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Drive-thru pay it forward: Generous gesture or guilt trip?


A few years ago, a man in Florida ended an 11-hour “pay it forward” chain in a Starbucks drive-thru.

According to ABC News, he chose not to continue the pay it forward chain because he felt that everyone was just participating out of “guilt.” What the man argued was that when someone pays for the drink of the person behind them just because someone else paid for theirs, it is not true generosity. “It is no longer spontaneous,” the man said to ABC News.

Was he just being cheap? Actually, no.

In fact, the man ended up tipping the barista $100 instead, emphasizing that he wanted to help people, but of his own free will.  Plenty of types of random acts of kindness exist, but pay it forward is probably one of the most well-known.

However, as the man in  the Florida Starbucks pointed out, many people simply feel obligated to pay for the drink of the person behind them because someone paid for theirs.

And even if they do willingly choose to pay for the drink of the person behind them, they are often not sacrificing anything, as they were already planning on paying for their own drink.

So is this really an act of kindness if they aren’t motivated by the right reasons? Pay it forward does often lift people’s spirits and can make the world seem like a brighter place.  But while this may be true on the customer’s part, some drive-thru workers have a slightly different perspective.

Keeping track of multiple orders while also remembering that all the order screens are wrong because of the pay it forward chain can be confusing, New Hampshire Starbucks barista Tim Gulino said.

So should we drop this phenomenon entirely? Maybe not.

Gulino said that even though it can be frustrating to keep track of everything, he still thinks that paying it forward is a kind thing to do.  “It’s confusing, but I think receiving it would be a nice gesture [from someone],” he said.

So maybe instead of giving up on the whole experience, we should just do better.

Instead of paying it forward, tip the barista what you were going to use to pay your drink. Or, you could use that money to buy a coffee or a hamburger for a homeless person. Or give the money to your local church. Or donate it to one of many other causes. There are countless options.

Now, don’t feel bad if you participate in a pay it forward, or if you already have in the past.  In general, it can be a great experience and even a great act of kindness. You’ll probably make the customer behind you happy, even if they end up paying for someone else’s drink and not saving any money.

Just remember that your intentions behind any act of kindness should be a motivation to help others, not just something you feel obligated to do.

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Drive-thru pay it forward: Generous gesture or guilt trip?