For years, the ‘pay it forward’ trend has been prevalent across Starbucks locations. This involves someone buying their coffee or food and telling the barista to also cover the next order. On many occasions, this can cause a chain reaction, with customer after customer paying for the following customer’s meal.
Naturally, there is always a bit of controversy when someone stops this chain of generosity. A user on TikTok went viral earlier this year after admitting they ended the chain, saying that the customers before her had been “shamed” and “caught into this Conga line of morality.”
Another user went similarly viral after saying they stopped the chain upon learning the following customer’s order amounted to $46 while his order was only $6.
Starbucks employees, on the other hand, have been critical of such pay-it-forward chains in the past. Now, a former employee has gone viral after explaining why—and saying that he used to end the chains himself.
The video, posted by user Bennett (@bennettcardoso), currently has over 734,000 views.
i still hate the pay it forwards♬ original sound – bennettcardoso
In summary, Bennett claims the problem with the pay-it-forward idea is simply related to logistics. Asking a barista to ‘pay it forward’ requires them to juggle multiple orders at once on one tab, forcing them to keep track of each order instead of processing them one by one.
Instead, Bennett claims he kept with the spirit of the idea and would simply tell the next customer that their drink was free, making up an excuse as to why. This would allow the offer to be a one-off event rather than spurring a chain of people paying for the upcoming customer.
In comments, users noted the issues with the idea of ‘paying it forward’ at Starbucks.
“…the whole point is to pay it forward LATER not immediately! it does nothing to keep the cycle going in the same line,” a user observed.
“Honestly pay it forward only works if the person behind them actually gets out of paying for an order,” another agreed.
Other users shared their own ‘pay it forward’ stories.
“I usually just say ‘they paid for you, it’s your lucky day!’” a commenter claimed. “Be excited for them, and they feel no obligation to keep it going.”
“My barista literally said PLS DONT DO THAT to me when I tried to keep going,” a second added.
“Someone paid for my drink once and I happened to look at the car behind me, dude was in a Tesla,” a further user remembered. “I was like ‘he’s good’ and went about my day lmao.”
Update 11:42am CT, Sept. 7: In an Instagram DM exchange with Daily Dot, Bennett continued his thoughts on the pay-it-forward idea.
“I think a lot of people, what they misunderstand about it is that it’s not supposed to be consecutive in a line,” Bennett explained.
He offered an example of someone buying another person a free drink, then the second person doing the same thing the next day.
“Somebody did a random act of kindness for you, and you go and do it for somebody else,” he concluded. “It’s all about gratitude, which I am all for…I love gratitude.”
He also said that, in instances where the pay-it-forward chain has resulted in someone suddenly being expected to pay a larger bill than their own, customers can leave the experience feeling shamed rather than generous.
“[As] somebody who is kind of helping…run a Starbucks store, why would I want my customers to feel bad for something that is kind of out of their control?” he asked. “It gives them a bad experience. You don’t want that for your business.”
He then cited instances from the comment section and his own experience at Starbucks in which baristas made people feel bad for not continuing the chain. Bennett said he learned to reassure customers and tell them to simply take and enjoy the free drink.
“Everybody wins,” he concluded.