The other day I was walking with my cup to the Soda Fountain1 at a restaurant. Someone was already using the fountain, but the drink they were getting was on the far right side, while what I wanted was closer to the left.

Figuring I had enough space to comfortably fill-up at the same time as them, I walked up and started to fill my cup...and proceeded to get a stink eye from the other person using the fountain.

This didn't result in more than a glare, but it did make me uncomfortable.

How can I tell when it's appropriate to use the Soda Fountain when someone is already on it in the future (as opposed for waiting for them to be finished)? Is there some etiquette on how far away the two drinks should be for two people to use it at once?

How can I tell whether or not I should wait for someone to finish, or step up to use the Soda Fountain at the same time as them?

1. For any unfamiliar with a "Soda Fountain," find a reference image below

Soda Fountain

  • 21
    Was there ample space between you and the offended party (at least seemingly ample to you)? If you bumped elbows, then I could see cause for a stink eye, but if there's several inches in between, then I could see the other person as being overly sensitive. Aug 26, 2019 at 19:26
  • 1
    @LuxClaridge I made sure to stand far to the left while holding my drink up to the fountain to ensure there wasn't. But if I had stood straight on like they were, then there may have been bumped elbows.
    – scohe001
    Aug 26, 2019 at 19:28
  • 9
    At least in Germany, some people suspect that the mix is different when multiple drinks are being drawn at the same time.
    – Alexander
    Aug 27, 2019 at 7:29
  • A bigger question four OP to clarify might be why this matters? For the most part Americans simply don't care about the soda fountain, and those who do are very petty.
    – user20
    Aug 28, 2019 at 1:41
  • 5
    In some machines, if more than one drink is being served at the same time the speed at wich each drink is poured is drastically reduced Aug 28, 2019 at 1:51

6 Answers 6


The biggest factor is where the other person is standing. If they are standing directly or mostly in front of the machine, then they are effectively claiming exclusive use of the machine. If they are standing to the side of the machine, where service items and condiments might be, it's fine to approach from other side of the machine.

Interpersonally, the issue is you would have been intruding on their personal space by reaching in to get your drink.

There are many nuances to this though. If the machine had the same flavors on both sides, separated by the ice dispenser, then the machine is meant for two people.

You would face a similar situation at a buffet or salad bar where reaching into someone else section of the line is a bit obnoxious.

An occasional complication of this is drink mixers who may actually use dispensers on opposite sides of the machine in one serving. In that case, you would have delayed them.

In a larger context, the increasingly popular Freestyle machines cannot be used by more than one person eliminating this altogether.

I, as many others, have used soda fountains and other beverage dispensers countless times. You just have to judge how approachable the situation is.


In my experience, though this does depends on both the area you live (the US is a big place) and the kind of establishment you are in.

I have most US experience on the west coast (and the mid west) so will give my perspective there.

In a casual or fast food place, this is generally fine, I would not hesitate to do this in say, a Subway, Costco or Burger King. In a fancier restaurant it is less likely to be acceptable as people are more likely to expect personal space (though most nice restaurants will have servers fill your drink rather than a fountain anyway).

The main exceptions to this would be if they are obviously filling multiple cups (such as refilling all the cups for their party and have two or three held), or if the fountain is small enough you may inadvertently touch them. I would say try and avoid coming within a foot of them in general.

Now to deal with your specific situation, of getting a glare, I would normally respond by apologizing (just "oh, sorry" should be fine) and stepping back until they were done (then finishing filling your drink after). They may have felt you were rushing them or judging them for taking too long, or simply value personal space highly. If they had a reason for wanting the whole machine this will quickly become obvious, and if not you have lost nothing more than a few seconds to avoid a conflict and they will likely look foolish for having been irritated with you.


"Pardon me"

Or "pardon my reach" or "excuse me", said in a informative and non-accusative tone. This is the polite way to arrest any discomfort they may have. If they want to consider the entire soda machine their "personal space", you have graciously acknowledged that you entered it.

That is to say, you are explicitly not challenging their belief that the entire machine is their personal space, something they might otherwise infer.

I am not suggesting that they have any legitimate claim to the entire machine as their personal space. In fact, "not taking a position on the matter" is kinda my point :)


Ah, the good old "Norwegian Arm".

A little humor can defuse such situations, as well as a generally apologetic and unconfrontational temperament. I, since I am Norwegian, use the term "Norwegian Arm" when I am doing something that is slightly "invading" someones space like this.

The Norwegian Arm is reaching beyond someone to grab something, especially on a buffet, or at a dinner table. The point is that with a minor inconvenience to someone, I can get something myself - and not ask them to pass it - which is also an inconvenience.

It is certainly for more informal situations when seated next to a stranger who seems to be minding his own business. Declaring "Norwegian Arm" loud and clear while grabbing said item of choice, I then explaining in a softer voice:

I have heard that it isn't rude if you say "Norwegian Arm" while you do it

Add an apologetic smile to that and it usually smoothes things out.


I don't think there is a standard etiquette which applies 100% of the time in all regions and all restaurants so here is my take on it.

If person A is at the Coca-Cola dispenser then person B should be able to comfortably use anything from Root Beer to Dr. Pepper; the person should probably come in at an angle to avoid any accidental nudging. I've had people use the dispenser which is just two away from mine and I simply move over a little to make sure we are both comfortable. NEVER use the one right next to the other person because the risk of cups touching greatly increases and you WILL be judged based on how clean you look.

If the restaurant is busy then it is much more common to see multiple people at the fountain but if person A and B are the only ones present at the fountain then in general just try to be mindful that not everyone is as comfortable as you are.

Also, be mindful of your body language because you may have inadvertently given off the impression that you are an impatient person which may have been why they gave you the stink-eye.

Every person is different so simply understand that you run the risk of stink-eye when doing this.


This is an answer from a British person (so not wholly relevant just additional information for other people), but there is only 1 answer, you never ever ever do that.

They have sole use of the machine unless you are a friend, then you are allowed to ask if they mind.

My only backup is I would be horrified if somebody did this to me, if they asked first I would be uncomfortable but unable to refuse as that would be rude.

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