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.)
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.
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.
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).
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!