Cups for Ants

I went to Five Guys earlier today for lunch, and ordered my go-to Cheeseburger with Fried Onions, Mushrooms and Hot Sauce. The cashier asked if I wanted any fries or drink to go with that, and I countered with a request for a cup for water.

This lilliputian shot-glass is what she gave me:


After putting in some ice, it took less than two seconds on the water tap to fill this thing up. I’d ballpark that at one large mouthful. What is this, a cup for ants?

I sat down at a nearby table to wait for my order, but my consternation with the cup’s size continued. After all, Five Guys is the latest perpetrator of this scourge, but it’s surely not the only QSR out there that commits this heinous act. In fact, it’s not even the most egregious – lookin’ at you Panera!

Itunneln this great nation of ours, you want a soda? Here’s an olympic-sized swimming pool with an agility tunnel to use as a straw. Everybody else who wants tap-water? Time to break out the pipettes!

As someone who rarely drinks soda, this feels like complete bullshit to me every time, but at the very least I understand where the dynamic comes from. Too many heroes in the past have ordered a cup of water, been granted a 16-oz paper coca-cola cup, waltzed over to the unsupervised soda fountain, and smugly filled that sucker up to the brim with that perfect combination of Hi-C and Mountain Dew. Ahhh… tastes even better when it’s free…

This is what is known in the biz as non-Costanza “Shrinkage,” and as that hyperlinked-article states, “keeping your shrinkage rate low is critical to success in business.” Essentially, what must have happened is, QSR execs determined that giving out smaller water cups would be a great way to eliminate the product they lost, and boom, that’s all it took. Quite honestly, it’s a shrewd play.

And the reason it’s so damn savvy is that there’s no negative consequence (aside from amateur bloggers with negligible reach bitching about it, of course). I mean, even if you got rid of all shoplifting across the board, eliminating the initial problem, there’s basically no upside to bringing back regular-size water cups. In fact, the smaller cups might just provide enough incentive to shoppers that they change their minds, and end up springing for that Dr. Pepper they were sort of hankering for anyway.

What it will never incent restaurant-goers to do, though, is not go; to protest these measly offerings by taking our patronage elsewhere. This is all the power we, as consumers, would ever need to make that change, but we’ll never actually use it. I personally won’t let this tiny water cup prevent me from grabbing Five Guys again next time I’m in the mood. That’s just not how it’s going to play out.

So, with that in mind, it seems we’re going to be stuck drinking our free water out of metaphorically-but-certainly-not-literally-pint-sized, plastic glencairn glasses forever.

Alas. Now, down it, fresh!

P.S. This post reminded me of probably my favorite thing I saw on Twitter all year (from Rob Delaney, the co-star-and-creator of Catastrophe, which is a show everybody should watch because it’s also freaking hilarious), so figured I’d share:


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