Because of the pandemic, restaurants and fast-food chains are going to look a lot different from now on. These eating establishments have to make major changes in order to ensure the safety of their employees and customers, and one of the first lines of defense is to eliminate as many places of contact within their stores. Since soda fountains are one of the highly used machines within a fast-food chain, it can also serve as a breeding ground for germs—and subsequently, COVID-19. Which is why Coca-Cola took an extra step to ensure safety when pouring soda at your favorite eateries, by debuting a contactless soda fountain.
How Coca-Cola's soda fountain works
If you take a quick glance at Coca-Cola's soda fountain, it doesn't seem like much has changed. The Coca-Cola Freestyle soda fountain interface looks almost identical to what is found in stores around the country, where customers can pick and choose which Coca-Cola products they want—and even specify flavors. However, touch screens require a heavy amount of contact between person-to-person and can be an easy way to spread germs.
To avoid this issue, Coca-Cola created a program with their Coca-Cola Freestyle machines where customers can scan QR codes from their phones and choose the drink they want right from their mobile device. With this program, Coca-Cola eliminates the unnecessary person-to-person contact that soda fountains originally relied on.
"All Coca-Cola beverage dispensers are safe with recommended care and cleaning," says Chris Hellmann, vice president and general manager of Coca-Cola Freestyle, in their recent press release. "But given these uncertain times, people may prefer a touchless fountain experience. It has been exciting to see our team continuing to innovate—mostly from home—to meet the evolving needs of customers and consumers. Our partners are doing everything they can to maintain a safe and hygienic dining environment, and we're doing all we can to ensure they can continue to pour the beverages their guests desire on a platform they love."
Where you'll find Coca-Cola Freestyle machines
While this program is still in the early stages, Coca-Cola says they plan on piloting the program earlier this summer at select Wendy's, Five Guys, and Firehouse Sub restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia. Soon after, the software will be pushed to more than 10,000 Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers in the summer, and by the end of the year, all of their freestyle dispensers will have this new contactless service.
Coca-Cola Freestyle's contactless service will be able to work on any smart device. No extra app downloads are required to use this service, customers simply have to scan the QR code that pops up on the soda fountain's screen, and the customer can control it right from their phone.
"We intentionally designed this so anyone with a smart device could pour a drink," says Connor. "When you have a tray or a sandwich in one hand, you don't want to deal with downloading an app. We took steps to make the solution super-easy, super-fast, and super-reliable."
Why keep soda fountains in the first place?
While it may seem silly to even have soda fountains at all, Coca-Cola explains the research behind why they are keeping their Coca-Cola freestyle machines. According to a study from Civic Science, 60% of restaurant guests prefer to pour their own fountain drink, versus having a crew member do so. Even if it seems safer to have a crew member handle all of the food (instead of touching extra surfaces in a restaurant) 40% of people strongly agree that they feel much safer when they are in control of their beverages.
What about the old soda fountains?
Don't worry! If your local fast food chains still use the legacy soda fountains (instead of the fancy Coca-Cola Freestyle touch screens), there are solutions being concocted by Coca-Cola to make these machines safe, too. In their press release they state that additionally, they are "patenting a touch-free, optical dispensing solution for legacy fountain dispensers. Sensor-enabled levers will detect the presence of a cup under the nozzle and pour the drink. When the cup is removed, pouring will automatically stop."
Whatever your fast-food chain uses, there's one thing for sure: By the end of the year, you'll likely never have to touch a Coca-Cola soda fountain with your hands ever again.
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