Coca-Cola Updates Self-Service Soda Dispensers To Make Them Touchless

Faced with restaurants and c-stores that have shut down their self-serve soda fountains, by choice or mandate, to reduce the risk of contagion spread, Coca-Cola has updated its Freestyle soda fountains with software that enables thirsty customers to order their custom drink off smartphones.

By scanning the QR code on the machine, their smartphone launches a URL that has that Freestyle machine’s ordering UX on the handset screen. Users don’t need to download an app or open a loyalty account.

This is a variation on what we’re seeing out there with restaurants and retailers using QR codes to give people everything from paperless menus to customer service queue tickets.

Chris Hellmann, Coca-Cola Freestyle’s vice president, told Business Insider: “No sector has been more damaged or hurt by the pandemic than the restaurant and entertainment business.”  

There are roughly 52,000 Coca-Cola Freestyle machines in the US. According to Hellmann, Coca-Cola plans to roll out touchless technology to 50 machines this week, roughly 10,000 by the end of the summer, and have all Freestyle machines using touchless technology by the end of the year.

Most major chains — including McDonald’s, Popeyes, and Burger King — have shut down their self-serve soda fountains as part of safety precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic. As restaurants reopen dining rooms, high-touch surfaces such as beverage dispensers and condiment stations remain off limits.

Coca-Cola is also currently working on touchless options for legacy dispensers, Hellmann said. The soda giant has also worked with restaurants to provide other pandemic era safety options, such as hand sanitizer and disposable stylus pens.

Hellmann told Business Insider that restaurants were asking for a touch-free soda fountain solution, but he conceded he had doubts about how much use the things will see. But if Coca-Cola is not dispensing anything right now, at least in some jurisdictions, this would trigger at least some use.

The machines would have to be IP-connected to facilitate the smartphone ordering, acting as local servers. So pushing out a firmware, I assume, update would be relatively straightforward.

As noted in numerous posts throughout this health emergency, touchscreens are just another surface. You could argue quite effectively that rather than shutting the machines down, providing hand sanitizing dispensers at the machine would cover the risk.

At least with a touchscreen, you are hyper-aware you are touching a surface touched by others.  You could go through the whole nine yards of touchless ordering your 32 ounces of half root beer, half Fanta (I dunno, I drink water, coffee and beer), and then pull on a door handle last touched by someone who’s asymptomatic.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. 

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