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HomeTravel TipsEight official rules for getting your free refill at McDonald's

Eight official rules for getting your free refill at McDonald’s

If you’re from the U.S. or Canada, you likely understand the concept of  free refills quite well. You order a soft drink. When you’ve finished, you can either request another one from your waitperson or, if you’re in a fast food joint, you walk up to the dispenser and get it yourself. This has long been a staple of the burger-and-fries set, and there is no place that better exemplifies the bottomless cup of sugar water than McDonald’s.

Ronald McDonald and his colleagues have been offering free refills in the United States for as long as I can remember. The soda fountain in the middle of the dining area is as ubiquitous as hard plastic booths and non-biodegradable hamburgers. On a recent trip inside the McDonald’s on San Jose’s Avenida 4, however, I found the sign you see above. I have translated it below.

Refill Rules 

  • The beverage is for individual consumption.
  • It applies with the purchase of any McCombo from the regular menu or an individual beverage.
  • It does not apply during breakfast hours.
  • It only applies during the 60 minutes after the purchase.
  • The refill must be requested after waiting in the regular line at the restaurant’s counter.
  • You must show your receipt in order to request the refill.
  • Once a customer has left the restaurant the refill is no longer valid.

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This may seem like a bit of overkill, and it certainly makes getting your one (1) extra beverage a bit more difficult. Notice that refill is singular. There is not the long tradition of all-you-can-eat buffets here. And when there is, inventive locals find a way to buck the system. I once entered a Pizza Hut in Heredia to ask if they had an open buffet. The waiter laughed and told me a story.

“We tried that, once. It was a complete failure. We’d have families come and sit at the table, with only one person purchasing the buffet. Then that person would slip the others slices under the table. So we made a rule that everyone had to have their hands on the table, where we could see them. Then people would hide slices in their pockets and distribute them in the bathroom. So we made a rule that everyone who had rights to the buffet had to wear a bracelet, like what you find at a water park or resort. Then people would line their purses and backpacks with plastic bags and just carry the slices home to their families. We decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.”

At any rate, if you’re traveling to Costa Rica, I highly recommend avoiding the same fast food chains that you can find at home. There is much to be learned about a country and its people through its food. And if you lay off the junk food for a while, you might start to get used to rice and beans so much that your wallet – and your waistline – will thank you.


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