According to 1917 internal correspondence from the Individual Drinking Cup Company, soda fountains were where their disposable paper cups were used most often. Although the company agreed that disposable paper cups would be unpractical “in restaurants until a paper dish service is also offered,” soda fountains, many of which were located inside drugstores used paper cups for sanitation, efficiency, and convenience. Disposable cup manufacturers advertised sanitation benefits with statements like “influenza sits on the brim of the soda glass” or that patrons will “go blocks out of their way” just to patronize a soda fountain that offers clean and ‘inviting’ cups.
In attempts to promote cleanliness in soda fountains, the Boards of Health required that soda fountains either had to have a sink and running water in order to clean the cups or that sanitary paper cups had to be supplied. In most cases soda fountains used paper cups and linings placed inside metal cup holders to meet sanitary regulations. Not only were the single-use cups sanitary because they were destroyed after one use, but with the increased use of paper cup dispensers patrons lips were the first things to touch the cups’ rim as fountain workers pulled the cups from the bottom. The circular below demonstrates the ways in which sanitation was increased with the use of paper cups, showing the ways in which practices at soda fountains changed upon adoption of disposable containers.
According to a book published in 1938 by the National Association of Sanitarians Inc. “the increase in the number of food and drink places…and that there has been a large increase in the consumption of food and drink away from the home, makes the dish problem one of major importance.” Although the book described the proper sanitization methods and equipment for drinking glasses, the authors ultimately demonstrated the value of paper service at food-handling establishments. This holds true not only because the public “desire[s] sanitary eating and drinking utensils” but also because using paper cups made business. The notion that soda fountain patrons would appreciate safe, clean cups was reflected not only in sanitation guides but also in paper cup advertisements like the one below.
A major argument for paper cups in soda fountains and later quick-service restaurants was the efficiency and convenience they offered. According to a Public Service Cup Company brochure, soda fountains could serve 500 sodas in two hours if they used disposable cups. Time would not be lost washing and drying glasses and disposable cups were easy for countermen to grab from the dispenser. With the creation of cold drink cup lids around 1927, patrons could also now take their favorite drinks to go.
Widespread ownership of automobiles following World War II meant that quick service restaurants, roadside stands, drive-ins, and other kinds of roadside restaurants proliferated. Like the soda fountains that preceded them, fast food and quick-service restaurants operated under the well-established tradition of offering inexpensive food quickly to customers. Paper cups and other paper food service packaging fit well into this frame. According to the Foodservice Packaging Institute the biggest single event in foodservice packaging history came when the McDonalds brothers in California decided to shut down their popular drive in restaurant. The brothers, like other restaurant owners, were frustrated with dishwashers, dishwashing, car hops, wait staff, and the problems related to glassware including storage, customer theft, and breakage. They reopened their restaurant six months later and offered meals eaten without glasses, plates, or cutlery, relying exclusively upon disposable cups and containers. To this day fast food and even some sit-down restaurants use single-use foodservice packaging not only for sanitation but also for worker safety, efficiency, convenience, and reduced operating costs.
As demonstrated by the image at the top of the page, soda fountains and quick-service restaurants used paper cups not only because they were clean but also because they allowed for fast and convenient service. Customers as well as business owners began to be appreciate the convenience and efficiency that paper cups offered.