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Fast-Food Employees Explain Why the "Pay-It-Forward" Trend Is a Nightmare for Them

The viral acts of kindness can be a real hassle for the people working the window.

Have you ever had someone in front of you at the Starbucks or McDonald's drive-thru cover your drink or meal? This trend called "paying it forward" comes with the assumption that you'll cover the cost of the person behind you and the person after you will do the same, indefinitely. While the idea is thoughtful, workers have come forward to say it can be difficult to keep track of orders and payments. Frankly, it's become somewhat of a nightmare for them.

Workers have started speaking out again the good-natured trend. Multiple posts on Reddit from frustrated workers in the fast food space deal with the trend.

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"Dear customers: Please stop pay it forward lines," opens one post on the Starbucks page. The original poster, a barista went on to explain, "Drive-thrus have a very organized system and when people pay it forward, the order of things is disrupted and it is easy to make mistakes and receive the wrong order. Also if you want to be generous, leave tips; the customers are clearly doing fine if they can afford overpriced coffee, the workers not so much."

Be sure to tip as well, especially if you're making more work, says another barista, writing, "Remember to tip if you're doing a pay it forward! It's insulting if you're willing to pay an extra $10 for the person behind you but not tip your barista. Just saying."

Another barista, agreeing with the original sentiment, noted they didn't want to ruin the fun but paying it forward can be confusing for everyone involved.

Starbucks customer holding an iced coffee in the summer time
Omar Lopez/Unsplash

"It's also not an act of kindness or moral good," they wrote on Reddit. "The person behind them knows their total and knows what they're getting into. They expected to pay however much on their coffee, not be hit with a free coffee and then the nagging thought that they should pay for the order behind them, something they don't know the price of and may be out of their budget. Just say thanks and take it or better yet leave a tip if you can."

One cashier expressed frustration at having to count out money for individual orders after a customer left a large amount of cash, writing, "Earlier this year a man gave me a $100 bill and told me to use it to pay for people's orders until it ran out. It was so hard to keep track of what I had and what needed to be in the drawer."

Some customers aren't big fans either. If you pull in to get a ten-dollar order, and the person in front of you has already paid for it, many feel obligated to cover the next order—even if it's double or triple what they planned to spend.

"As a customer, I don't like the pressure of the pay it forward trains," wrote one frustrated guest on Reddit. "I go to pay for my $6 overpriced sugar coffee; Associate says my order has been paid for and if I would like to pay for the order behind me. 'Sure, how much is it?' '$25' 'Sorry, I wasn't planning on spending that much today.'"

Of course, chains like pay it forward, especially when stories about 167 cars participating goes viral, that's a lot of free advertising. Of course, there's the goodwill the consumers feel, giving the people behind them a free drink or more, but it's also completely free advertising for the fast food restaurant.

Remember, fast food workers spend long hours on their feet, trying to keep up with complicated, ever-changing and often customizable menus and when you pay it forward you're messing with their rhythm, slowing down the process of getting your meal or drink

Paying it forward is a pain to implement for the workers making and handing you your coffee. If you really want to do some good, consider tipping the underpaid and stressed-out, workers making your food and drink.

Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya
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