Refills Want to Be Free

At Anna’s Taqueria, a great local chain for Mexican food, they have self-serve fountain soda machines. They sell you the cup and then you get your syrupy treat near the napkins and condiments.

The odd thing is that the machine has a sign that says “Refills 50¢.” How they expect that to work is beyond me. You wait in line and hand the cashier 50¢ just to get another drag of orange soda? It seems awfully trusting of them and inefficient to boot.

Now, I’m an upright citizen and all, but I can’t be bothered to actually obey the rule. First off, it seems a little greedy, but OK, I can deal with that. Much worse, it doesn’t make any sense. There’s no way for them to enforce the fee the way it is. And it would be trivial for them to move the machine behind the counter to where they could.

Given the ease with which they could prevent free refills and the obvious fact that many people are indeed taking free refills, I can only conclude that they don’t care very much. So I take my free refills too.

MBTA bus fares are similar. There’s supposed to be some rule about paying more for longer trips that cross some definition of “zones.” But the driver never asks your destination and they hand out transfers for a free second ride without caring how far that second ride takes you. If I were to pay the higher price, I’m not even sure how I would do that. Do I pay extra on the first bus or the second on top of my transfer?

The whole thing is ill-described and patently unenforceable. Thus, I have a hard time in good conscience actually paying more than the standard fare.

I feel like there’s little moral imperative to follow unenforceable rules. And not because I won’t get caught; rather, because the rule is so poorly designed. Particularly if an alternative, more enforceable structure could easily be used instead. Is that wrong?

4 thoughts on “Refills Want to Be Free”

  1. Yes, it is wrong. You’re stealing. If you wanted to follow the rules, there are a few things you could do.

    a) Notify the cashier ahead of time when you’re paying for your meal that you intend to get a refill, and pay the 50 cents extra. I assume that your bladder is reasonably consistent and you drink roughly the same amount each time you go, so it should be no surprise when you feel like getting a refill.

    b) Simply go back and pay them the 50 cents later when you want the refill. This is the process you’d be going through if they moved the machine behind the counter anyway.

    c) Remember you got the refill, then leave 50 cents in the tip jar next time you go. Or, leave 50 cents in the tip jar and then remember that you have a refill coming to you.

    Or, you could just do what I do and not care that you’re stealing.

  2. I’m not sure if this is the case at Anna’s, but at a lot of places if you order tap water, they just give you the same cup except they don’t charge you for it. They also don’t pay attention to what you fill it with.

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