You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Take my water/ Take my land/ Just don't touch my/ Free broadband

Am typing this sitting in a McDonald's cafe. Macca's restaurants used to give you water (with ice, in a paper cup) for free, on request. Now, however, they charge $1.65 a cup. On the other hand, you can have broadband wireless Internet for free as long as you stay here. (Notionally there is a 50-MB limit, but if you run out, you just log out for a few minutes and then log in again and your slate is wiped clean.)

Free Internet, but charged for water. I don't want to sound ungrateful, since I guess one can always make up a water deficit from a tap in the park for free, whereas Internet usage is invariably user-pays elsewhere (eg, Zarraffa's cafes give you 15 minutes with each cuppa, but then charges for additional). But it seems incongruous.

Ironically, I would say the abolition of free safe water on demand has made me spend less at the temple of the pale orange clown than I otherwise would have. Firstly, because there's no way I'm paying $1.65 for ordinary H2O, even with ice, when I have water bottles in the car. Secondly, a sense of resentment that Macca's has instituted this penny-pinching change - it's not as if giving away free water was sending them bankrupt, and the amount of money I've spent at McDonaldses in my lifetime would be well into four figures now. Broadband is an indulgence for adults - nice, but dispensable. Hydration is a non-negotiable for children. And thirdly, the effort of packing up one's kit and escorting one or more children out to the car to drink for free from the water bottles is so substantial that it doesn't seem worth the effort to come back into the restaurant again once they're quenched. (Particularly since such effort is such a hurdle that one puts off rehydrating the children until later in the session than one would if the task was less effort). So I end up staying for a shorter time, and therefore spending less. Maybe this was an anti-obesity measure instituted by Mayor McCheese.

Ideally, of course, every cafe or food court would have a washbasin with a liquid soap dispenser and some paper towels right there in its main eating area, so that children can rehydrate - and rinse their food-sticky fingers - without having to go to the bathrooms and touch toilet door handles on the way. So far, however, only Nando's Grilled Chicken has this. Don't the toy stores and newsagents, at least, have an interest in pushing for this? Is a drinking fountain near the eating area - at the very least - asking too much?

UPDATE (2011_11_21): The $1.65-a-cup charge for water seems not to apply to all Macca's outlets. Most I've been in lately seem to be happy to give free water if you request it when you make a paying order, or if the counter staff can remember you having recently made a paying order. Perhaps charging money only applies if they think you haven't made any other purchase. Given how often I've observed people waltz in to make use of McDonalds' toilets, then waltz out again without buying anything, I think it's justified to have some policy to stop the free riders. However, on the couple of occasions where we were charged $1.65 a cup, we had made a purchase (in double figures, too). In fact, I think my offspring had proferred an emptied soft drink cup to be refilled, thereby putting proof of purchase beyond dispute.