Cold Stone Treats Only 'Free' If You Make A Mandatory Donation

There’s an annual event at Cold Stone Creamery outlets called the World’s Largest Ice Cream Social. Part of the chain’s September fund-raising drive for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it’s billed as an event offering free ice cream during a three-hour period on a certain day. Melissa had put this on her calendar weeks in advance, because she’s on a budget, and hey: free ice cream! But she arrived at the mall to find employees posted at the Cold Stone door, not allowing anyone in unless they made a donation first. That’s not free, that’s a cover charge. Isn’t it?

First, this is what the Cold Stone Creamery site says about the event:

And we’re hosting the World’s Largest Ice Cream Social to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Tuesday, September 27th between 5 and 8 p.m. where customers will get a free taste of our Sprinkled with Wishesâ„¢ Creationâ„¢ – Sweet Cream Ice Cream, Brownie, Rainbow Sprinkles and Fudge!

The graphic to the right of this text says, “Come into a Cold Stone today/Donate to help make wishes come true/and receive a free Sprinkled With Wishes(tm) creation!”

That’s the background. Here’s Melissa’s story.

Cold Stone had a recent event supporting the Make a Wish foundation by offering a small, free themed ice cream cone if customers arrived at a certain time. While the donations were obviously a part of the event, the ice cream was supposed to be free according to the company website. I was very disappointed upon my visit to our local Cold Stone store in [redacted].

We went to the store today for the “Making Wishes Come True” free ice cream event, which has been marked on my calendar for almost a month. Upon approaching the store, two employees were standing in the mall, in front of the door to the store, one holding a donation jar and one holding a sign. We came up smiling and said “We are here for the free ice cream!” Instead of a friendly response, we were met with “It’s only free if you donate to Make-A-Wish.”

I replied, kind of shocked at her attitude, “So, its only free if I pay for it? Isn’t all ice cream free if I pay for it?” And the girl, blocking the whole entrance to the Cold Stone at that point, replied “You have to make a donation.” My significant other and I said thank you and told her we would have been happy to donate if it wasn’t required to get into the
store, but then we just turned and left.

We both actually have donated to Make-a-Wish and many other charities through direct donations, even though we do not have much money to spare. I love Cold Stone Creamery, and the whole experience was pretty disappointing. I am not sure if they were even willing to serve us having nothing to do with the event, since the whole ice cream store was completely empty, in what was an otherwise fairly crowded mall, and they seemed to be very conspicuously blocking the door.

The whole experience was a bit sad, and with another frozen treat store in the same mall competing for the same business, I am shocked that Cold Stone is treating customers that way. I wrote to their consumer comments address, so perhaps someone will have an answer.

Perhaps this change came about when employees saw chronic cheapskates coming for free ice cream and wandering out without making a donation.

If you stopped by this event yesterday, let us know in comments or at tips@consumerist.com whether donations were mandatory or just expected.