This Taco Bell Lies About Water In Order To Sell The Bottled Kind

Seriously, has it come to this? Now we have to resort to fountain drink station sleuthing to figure out whether our local fast food restaurant is lying to us? Nathan used his knowledge of drink machine buttonry to figure out that the machine does indeed offer up plain municipal water. The “water” button has been colored black with a marker, however, to help it blend in with the machine.

Back in November, I went to a Taco Bell in the Towne Center mall in Marietta, GA. When I was at the register I noticed a sign telling me that they didn’t have any water in their drink machine but, never fear, there were water bottles available for purchase at the register.

I was skeptical of this because they served fruit punch or lemonade at the machine, and most drink machines have both a switch for carbonated water (under one of the sodas) and a switch for water (under one of the fruit drinks). When I looked at the fruit drink, I noticed there was a button on the front of it that curiously looked like it had been colored over with a black sharpee to match the color of the machine. Sure enough, when I pushed the “invisible” button, out came a glorious waterfall.

I know there’s no law about something like this, but… is there?

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  1. MacQix says:

    In some states they are required by law to offer water for free. I know Arizona has to do this, but I don’t know about Georgia..

    • ArcanaJ says:

      @MacQix: Georgia is not a very consumer friendly state, so I doubt that they have such a law.

      • Nathan Smart says:

        @ArcanaJ:

        In what way are they not consumer friendly? I’m not disagreeing, I just don’t know.

        • TouchMyMonkey says:

          @nathansmart: Insofar as you have the right to fuck over your customers and employees, Georgia and the rest of Dixie is libertarian to a fault. On social issues like who you can crawl under the covers with, it’s a whole other story.

    • SabreDC says:

      @MacQix: Does it have to come from the soda fountain? I’m sure that every single Taco Bell has a restroom with a running tap. It all comes from the same place.

      • wardawg says:

        @SabreDC: Except the water that comes from the machine is run through a filtering system. I`d take that over local pipe water any day, even though I realize that the filtering really only takes out the calcium and iron.

        • MrEvil says:

          @wardawg: There’s no filters on the soda machine. I’ve been in lots of back rooms at restaurants fixing their PCs and never once saw filtration on the fresh water inlet on the machine. They just hook up a hose from a nearby tap to the inlet on the machine. It’s the only way they can use the boxed syrup which is concentrate.

          Concession trailers, due to their not often being located near a source of potable water use the canisters which are pre-mixed syrup with the appropriate amount of water then carbonated.

        • bairdwallace says:

          @wardawg: Yeah, I’ve never seen a filter in any of the machines I’ve worked with waiting and bartending.

          • detraya says:

            @bairdwallace: i work at a gas station and we have a filter hooked up to our machine. i guess its a store by store thing.

          • wardawg says:

            @bairdwallace: Managed at McDs for 4 years, I don’t know what it’s like down there in the states but all the stores up here run filtered water through the beverage machines, carbonated or not. Keeps the nozzles from clogging up with sediment.

    • lauy says:

      @MacQix: I live in AZ and have never been able to find anything in our statutes to support this claim that water must be offered in AZ.

      If anyone can give me the statute, I’d be curious to read it…

  2. Yankees368 says:

    “I know there’s no law about something like this, but… is there?”

    Well, is there? Must restaurants provide free water to otherwise paying customers?

    • larrymac808 says:

      @Yankees368: I’m sure they’d still charge for a “cup of ice”, even if you tell them to hold the ice.

    • HIV 2 Elway says:

      @Yankees368: In Arizona you have to offer water to anyone, paying customer or not.

    • melmoitzen says:

      @MacQix: True, but the law probably doesn’t prescribe the method of delivery. Which means that you (restaurateur) have every right to make it tough or impossible for your customers to get their own water from the fountain in your dining room, provided you’re willing to take on the additional labor to give them a cup of free H20 from behind the counter.

      I suspect that what’s behind this isn’t entirely a desire to withhold free water, but rather seeing too many water customers “accidentally” filling their cups with soda.

      • xwildebeestx says:

        @melmoitzen:
        water customers “accidentally” filling their cups with soda.
        Which is what 99.999999% of the free water cups are used for in Arizona.

        • Kicken says:

          @xwildebeestx:
          By kids.

          I always see small children (-16) doing this, but I’ve never seen someone of a more mature age do it. It really comes down to the people who do it not having the funds avaliable to buy a drink.

          • spongebue says:

            @Kicken: When I was working at the MSP airport over the summer, I saw a TSA “officer” grab a water cup from one of the McDonalds and fill it up with sprite (for whatever reason, this location had the water cups right next to the machine, no need to talk to anyone to get one).

      • parkavery says:

        @melmoitzen: If you order water at Panera Bread, they only give you a small cup. I’m guessing this is a deterrent against stealing soda because, if you’re willing to get up 5-6 times to get the equivalent of a medium soda that costs the restaurant a few pennies, you can have it.

    • Repique says:

      @Yankees368: I don’t even think this is necessarily about whether it’s required to give out free water, but whether it’s okay to lie and tell people they have to buy water because the machine doesn’t have it… when it really does.

    • amuro98 says:

      @Yankees368:
      In the states I’ve lived (MI, IL, CA) restaurants are required by law to provide free water. Not doing so is considered a health code violation.

      At the same time, however, they don’t have to give you free cup. As a result, many places will insist on charging you anywhere from a nickel to a quarter to get a cup in which to put the water.

      As for folks who would use their water cup for soda, I’ve seen a few clerks bust the customer for that, and made the purchase a small soda. Still happens a lot, though.

      • Kicken says:

        @amuro98:
        OK, but what are they going to do? They can’t detain you. Unless there is a cop there right on scene, there is nothing stopping you from just walking out.

        • zark169 says:

          @Kicken: That same logic applies to every crime, but with witnesses involved the ‘logic’ just sounds ridiculous. Besides, most fast food places have cameras, so if really they feel like persuing you they can try to, minor theft or not.

      • FooSchnickens - Full of SCAR says:

        @amuro98: I believe the same law/code is in effect in GA as well. Whether or not they have to give it to non-customers I don’t know, but paying customers, yes.

  3. SabreDC says:

    Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with it if they didn’t put the sign up. If they just colored the button black so fewer people would use it, fine. But lying outright that they do not have water, that’s just sneaky.

    Consumerist needs a category for these posts with non-corporate signs that may not be an official indication of corporate policy. I must say, I get a kick out of them the most.

    • mariospants says:

      @SabreDC: I don’t think that would help their cause. If they had a great big “WATER HERE” button then it would probably mean less “is this it? No, that’s Coke. Is THIS it? No, that’s Sprite” mistakes. They just want to charge people for water.

  4. Gtmac says:

    Would this not fall under the The Federal Trade Commission Act? The portion prohibiting “unfair or deceptive trade acts or practices.”

  5. WillG says:

    Tell the manager that you wont stand for his underhanded tricks, write a letter to corporate and get your lunch at a different taco bell…

    We just had the TB nearest me close because they couldn’t get an order right to save themselves and everyone avoided the place. The next one south of it was always at least 1/2 full and now has more customers.

  6. NightSteel says:

    I’m not surprised to see this at a Taco Bell. Not exactly what you’d call a classy joint in the first place.

    If it bugs you that much, though, just ask to speak with a manager or kick it up the chain to regional staff.

  7. pixiegirl1 says:

    This is why I carry my kleen kanteen with me and I don’t have to ask for a cup for water I already have my own cup!

    IMO that taco bell just doesn’t want to give away free water, but have no problems charging you for it. I’d be interested to see if more people are now asking for water instead of soda to save money. Maybe htey are trying to make up for lost revenue do to lower soda sales.

  8. simplegreen says:

    If you eat at Taco bell in the first place, you wont care putting something in your body like soda anyway. Cant really complain about not having tap water IMO. Its like going to the ballpark and expecting to get a 2 dollar beer.

    I say to all you dirty diaper eaters (i mean, tacobell diners) continue to enjoy your Grade D hoof beef and your 36 ounce liquid sugar.

    that said, i need to get trashed and go get a taco.

  9. donjumpsuit says:

    I am not suprised.
    For years we drove mom and pop stores into bankruptcy, because we bought from chain stores, or online just to save taxes and 5%.

    Now the chain stores and corporations are trying to take us in every way possible (with all the shrinking product sizes)

    Once again, the intelligent must remain vigilant. And let the idiots pay the idiot tax.

  10. Ash78 ain't got time to bleed says:

    They’re just authentifying the Mexican experience.

  11. nicemarmot617 says:

    Ugh. If it was up to me, they’d stop selling bottled water and make everyone get it from the tap. What a waste!

  12. twritersf says:

    Two words: Taco. Bell.

  13. bagumpity says:

    Other restaraunts just put out tiny cups next to spiggots with impossibly slow flow rates.

  14. Spaceman Bill Leah says:

    My guess is that they are sick of giving out cups for “water” and then finding out people are helping themselves to soda that they didn’t pay for.

    Not that they aren’t douches for lying about it.

  15. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I had a really weird experience at Taco Bell the other day.

    I was the only customer in there, at around 2pm on a Wednesday. The cashier was an EXTREMELY friendly woman, praising how greatful she is to have a job with such fantastic managers (one of whom was standing right there).

    Eventually it led to her talking about how hard her life is at the moment, and going on (and on) about how God will help her through. Normally, I’m offended by being confronted with God via customer service, but she was so nice I didn’t care.

    I order a medium cup to fill it with Mountain Dew Baja Blast (the best part of Taco Bell). Halfway through filling, she says “No, take this bigger cup!”. I accept it, and as I am filling it I realize that it is covered in drived coca cola syrup. Again, she was so nice, and on such ard times, I didn’t complain.

    While sitting there, eating my taco, listening to her STILL talking about The Lord, I mention my cup is all sticky. Instead of offering another cup, she comes over with a cold wet rag (I assume used to clean the tables) adn wipes it all over my cup! I didn’t want to touch the cup, then handle food I’m putting into my mouth.

    I was so weirded out by the series of events, I just finished what I was chewing, toss out the cup and remaining food, and left. I intended on taking the cup with me, and riving aroudn with it, but I didnt’ want something that sticky in my car. Besdies, the large cup wouldn’t have fit in my cup holders >_<

    • t0ph says:

      @AlteredBeast: most. bizarre. story. ever.

      • shorty63136 says:

        @PerpetualBoredom: Seconded.

        Also – beware of table bussers who spray that “unidentified blue cleaning stuff” onto the table without removing the salt and pepper shakers. The fact that I’m using extra salt is bad enough, but salt and the blue stuff?

        Sorry – I have a thing about unnecessary cross-contamination especially by things that are unidentified.

        • Charlotte Rae's Web says:

          @shorty63136: Me too on all of that. People laugh at me for ‘setting the table’ at places but I cannot let anything I might eat with rest on a table at a restaurant so I get put napkins under silverware, drinks, etc.

    • ShizaMinelli says:

      @AlteredBeast: And not once did you think to…I don’t know…SPEAK UP about any of this?

      • aguacarbonica says:

        @ShizaMinelli:

        If I were dealing with someone who was so nice, and yet clearly bizarre, I wouldn’t have spoken up either. I guess it just depends on how you weigh offending someone against a dollar cup of soda.

        Not that it would be wrong to speak up; just different people have different priorities.

        • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

          @aguacarbonica: Exactly. Normally, I wouldn’t say anything about all the religious talk, but I would say something about the whole cup situation.

          I didn’t, because this woman just seemed so nice/strange/on hard times that it wasn’t worth it to me to make it an issue. I wasn’t as concerned about offending her, as much as I didn’t want get her in any trouble.

          Trust me, normally I speak up! I’ve worked enough in customer service that I know what is acceptable and what isn’t.

  16. Travis McReynolds says:

    Et tu, Towne Centre Mall? My teenage self would have been outraged.

  17. jwalker095 says:

    Here in PA restaurants are required to give customer free water. Years ago at sit-down joints they would automatically bring you a glass of water before they took your drink orders. They stopped doing this once we started getting droughts. However the law still remains in place and you must be given free water upon request.

  18. HalOfBorg says:

    “Our machine does not have water”

    So……what are they mixing with the soda syrup to make pop?

    Maybe “Our machine’s water dispenser is broken”

    More likely as mentioned earlier “People are buying water and getting pop.”

    • amuro98 says:

      @HalOfBorg: I can’t remember which fast food place I went to, but one day their soda fountain DID break. It looked like the manager ran down to the nearby 7-11 and bought a selection of soft drinks and bottled water, which was in an iced tub by the register. They were selling the bottles for the price of a medium drink, but if you wanted water, they just tossed you a small water bottle for free.

      I wish I could remember which store did that as that sort of service deserves repeat business.

  19. EmperorOfCanada says:

    Little known fact: In the future, all restaurants will be Taco Bells. President Schwarzenegger told me so.

  20. ktoth04 says:

    If they don’t want people putting soda in the free water cups, put the freaking fountains behind the counter!

    • SabreDC says:

      @ktoth04: How ’bout it. Ah, America. The land where we pay fast food restaurants for the privilege of getting our own drinks. The land where we pay grocery stores for the privilege of ringing up and bagging our own groceries…

      When will the major fast food joints (McD, BK, and YUM brands, specifically) finally see the cost savings in eliminating unnecessary counter jobs altogether? Replace the 15-year-old behind the counter with a terminal for me to order my own sandwich (which will have a better chance of being correct) and use that saved money on improving your other services.

      • MrEvil says:

        @SabreDC: I for one welcome our new automated fast food overlords.

        In fact I demand they put the machinery that makes the food automatically to be displayed in public view. So while I watch and can play the following music in my head:


        + Watch video

      • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

        @SabreDC: You know it still seems to me that we should get a discount off our groceries when we have to scan/bag them ourselves.. We are clearly saving the store money.. and it isn’t as convenient as they make it out to be.

        Sure if there are tons of other checkers doing people’s baskets full of stuff then it would save me time to check out my one or two things myself at a self-checkout.. but when they close down all the other lines and only offer self-checkout for everyone it doesn’t save me any time at all.. so it should save me money for doing the work myself.

  21. kwsventures says:

    Paying for bottled water is one of the biggest scams ever.

  22. sxs3200 says:

    I was at a Chipotle in Washington DC a few weeks ago and they claimed that the water dispenser wasn’t working right and that I could buy a soda if I’d like.

    I asked how soda would be working if the water wasn’t working going to the soda machine. it was “fixed” next time I went in.

  23. dwasifar says:

    Rubbing alcohol takes off Sharpie marker ink with one quick swipe. Perhaps next time Nathan’s there he can reveal the subterfuge for all to see.

  24. azsumrg1rl says:

    Some restaurants in AZ charge for ice… or the cup!

  25. TorrentFreak says:

    I know in Texas a resteraunt must provide water for free if requested. A man can die here in the summer heat without proper hydration. Forcing you to buy bottled is ridiculous when municple water is every bit as clean and in some cases cleaner then bottled water.

    Bottled water is the biggest rip off in human history.

  26. CyrusOpeth says:

    Taco Bell? Isn’t that the place where you can either buy a bottle of water OR, for the same price, feed a family of five?

  27. FLEB says:

    You could just ask for a free drink. When I was young, broke, and brazen, I used to go into the Taco Bell and get “A bean burrito, a Burrito Supreme, and a free drink”. I ended up with a free drink, oh, about half to three-quarters of the time.

  28. JakeChance84 says:

    I’m not sure if it’s all machines but they’re usually hooked up to tap water, a CO2 canister, and many many pouches of concentrated syrup. The machine actually mixed them all on the spot when you push the button to dispense your drink.

    If they actually didn’t have water, the machine wouldn’t work at all or it’d be outputting syrup that could send you into a diabetic coma in about 5 sips.

  29. jfischer says:

    I don’t see much problem here, what with nearly everyone unable to exit their door without a bottle of water firmly in hand, as if we were all living in some dystopian future reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” trilogy.

    So people WANT their water in bottles, and the management is rightly afraid of the liability inherent in having people refilling those bottles, pushing their saliva-coated bottle necks against the water spout, and giving the next person to fill their water bottle cholera or something. (Remember John Snow in 1854 and the famous water pump? He may have been wrong (and yes, he was wrong!) but that was how epidemiology got started. (Not to be confused with entomology, epistemology, or etymology, of course.)

  30. FooSchnickens - Full of SCAR says:

    I hate Town Center Mall. Hell, I hate Barrett Parkway even more.

    It doesn’t surprise me much that the would resort to this. Being so close to a college campus will do that to some businesses.

  31. boxiom says:

    Heeey I go to that mall all the time. Its a pretty shitty mall and the area is pretty shitty, so I’m not suprised.

  32. polymer girl says:

    I don’t know if it is against the law, but I would be shocked if it wasn’t against their franchise agreement with Yum Brands.

  33. edosan says:

    Does anyone have any actual documentation saying that r restaurants have to give out free water besides “I heard it from some guy in the Internet?”

  34. Javin says:

    Everyone thrashes Taco Bell for this “sneaky” tactic because, hey, it’s Taco Bell, they’re big corporate, they MUST be doing something wrong, right?

    What nobody has taken into consideration is WHY they did this. It’s automatically assumed that it’s because they want to sell their bottled water. Wrong.

    When I was a teenager, I worked in Hardee’s, and I know precisely why Taco Bell did this. Thieving, sneaky, lying, trashy customers. It’s because of YOU people (generally speaking) that this has to be done in restaurants. We had SO many people coming up to the counter and ordering “water” (a free cup) then turning to the soda machine and pumping themselves some free soda. If confronted about it, they’d simply flip you the bird and walk out. What were you going to do about it?

    It got to the point that we finally disconnected the soda machine, and only allowed customers to have soda that we pumped for them ourselves. Because of the theives that are most customers, the honest customers could no longer get their free refills without having to come ask for them.

    I guarantee this is precisely what’s happening at this Taco Bell. POS Customers stealing from them has driven them to try and “hide” the water button.

    I know the Consumerist is for picking on the “bad” companies, but sometimes people need to look at these things realistically. Often, the consumer is to blame.