Hot Beverages at Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Drive-Thru Windows

By Borchgrevink, Carl P.; Sciarini, Michael P. et al. | Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, April 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Hot Beverages at Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Drive-Thru Windows

Borchgrevink, Carl P., Sciarini, Michael P., Susskind, Alex M., Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management

The Liebeck hot coffee case is discussed, showing that the court's decision was not whimsical, but predicated on the knowledge and behaviour of McDonald's as represented and displayed by their employees and agents. Subsequent research establishing consumer preferred temperatures for consuming hot beverages is reviewed, as is the literature considering that such temperatures are above medical literature thresholds for injuries, yet not causing injuries. Past and current quick service restaurant (QSR) drive-thru window practices regarding hot beverage service temperatures and warnings are established and examined. Finally, circumstances and conditions under which O.SR management need to practice due diligence in providing for their customers are addressed.


In 1994 a jury decision to award Ms Stella Liebeck nearly $3 million from McDonald's created quite an uproar within the hospitality industry and among the general public. While the judge presiding over the case later reduced the verdict and a final settlement was reached outside of the courts, the case still has significant implications for hospitality business operators and the public at large.

Many have heard of the 1994 case in which Ms Stella Liebeck was awarded $2.9 million in a combination of compensatory and punitive damages for burning herself with coffee received at a McDonald's drive-thru window. Some of the outrage centred on the notion that coffee is supposed to be hot, and that Ms Liebeck should have taken greater care not to spill her coffee. Many believe that she had the cup between her legs and was driving at the time of the spill. Some believe that the case was totally frivolous, and that it represented an out-of-control litigious society. A mock prize, The Stella Award ('', 2006), has even been named after Stella Liebeck's case. This award is given each year to the case that is deemed the most frivolous. Others believe the case was helpful and instrumental in encouraging safer hospitality practices, as well as safer hot beverage cups and lids. The discussion and controversy continues to this date (see, e.g., Fleischer-Black, 2004; Greenbaum, 2005; Lane, 2006; Off the Kuff, 2002; Olson & Frank, 2006; 'The Real Facts', 2006).

The Facts of the Liebeck Case

The most pertinent facts of this case as reported by the Wall Street Journal (Gerlin, 1994) and the New York Times (Shaw, 1994) follow. The law firm hired to defend McDonald's in the Stella Liebeck case sent a law student to measure coffee temperatures at other establishments and found that none of the cups of coffee at other restaurants were as hot as the coffee served by McDonald's. The closest cup was approximately 20[degrees]F (11[degrees]C) below the temperature at which McDonald's apparently was serving coffee. The temperature McDonald's is cited as using is about 180[degrees]F (82[degrees]C).

Prior to trial the opposing lawyers received the McDonald's operating manual. It stipulated that coffee should be brewed at a temperature ranging from 195[degrees]F (90.6[degrees]C) to 205[degrees]F (96.1[degrees]C), and held at the range of 180[degrees]F (82.2[degrees]C) to 190[degrees]F (87.8[degrees]C) for optimal taste.

Ms Liebeck was a passenger in a car, and the car was parked at the time of the spill. She had ordered a cup of coffee at the drive-thru and it had been served with sugar and cream on the side. When Ms Liebeck attempted to remove the lid in order to add the cream and sugar, she held the cup between her legs for stability, but wound up spilling coffee on her groin, inner thighs and buttocks. Her burns were severe and she spent 7 days in the hospital during which she received skin grafts among other treatments. In her suit, Ms Liebeck claimed that the coffee was a defective product due to the high serving temperature of the coffee. It should be noted, however, that Ms Liebeck had initially not intended to sue McDonald's, but simply requested compensation for her pain and coverage of her medical bills.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Hot Beverages at Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Drive-Thru Windows


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?