Fast Food Face-Off: Which Takeaway Chain Has The Worst-Value Soft Drink?

Fast Food Face-Off is a new, occasional Lifehacker feature where we compare seemingly identical takeaway products from rival stores to determine which offers the best value. Today: soft drink sizes from McDonald's, Hungry Jack's, Subway and KFC.

Soft drinks are an essential purchase with any fast food order -- if only to wash down all that evilly delicious salt and grease.

This is good news for fast food restaurants. Soft drinks cost them very little compared to food produce and also require minimal preparation. Indeed, they're usually the most profitable item on the menu, with a typical markup price of more than 1000 per cent.

When you take these astronomical profits into account, you'd think fast food chains would do everything to keep parched customers happy. After all, throwing in some extra mouthfuls would only cost them a couple of cents.

Instead, their drinks are usually undersized, packed with ice and taste suspiciously like they've been watered down. Just what are they playing at, eh?

In a bid to find out which fast food chain is the worst offender, we purchased a regular-sized cola from McDonald's, Hungry Jack's, Subway and KFC. We then carefully measured each drink's contents in a Pyrex glass. While we were at it, we also compared the price, taste, carbonation and fill ratio.

Testing methodology: For the purpose of this experiment, we requested that each drink be served ice-free. Ice distribution tends to be pretty random from store to store, so we chose to base our judgments on how much liquid each cup can actually hold. (For the record, none of the outlets had a problem with us requesting an ice-free drink.)

Price

Most people buy their takeaway soft drinks as part of a combo meal. However, there are occasions where you need to purchase one separately -- if you require a drink to go with your KFC Wicked Wings snack box, for example. So what's the damage? For a standalone regular soft drink, McDonald's and Hungry Jack's both charge $2.45. A regular soft drink from Subway, meanwhile, will put you back $2.50. KFC charges the most: the cheapest soft drink it offers is a 375ml can for $2.95.

On paper, McDonald's and Hungry Jack's have the cheapest soft drink, but you also need to take quantity into account (which we will get to in a moment.) In any event, we wouldn't say any of these drinks are good value for money -- for around the same price, you can get a two litre bottle of your favourite beverage from the supermarket.

Winner: McDonald's and Hungry Jack's. But it's only a technical victory.

Fill ratio

Most fast food drink dispensers are timed to ensure each cup gets filled as close to the brim as possible. However, there's still a fair amount of variation due to human error and unreliable taps. This is why you'll occasionally get a cup that seems to only be three-quarters full.

As you can see from the above photo, McDonald's and Hungry Jack's both failed to fill their cups up to the very top. This may have something to do with the lack of ice, but it's still pretty poor form. Subway tasks its customers with filling their own cups up. This ensures you get the maximum amount, but it's also a bit of a pain in the bum -- especially if you're already clutching your food in one hand.

KFC no longer serves soft drink on-tap: instead, it plumps for regular bottles and cans. On the plus side, this makes it impossible for the outlet to under-fill your drink; you know you're getting exactly 375ml every time. On the downside, you could end up with a face-full of Pepsi after pulling the tab. (i.e. -- Fast food cashiers aren't known for handling orders gently.)

Winner: Subway and KFC.

Quantity

They say a picture paints a thousand words, so we'll let the below image speak for itself (you can see the corresponding receptacle in the background of each photo).

Winner: Subway.

Taste

Postmix soft drinks tend to taste much the same (when they're working properly, that is.) We couldn't really decipher any major differences between the three franchises that served their drinks in a cup. They all tasted slightly watered down on first gulp, followed by a slightly syrupy aftertaste. The Subway beverage tasted slightly less carbonated but not to a deal-breaking degree.

If you're not a fan of postmixed soft drink, stick to KFC. There is one major caveat, however -- it serves Pepsi instead of Coke.

Winner: KFC (but only if you like Pepsi!)


All in all, we'd have to crown Subway the winner here; especially for anyone who is anti-Pepsi. The cup contained significantly more soft drink than either McDonald's or Hungry Jack's despite only costing five cents more. If you're eating in-store, most outlets also permit free top-ups, which makes it no contest. Subway wins!


Comments

    KFC has to be the winner here, specifically because they sell cans, not carbonated water and syrup.

      Yeah, but Pepsi.

        Yeah, But Mountain Dew

        Yeah but Mountain Dew!!! *drools*

          Mountain Dew isn't as nice now IMO since they've switched to the American style energy drink version.

            Oh indeed! It went from deliciousness to overly weird tasting grossness. Never again

        so? Pepsi is great.

          I have never seen why people dislike Pepsi so much, Yes it has a vastly different taste to Coca Cola but to me at the end of the day it is some form of cola drink. If you are in need of a drink order lemonade or something from KFC as opposed to the Cola variant..... Actually maybe follow this one up with the companies Lemonade drink or something other than Cola.

            it's mostly a question of quantity. Pepsi tastes just fine, but it tastes sweeter than coke. At first sip it tastes better than coke (which is why they used to run all those blind taste tests), but after a can's worth it starts to get a bit sickly.

            We want to drink our sugary drinks in stupidly large amounts, and that's easier with coke.

            I'm a Pepsi fan, only because my entire life I think that Coca Cola tastes like cough syrup. I couldnt be with someone who drank Coco Cola all the time, the smell would make me want to vomit.

          I never understood the Pepsi hate.

          When I first moved in with my partner, she turned her nose on the idea that I didn't drink coke (I still do if i'm out) but a number of factors changed her mind. I mean have you gone to a supermarket and seen the price differences between the two?

          I also find that Pepsi 'ages' better. After opening a larger bottle (1.25 or 2l), Coke tends to go 'off' much faster. I may be a bit fussy but with Coke, after 12 hours it starts to taste bad, with Pepsi it can be up to 48 hours. (Keeping in mind closing and storing bottle in fridge)

          Have no issue with Coke. Will happily consume it when out and about, but the drink of choice at home is Pepsi.

        I think you should do a Pepsi challenge Chris and put it up as an article.

      What exactly do you think those bottles and cans are filled with?

    Hungry Jacks have free refills (at least the ones here in Perth do), so surely they'd win on everything except taste.

    Edit: Granted, that doesn't help if you're having it take away.

    Last edited 18/07/14 12:59 pm

      Oddly enough the HJ coke seems to be more watered down than what you get at McDonald's.

      Taste test is needed.

        In regards to HJ's The Coke behind the counter is fine, the stuff you can refill with is super weak.

      HJs used to run a different syrup ratio though too, allegedly lower than other venues. So if they actually still do that, there is a difference in taste.

      I tend to drink far too much Coke, and can certainly tell the difference between postmix and can/bottle, but haven't tried a taste challenge between the postmix locations. I think it comes down to machine maintenance more often than not.

    Is that an art book in your picture? If so, I must get one somehow.

      It's a coffee table book of movie fan art from Gallery 1988 in LA. The title is "Crazy4Cult Cult Movie Art". It's ace!

        Thank you very much! I will be purchasing one for sure :)

    Isn't the Macca's one a bit salty or should i say not as sweet?

    Which Takeaway Chain Has The Worst-Value Soft Drink?

    Expected the winner to be the worst.

    Strange, doesn't seem to be April fool's.

    I actually can't believe that this is a serious topic of discussion.
    Why is this even being compared? If anyone actually takes this into account when purchasing soft drinks and/or meals they need to seriously take a step back, think about what they're being critical of, and go drink some water from the tap.

    Not all KFCs have abandoned postmix. And their postmix Pepsi is great.

    Subway give the most people they water theirs down the most (by far!). I avoid soft drinks at most Subways as it generally tastes like dirty soda water. Saying that, I'm sure this is more a reflection of Subway franchisees than anything else.

      Entirely up to the franchise owner - they can control (or at least get the maintenance person to control) the postmix to water ratio.

    Subway also sell bottles too, should really take that into consideration as well.

    When you take these astronomical profits into account, you’d think fast food chains would do everything to keep parched customers happy. After all, throwing in some extra mouthfuls would only cost them a couple of cents.

    Could be worse.

    Discovered last week that my local Pizza Hut has taken the "bottomless cup" away from their Works Lunch. You can eat all the pizza, salad and dessert you want, but only one cup of drink. As a consequence, I treated the pizza bar as my own person "Man vs Food" challenge. I regret nothing.

    Last edited 21/07/14 2:19 pm

    No doubt the reason the HJ and Maccas cups are so low on drink is the lack of ice, I have even received a drink at that level with ice in it and asked them to fill it properly. I have always found post-mix to be less carbonated, so you tend to drink it faster.

    I have stopped drinking Coke and Pepsi, has been a week and 1 day since I had one, I am basically cutting out all soft drinks, and even coffee at the moment, but I have had the a couple of 600ml Lift and Sprite out of weakness. I have stayed away from caffeine though at the very least.

    I think another factor of 'value' could be the strength of their post-mix too. In my experience at McDonalds, and being a customer at numerous fast food outlets, I've noticed that some outlets frequently dilute their mixture in order to sell more drinks out of the same bag of syrup.

    Accurately measuring the amount of light passing through a controlled amount of post-mix would be a fantastic way of finding out which fast food outlets are diluting their drinks more than others.

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