Ask LH: How Should I Manage A Shared Drinks Fridge?

Ask LH: How Should I Manage A Shared Drinks Fridge?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m going into year 12. Aside from exams, homework and all those problems I have a question regarding the smaller details of high school life. I believe most schools, like mine, have a year 12 “area” where senior students can relax and study. My question is regarding how you’d manage money and drinks. We have the option to buy our own drinks to place in a fridge but how do we work out who pays what? It’s not as simple as “everyone puts in X amount”, because some drink more, some drink less — then people start to complain. Any suggestions? Thanks, Money Guy

Dear Money Guy,

We have virtually the same problem in the Allure Media office. The current solution works like this: our boss regularly restocks the drinks fridge with drinks bought in bulk from a supermarket (which makes them much cheaper). Every time you grab a drink, you pay $1.50. (There are also chocolates for 50 cents each.) This is not done in a high-tech way; we keep a plastic cup in the fridge and rely on people to be honest. The funds raised pay for the next resupply, and the small profit that gets made goes towards the office Christmas party.

Is the solution perfect? No. If someone is desperate for a drink, they’ll grab one and not pay, which results in terse reminder emails from our boss telling people to settle up. But that doesn’t happen terribly often, and it means we have a range of cold drinks everyone likes without having to leave the office.

The challenge for this in a student context is that the person who volunteers to buy the initial supply could easily end up out of pocket if too few people end up being honest (and there’s not necessarily a school-wide email list you can use to remind people to pay up). Obviously , soft drinks aren’t very good for you, and in an ideal world you’d be drinking water. But if you do want a communal drinks fridge, this seems to me the simplest method. Of course, we’d love to hear other suggestions in the comments.


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  • I’ve been looking at old refrigerated drink vending machines online, but they aren’t cheap (supply and demand I guess.)

    People pay more for ‘sited’ ones (ones that are in place at a location).

  • We were looking into a machine for my ses crew but even the half broken ones are still 3-4. Ultimately all you can do is trust people to be honest and if they’re not then just don’t have one. It sucks but not much you can do

    • After chipping in for the first round, you could then go through and write each contributor’s name on “their” cans/bottles, so then they can be distributed and tracked easily.
      That is, if the honour system doesn’t work out.

  • We have a similar system to the Allure Media guys in our Venturer Scout den. Admittedly, only about 15 people have access to that fridge, but most of them are teenagers.

    I (as leader) warned them when we started this that if people abuse the honesty system in place, then the fridge will be removed and there’ll be no drinks at all.

    We also enforce a strict “No IOUs” policy, because far too often people forget to pay up. We do, however, allow people to open a tab and pay up to $10 in advance, which they can then use to take drinks until the tab is exhausted.

    So far it’s seemed to work (a whole year now), but one dishonest or lazy kid could ruin it for everyone.

  • We do the prepaid tab as well and that works ok – I think it sort of evens itself out. I just like the idea of the vending machine and that way people have no choice. I guess I’ve had the problem at work where I’ve had my stuff in the fridge and my collegues steal it. My crew on the other hand will leave stuff in the fridge for 6mths or more lol

  • The cup for money in the fridge is just a bad idea….
    People will thieve drinks, and then the money cup itself, it’s not probable, it is inevitable in a school setting…

  • Agree with Hellmouth. You ae at risk of theiving of both. Then who loses?
    Unless the toughest kid in the school is the one who loses the money when the stealing starts, then there is no deterrant. its not like the cops are going to investigate money being stolen from an unsecured common access area.

  • We had the local coke distribuiter install a drinks machine in our SES shed – they stock it and we pay $1.50 per drink – its there only as a supply for our members, not to make profits.

  • When the Commons room is highly populated stand in the middle of the room and announce loudly “this three litre bottle of coke is mine.” At the same time rub the mouth of the bottle with any appendage you have that may deter others from touching (and subsequently drinking) your beverage. Problem solved.

    (This solution may result in other, larger, problems.)

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