For tomorrow’s soda jerk: One of the brightest, shining lights in the dizzying world of fizzy drinks is the Coca Cola Corp’s “Freestyle” machine. With over 100 different concoctions available (including non-fizzy variations like “Powerade”), this is one of the most easily-accessible and customizable dining experiences available right now.
At my local Coca Cola Freestyle venue, “Qdoba” (You can find your nearest Coca Cola Freestyle pusherman here – or download the app for iPhone or even Android – you’ll be glad you did), the Freestyle machine is smack-dab (that’d be a good name for a new soda: “Smack Dab!” It would have to taste like a fizzy Sour Patch kid) in the middle of the restaurant, drawing attention to every customer who uses it. I feel like I’m being monitored, and people are eyeing my choices and bizarre flavor combinations (Coke Zero with grape-flavored Sprite? Smack dab!) as I attempt to create the mythical “Suicide”.
I like choice. I like soda. I don’t like having to make my own decisions. 9 times out of 10, I’ll go for a Coke Zero and spray a little bit of Cherry Coke Zero in there. Then I’ll worry that it won’t be good, and feel anxious as I make my way back to my table. This is no way to enjoy a Chicken Queso burrito. No matter how many times I’ve used the machine, I still get confused about what I like and I end up just standing there staring at the screen like a real soda jerk.
There’s a similar frustration as I’m waiting for other people to make their decisions. The endless navigation process as the customer cycles through every type of soda, and then decides to go back to one of the first soda choices and weigh the options of each artificial flavor, can get ridiculous. It’s like waiting in line for a RedBox vending machine that forces you to first choose your genre and then two additional sub-genres before choosing your DVD. “What am I in the mood for?” This feeling of uncertainty never goes away, I’m sure of it.
The Freestyle has been around for years, and the Coke posse spent four years developing and perfecting the system. The machine is kind of a repurposed medical machine, originally designed for dialysis and cancer treatment, with the advanced capability of tracking the most popular flavor combinations and presenting updated preferences to the bigwigs in the Coke home office. This is presumably to enhance the customer experience and offer a more streamlined offering, but it smells like Big Brother to me (Coke can even eliminate a flavor or brand offering remotely). There’s no telling what else Coke is capable of at this point.
Eventually, all forms of refreshment will be dispensed by an ATM, controlled by an evil master soda jerk, where you can press your fingerprint up to the screen and the machine will tell you that you’re in the mood for a 60/40 mix of Seagrams Ginger Ale Cherry/Vanilla. And a receipt will print out that only says: “CONSUMER #XXXXXX, You like it when the bubbles tickle your nose”.