There's No Such Thing As a Free Latte

Another 'Pay It Forward' phenomenon has hit Starbucks, this time with around 400 patrons buying drinks for other customers.

Published Aug. 21, 2014

Just after Christmas in 2013, a "pay it forward" chain at one Starbucks location in Connecticut made national headlines. On 20 August 2014, the same outburst of do-gooding occurred in Florida, with hundreds of Starbucks patrons paying for the orders of others.

Before you get too excited, note that the Starbucks "pay it forward" chains don't genuinely result in participants getting free coffee; the phenomenon merely

disrupts the order of payments so that patrons are paying for the drinks of the customers behind them. While most consumers are pleasantly surprised at the kind gesture and opt to return it, all who enter Starbucks on that day and participate in the chain do ending up buying a drink ... they just purchase the coffee of the person in line behind them at the drive-through. (Presumably this facilitates the "pay it forward" mechanism, as most participants are inside the order queue as it is maintained.)

This year's "pay it forward" chain erupted at a Starbucks in St. Petersburg, Florida, with hundreds of people participating. While the chains are generally viewed as harmless fun, not everyone is fond of the practice due to the social pressure placed on people who may not be able to afford a stranger's more expensive order. Two patrons are said to have disrupted the St. Petersburg chain, one inadvertently and one deliberately.

Per ABC News, a barista at the store dropped a dime on an unnamed woman who did not want to pay for the next patron in line's beverage. Manager Celeste Guzman explained how the "pay it forward" chain ended when the customer opted out:

"Our barista would tell the customers: 'Your drink has already been paid for by the previous customer. Would you like to return their favor and pay it forward?'" Guzman said.

But that all came to a halt at 6 p.m., when a woman pulled up in her white Jeep Commander and ordered an ice-coffee.

"She didn't want to pay for the next customer," Guzman said. "I don't think she understood the concept of 'pay it forward.'"


Accounts vary, but it seems that the chain was restarted the very next day — and this time, a conscientious objector to paying it forward reportedly stepped up, breaking the chain deliberately and explaining in a blog post that he felt the trend was slightly coercive. The Tampa Bay Times quoted local blogger Peter Schorsch, who claimed to have disrupted the renewed chain:

What is not an act of kindness is what was happening today at the same Starbucks, where customers were being told that they had had their drink paid for and then asked would they like to pay for the drink of the person next in line ... That's not generosity, that's guilt.

When a new 'Pay It Forward' chain started today, I had to put an end to it ... So, yes, I drove to the Starbucks, purchased two Venti Mocha Frappuccinos and, even though someone in front of me had paid for one of my drinks, I declined the barista's suggestion to pay for the drink of the person behind me.


Depending how you're counting, between 378 and 457 patrons participated in the pay it forward chain during the St. Petersburg Starbucks streak. Schorsch claims to have tipped the baristas on duty $100 to prove he isn't a "total grinch."

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as back in 1994.

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