Not Paying it Forward
Breaking the chain in a coffee shop drive-thru
Have you ever waited in the drive-thru line at one of those chain coffee shops and when you get up to the window the barista lets you know that the car in front of you paid for your order? You tend to get that warm and fuzzy feeling because a complete stranger would go out of their way to put a smile on your face. Of course, you now feel obligated to pay it forward and offer to pay for the car behind you, and then they pay for the next car, and on, and on, and on…
There have been news stories about these types of chains lasting upwards of 11 hours. I have read through the articles and either they stop when there is no one left in the drive-thru, or because that one person who doesn’t like to play along thanks the barista for their good fortune of a free coffee and goes about their day without the offer of continuing the chain.
The only complaint you could find about this phenomenon of good will that pops up every once in awhile is that when the car behind you has a 5-6 drink order when all you got was a large black coffee, and now you feel like you have to pony-up thirty bucks, so you don’t get bad karma. That used to be my only complaint as well, as I love doing things for others and feel like paying it forward is always the best thing to do in any situation.
Then I started working next door to a chain coffee shop. I swear I gained at least 8 pounds from chai tea lattes, mocha lattes, and caramel macchiatos that first year or two. Having a bad day? Go get a pastry. Cold weather? Looks like a hot drink is in order. Forgot my lunch? Oh look, a cute little protein box with a boiled egg and cheese with crackers. It became my go-to for all things that I might need. My escape when I needed a break from my job.
In going there so much, I became a regular. And as a regular, I got to know my friendly neighborhood baristas. Their names, relationship status’, likes, and of course, their pet peeves and struggles. If you have ever worked retail or food service, you know that there are some entitled people out there in this world. They think we are all expendable and beneath them in some form. They are usually the ones screaming about how minimum wage jobs are meant for high school kids, but don’t realize, if that were the case, fast food places would only be open weekends and afternoons since high school kids must, well, go to school.
They can make any job out there 10 times harder than it needs to be for no apparent reason other then that they are not happy in their own life and need to project it onto others to feel powerful. Well, that is my take on it anyways. But even with these ‘Karens’, if you will, coming into coffee shops bitching and complaining about their half-caf breve not being hot enough, your barista, more often than not, will have a smile on their face (or crinkly smile lines around their eyes because they have a mask on), and will do whatever they can to make it right.
Another struggle I see them going through, is the way they are tipped. You might not know this, but it is always and will forever be a kind gesture to tip almost everyone for everything, including your barista. They pool all the tips at the end of their shift and split it equally. So, at the busiest times of the day- when there could be upwards of 5-8 baristas all working at the same time- if they only pull in $50 in tips for that whole shift, each one of them is walking out with $6-$10 in tips besides their minimum wage. That is sad.
Let me be honest, when I found this out, I asked one of them if they tend to see more tips when people start those pay it forward chains in the drive-thru. Do you know what I found out? They surprisingly see less tips during these good deed sessions. People get so into the fun and game of it, that they forget about the barista all together. The person that is the one busting their butt to pull this little feat of good karma off is the one that ends up getting the shaft in the end.
This did not sit well with me, so I decided to make a change. The next time I went through a drive-thru at my local coffee shop and I was told at the window that the person in front of me had either paid for my order, or put money towards my order, I broke the chain. I thanked the barista for their hard work and gave them the money as a tip instead of giving it to the car behind me. The look of absolute happiness and shock in the barista’s eyes made it all worth it to me.
I will leave you with this- If you ever find yourself in one of those chains in the drive-thru of your local coffee shop, remember that the other cars in line are there because they can afford what they are ordering. The barista that took your order, on the other hand, might not be able to pay her electric bill that month. Even though it feels good to think you are a part of something that pays it forward, sometimes it is best to break the chain and put your money in the pocket of someone who deserves it more.