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Pay It Forward Starbucks Style

Updated on February 24, 2014
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Can I Buy Your Coffee?

I've noticed a new trend taking place, definitely in Colorado and I am assuming, all over the United States. There is a benevolent side to our country which often gets buried in a constant barrage of negative coverage of violence and economic downfall. Our news outlets spend more time covering celebrities private lives than it does on the feel good stories of our country. I cannot fault the media for this trend they are just producing what the public demands. A story of benevolence is upon us and I think it's time for some coverage. There is an unspoken movement going on at local Starbucks that I keep hearing about, and while it is never happened to me personally it has happened to my wife and several of my friends. People are buying coffee for each other. This may seem like a small step or a very little thing to do however in these times of economic disaster it can very well make a person's day. The advent of the Starbucks drive-through is leading customers to purchase either the vehicle behind them's coffee or in some cases everybody in the lines coffee. I think the reason I find this so fascinating is because I have never heard of this happening at any other drive-through or any other restaurant even for that matter. In college I went through drive-through fast food place at least once a day and never did the thought occurred to me to buy the person's food behind me, nor did it ever occur to the person in front of me to buy my food. Now perhaps this is attributable to the price difference between a cup of coffee and a value meal. However it doesn't seem that difficult to spend more on a cup of coffee at Starbucks than a value meal at McDonald's. My curiosity for this phenomenon goes beyond appreciation and admiration for those involved. I believe there are several sides of the story that need to be divulged. Could this simple gesture be catapulted into something much larger? Is there a humorous side to this development? Something that reads along the lines of rich white people buying coffee for other rich white people? I realize that Starbucks serves a culturally diverse segment of the population however I doubt that it serves a fiscally diverse segment to the same degree. As a society could we be open to taking this trend out of Starbucks and into the rest of the world on such a regular basis? Or is that the limit of our benevolence, a four dollar cup of coffee for someone who is willing and able to pay for their own four dollar coffee. We toss around the phrase pay it forward so much that it has become cliché. But here at Starbucks we find a living breathing organism of good people actually putting the phrase to work. I have no doubt that the motive behind this development is pure but perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye.

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Why Just Starbucks?

I find it amazing, yet not at all surprising that this pay it forward trend is taking place only at Starbucks. This is not to say that it doesn't take place elsewhere, but I do not believe that it happens with the same frequency whatsoever. I've never heard of anyone getting their order taken care of at the Taco Bell drive thru. Obviously there are several contributing factors to this, price being at the top of that list most likely. I think though most likely it is a different type of person that rolls through Starbucks than Taco Bell. But could it be said that perhaps you might be doing a favor for someone a bit more in need at say McDonalds? I realize thats not the point of buying someone's coffee at Starbucks, and I am making way more out of this than need be, but I really think there is something more at work. Could these samaritans of java mix in a round of dollar menu burgers for a car full of high schoolers on lunch break or is it just a little safer knowing that the folks you are doing a favor for are probably a little more like yourself? More likely the case is that folks who can afford a round of coffee for the entire drive thru line don't often find themselves eating at a place like Del Taco, thus never really have the oppurtunity to take care of the dollar menu crowd. I also understand that common perception would relay that a cup of coffee would be a cheaper gesture than a fast food meal, however I routinely find my total at Starbucks to be greater than my Taco Bell order. A typical order at Starbucks is probably around four dollars and that's just one cup of coffee. Chances are just as good that in that line there is a secretary is bringing coffee to the whole office or someone is getting breakfast with their coffee. At any rate the pay it forward trend seems to only be happening at Starbucks, can it happen elsewhere? Should it? Questions to ponder the next time you find your self in a drive thru perhaps.

Have You Ever Bought Someone's Coffee At Starbucks?

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A Better Way

Certainly getting a free cup of coffee can make ones day, however perhaps the money being spent buying strangers coffee could be put to better use. Im not trying to direct your charity dollars, but think of how many people out there truly need a helping hand. I doubt you will find too many of the truly needy in line for a four dollar cup of coffee at Starbucks. What if Starbucks was to take the money people were intending to buy someone's coffee with, and they were to put it in a fund to feed the homeless? Or cure cancer? The giver could still feel good about giving because they wouldn't know any better, the people in line wouldn't know that somebody bought them coffee, Starbucks could use it as a tax write off and perhaps someone who is truly in need of more than just that day's coffee could be helped. I'm sure there are several legalities here that I am overlooking and this idea is being said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I think you get the gist of what I'm saying. In reality I wouldn't want this trend to change I think it's great that people who typically don't receive handouts are getting some retribution assuming they are anything like the folks I know who had their coffee purchased for them. It just strikes my curious side that people who can afford Starbucks coffee are getting handouts over Joe the bum on the corner. I think sometimes it just feels good to do something for someone who isn't expecting it regardless of their economic status.

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Starbuck's Answer

Don't think Starbucks hasn't noticed, and isn't capitalizing on your good deeds. In October of 2013 they offered a promotion called "Come Together" in which if you bought someone's coffee they gave you a free tall brewed coffee.

The Rich Get Richer

On a person by person basis this trend seems to lend itself to nothing other than a positive outcome. However when looked at from a wider lens we may be only inadvertently increasing the gap between the haves and the have nots. The ultimate beneficiary from the public's generosity with coffee is the Starbuck's corporation, whose owners find themselves firmly in the One percent. We the 99 percent are only increasing their strangle hold of wealth with every cup we buy for ourselves or another. Perhaps the truly benevolent act would be to filter more of our coffee business to locally owned coffee houses. Buying the next patron's morning fix here would do much more than make said patron's day. You would be boosting local economy, not only with your current purchase but also with the future business created by your act of kindness. The hit to Starbuck's business would of course be negligible but every battle begins with a single shot. I realize your local coffee hut is not equipped with the all to convenient drive thru but I've seen the Starbucks drive thru and I could go into a place eat a full meal, drink my coffee and still be faster than getting through that lineup. At any rate let this be a push to move our good deeds to a broader scale by supporting small business in the process.

A Few Local Coffee Houses Not Named Starbucks

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A markerStella's CoffeeHaus -
1476 South Pearl Street, Denver, CO 80210, USA
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Stella's CoffeeHaus

B markerSt. Marks Coffee House -
2019 East 17th Avenue, Denver, CO 80206, USA
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St. Marks Coffee House

C markerMetropolis Coffee -
300 West 11th Avenue, Denver, CO 80204, USA
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Metropolis Coffee

D markerNutty Bean Coffee Cafe -
7870 West Quincy Avenue, Littleton, CO 80123, USA
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Nutty Bean Coffee Cafe

E markerHooked On Colfax -
3213 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO 80220, USA
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Hooked On Colfax

F markerPablos Coffee -
630 East 6th Avenue, Denver, CO 80203, USA
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Pablos Coffee

G markerFluid Coffee Bar -
501 East 19th Avenue, Denver, CO 80203, USA
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Fluid Coffee Bar

Loveland, CO

Get This

A Connecticut Starbucks reported over 700 cases of "Pay It Forward" on Christmas Eve 2013, even leaving money left over for the next day's customers who kept the good will going.


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      lakewood killa 3 years ago

      Love the idea of supporting local coffee houses. We should do this in all aspects of our lives. Buy pet food from the local shop instead of pet’s mart, or Wal-Mart. Get you ice cream from a local creamery instead of King Supers. Shop at ACE instead of Home Depot (locally owned franchises) The list goes on and on. If we started doing this, wealth in America would be more evenly distributed therefore leading to more acts of kindness. I understand this is not the meaning of the article but that was a very valid point!