15 November 2004

Change the world, one soda at a time

So, I love Leona's. I love Leona's mostly because it offers me yummy vegetarian options and my meat-eating friends are happy, too. This past Saturday, we went to the Leona's in Calumet City. When my friend asked for a second soda, the waiter told her that there are no free refills on soda -- each drink is $1.75! (He also told us that "Yeah, they're pretty cheap here.")

She did not get another soda. We tried and tried to think of another restaurant that charges her for soda refills, to no avail. We were honestly shocked. Since she regularly drinks 4 or 5 sodas during one meal, this is a real deal-breaker for us.

Our total bill -- dinner, dessert, wine for me, pop for her -- was $43; we left a $8 tip. So, for $51, it doesn't seem unreasonable that she could get a few sodas -- which are, after all, essentially (inexpensive) carbonated water and flavor syrup.

So, today, I e-mailed Leona's customer service and told them essentially what I just wrote above. (In fact, I cut and pasted some of my e-mail to tell y'all the story...) I also asked them to consider changing this policy and told them I was very sad that I would no longer be frequenting Leona's with this particular friend.

I didn't think this was unreasonable. I didn't complain about spending $5.00 on my glass of Merlot (or expect free refills of that). I didn't whine that adding broccoli to my pasta added $2.00 to my bill. Just free refills on soda pop. Every other restaurant in the same general price range of Leona's (and some of the more expensive ones, too) offer this. Why not them?

After a few hours, I got an e-mail back from Laura Linder, Leona’s Customer Service. She wrote:

"A lot of restaurants do offer soda refills but most of them serve their beverages in 12oz to 16oz size glasses, our sodas are served in 32oz glasses. Due to the size of the beverage we do not offer refills. We feel that a 32oz soda for $1.75 is a really good deal. Unfortunately we will not be changing our policy to include free refills."

I e-mailed the friend with whom this all started. She said, "They could use smaller glasses... 32 oz is a lot. i bet a lot of people don't even drink it all. then one person could have 1 16oz and someone else could have 3 and it would all be the same."

Yup. But, even if they continued to use large glasses...

It's not like everything on their menu is ultra cheap. We dropped over $25 each Saturday. Plus, soda is *cheap*. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser reports that "The fast food chains purchase Coca-Cola for about $4.25 a gallon. A medium Coke that sells for $1.29 contains roughly 9 cents' worth of syrup." (Fast Food Nation, p. 54, 286)

So what's the problem? The profit margin on soda is HUGE. How many ounces are in a gallon? Let me check... 128 fluid ounces.

I decided to find out big this medium McDonald's soft drink that Schlosser references in Fast Food Nation actually is. The answer? 21 ounces. The large soda is 32 ounces, which is equal to what Leona's serves, according to the e-mail I received.

So, Schlosser reports that syrup for a medium (21 oz.) Coke is 9 cents. He says ordering the large (32 oz.) drink increases the price of the syrup used by just 3 cents. (Fast Food Nation, p. 54) So, we have 12 cents worth of syrup for a soda that costs $1.75. (I believe that Leona's serves Pepsi products, but for the sake of the point I am trying to make here, we will assume the cost is comparable.)

Of course, larger drinks means less drinks gotten out of each gallon. If each ounce costs roughly 3.3 cents (Fast Food Nation, p. 286), then 12 cents worth of syrup (for a 32 ounce drink) would be 3.6 ounces of syrup? Is that right? I think so.

So. 128 ounces of syrup per gallon divided by 3.6 ounces of syrup per large soft drink equals... 35.5 drinks per gallon.

35.5 drinks at $1.75 each equals $62.12 made on each gallon of syrup. Subtract the cost of the syrup ($4.25) and the profit per gallon is $57.87.

That's a profit of 1361.65% per gallon of syrup.

Holy crap. Let me say that just once more:

That's a profit of 1361.65% per gallon of syrup.

Y'know, this really shouldn't be a big deal. It's just soda, pop, soft drinks, whatever you call 'em. But it kinda is a big deal. Why? Well, for one it just seems stoopid and unfair. For another, I guess I got snookered by the warm, fuzzy, non-just-concerned-about-profit vibe that Leona's gives off. Damn.

So. If you agree that this no-refills on soda policy is unjust, let the good people at Leona's know.

E-mail Laura Linder, Leona’s Customer Service.

Send a paper letter to Leona's Restaurants Headquarters, 3931 S. Leavitt, Chicago, IL 60609.

Call the headquarters at 1-773-523-7676.

Let them know if this is a deal-breaker for you and if you will be taking your business elsewhere. Tell your friends. Change this small corner of the world.

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