drink size be based on ordering location??? (Also, do you realize the pointless energy cost of ice?)

LauraAug 06, 2005 at 12:36AM

My guess would be that the choice of a bigger drink size inside simply allows one to take the leftovers to go, something unnecessary if already in the car. That or us fat
Americans simply exert so much energy dragging ourselves into and out of McD's from our SUVs, through the beating sun, that we need that bit of extra liguid replenishment.

Donovan PhillipsAug 06, 2005 at 1:28AM

The cupholders won't hold the bigger sizes, maybe?

swashbooklerAug 06, 2005 at 3:30AM

Ok. Since we're gettin all crazy. Maybe people have just gotten bigger, if they go into the store, and smaller if they are driving.

KimberlyAug 06, 2005 at 4:22PM

It's totally the cup holders.

Seriously, it probably has to do with the slipperiness of the cups themselves due to the sweating. The author made it clear many times that it was hot that day. It's hard to handle large slippery cups when you're driving. Get a block away from the McD's, and your cup is dripping in your car and getting your clothes wet when you lift it to drink from it.

Perhaps the author suggested different materials for the cups? Or that McD's gives away slim 'beer cozy' type covers for the cups? The cozies could be seen from the road when he 'drives by.'

And I, also, prefer the taste of Diet Coke to Regular.

JamesonAug 07, 2005 at 3:17AM

It's been five years - why won't he just tell us and end our misery and confusion?! There has to be some statute of limitations on gasp-inducing heat-inspired ethnographic epiphanies.

terry mcmoodyAug 07, 2005 at 9:04AM

Here's the answer: people have been very close. It is simply the weight of the larger cups. When you are in a restaurant, and are one person you can easily carry the soda to your table and enjoy. When you are in a car and are one person- the weight of the cup is more likely to make you drop it on the ground or the distance between the takeout window and your car window is too great for the large size- this distance strains weak little American arms. This is multiplied when there are more people in the car: if it's a family of four they all split the duty of bringing the food back to the table. In the car one person is always responsible for bearing the weight of the soda. The solution would be to install anti-gravity equipments in each cup.

RKBAug 07, 2005 at 1:59PM

I've been noodling on this all morning, and I think I've got it. First of all, it's important to keep in mind that this problem was something that Coca Cola and McDonald's identified across the board, in winter or summer, Texas or Minnesota, with families in minivans, celebrities in convertibles, or people driving solo in the cup-holderless Honda Civics. As much as I also like the ideas about signage, and waiting behind people inside the restaurant instead of outside, we've also got to assume that this happens consistently enough that it doesn't matter if somebody is in line in front of you or not. It's also not a "super size me" problem -- that's easy to track with metrics, and you can ask your people to push the supersizes even harder outside.

No. All of these possibilities would have been studied and number crunched and focus grouped to death.

We're looking for the solution to the Gordian Knot, the one that causes you to gasp, as if it's been in front of your face all along. It's not something that requires detailed explanation, or a complex solution. It's hard to reconcile the two statements -- the gasp from the client upon hearing about the idea, and the fact that the solution is visible simply by driving past a McDonald's.

So here's my take. A problem that can only be observed by standing outside in the drive-through lane: people already have something to drink. It's a bottle of water, or a pop from earlier in the day. You'd never bring that pop or water into the restaurant with you, and even though it might even be half empty, sitting there in your car, as long as you drive up with it you wouldn't even consider ordering a large Coke, because you've still got 8 oz right there next to you.

The solution that's visible from the road? Most McDonald's already have garbage cans at the end of the lane. They need to put them right there where you order, or even further up the line, so you can clean out the crap from your previous visits, and toss that half-empty beverage that you don't really want to drink anyway. If only there was some convenent place you could get rid of it...

Let people start with a clean slate -- like they do inside the restaurant -- and they're more likely to enjoy the larger, fresher, cooler Coke with their meal.

My two cents anyway.

RaishusAug 08, 2005 at 3:49PM

I want to know why do people buy thing that are bad for their ? My friend buy Coca-Cola everday at school but it make her face brake out 5 min. later . People love thing they should have .Like fat people they know they are on a diet but most of they don't stick to it and when they reallies what they are doing they get sad some give up and eat more junk food .Don't their health matter to they ? NOW BACK TO THE QUESTION .People buy a smaller size of coke when going through the Mc Donald's drive-thru thn when they order from the counter because the cupholder in the car are not big enough for the drink but went they are inside Mc Donald they fill free to have as much as they want .^_^

BillAug 08, 2005 at 4:22PM

Well, uh, there we go.

jkottkeAug 09, 2005 at 9:30AM

Grant writes:

Thanks to Jason Kottke, the mystery of the McDonald’s drive-through has been well aired, much debated, and, no, not yet solved.

Grant, are you sure it's not the cupholders? ;)

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.