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Rant: Pay-It-Forward at Fast Food Chains - 80/20 Your Finances Skip to main content

Rant: Pay-It-Forward at Fast Food Chains

OK, today is a departure from the normal posts around here, but I just have to rant for a minute!

Yesterday morning, I went through the drive-thru at Chick-Fil-A and when I got to the window to pay, I was told that the person in front of me had paid for my order. And then the cashier asked “would you like to pay for the person behind you?” With all the expectation that I would.

This is a Pay-It-Forward chain. And I hate them.

Pay-It-Forward Chains at Drive-Thrus are the worst!


Don’t get me wrong. I love paying it forward. I’ve given money to people at the gas station. I’ll pick up a meal for a local police officer when they are in line with me or at the same restaurant. I donate in large chunks of cash and time to my favorite charities.

In each case, I have made the decision that I will pay for something. It’s a conscious effort to do something with no expectation of receiving something in return.

OK, in some cases, I do expect the tax benefit and it may affect how much I give to charity. But generally, I don’t expect something back from the people that I give to. I normally have not received any benefit prior to giving.

The problem is the chains.

The Problem With Pay-It-Forward Chains

So, back to yesterday – I went to pay and suddenly they are throwing me for a loop.

I’m not a morning person so throwing me for a loop when I’m trying to get my morning caffeine is not putting me in a good mood to start off with.

And now you want me to find some more money to pay for the guy behind me?

I made a decision on what I was comfortable buying – based on the food choices (because yes, I know – fast food) and my budget. And the cash I have on hand.

Pay-It-Forward Chains at Drive-Thrus are the worst!In this chain, I was fortunate – the person behind me only had an order about $1 than mine. It was easy for me to make it up and continue the chain.

But I can see where some orders could present problems. Particularly at dinner time, when you could have a car full of people.

On Father’s Day, a McDonald’s in Scottsburg, Indiana had a 167 driver pay-it-forward chain. In this chain, one driver threatened to end the chain because the bill was $27. The employees pooled the money to keep it going.

It may well be that the guy did not have the money to pay for it. If he came in, getting food for one person and now he’s being asked to pay for four people?

Side note: And really, is it a legitimate chain if the employees are paying to keep it going? I hate the idea of employees on fast-food worker wages doing this. They are putting their money in for other people to get their company’s food. Ugh!

I think that’s pretty shitty, asking someone to pay for something that they did not order and did not consciously decide to spend money on. And the expectation by the employees that you will continue the chain. And make you feel guilty if you do not. With very little time to make up your mind because you’d hate to not only end the chain but also hold up the line in the fast-food drive-thru.

I get that you are trying to be nice. But really, stop it already.

/end rant

12 thoughts on “Rant: Pay-It-Forward at Fast Food Chains

  1. Lol I never thought of it this way. I think we all agree that the intention is good, but the ramifications are not always. I can totally see the scenario where a guy just wanted to pay for a sandwich and now he’s being made to feel like he has to pay for the 4-person meal behind him, lol. So again, it’s all good….until it isn’t XD

  2. Have to agree with you 100% on this one. Its creating a false sense of goodwill for everyone in the middle on the back of the first person who was really the only one to actually pay it forward. I’m glad to have never been caught in one of these because I know I’d feel bad and just keep it going.

    1. I’ve been caught in a few now. First time it happened, I was like cool, someone paid for me and since the employee didn’t pressure me, I didn’t realize it was a chain thing. So I didn’t continue it. Last couple of times the employees have used high pressure sales tactics to keep it going. I’m not very appreciative of those tactics.

  3. I’ve never experienced one of these but it’s always stuck in my mind as potential pitfall. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that saw this as a problem. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Gosh, thanks for writing this, it’s exactly how I feel about the matter.

    I’ve never been stuck in one of these, but I would find accepting the gift from the guy in front of me as disturbing as being pressured into paying for the guy behind me. I don’t accept gifts from strangers as a rule, because they almost always come with strings.

    Is it possible to tell the cashier, “I would prefer to pay for my own meal; can you credit the prior customer’s payment to the customer behind me instead?”

    1. It’s always weird – both accepting it because it isn’t really free. It’s not a gift and it could end up costing you a lot more than you expected. I just wish these things would stop. It’s like a humble brag or something. It just comes off as false to me.

  5. I have done this a few times, paying for a coffee behind me, or the next car’s toll as well as my own. But I do it to be kind to someone, with no expectations other than that they will appreciate the gesture, and maybe that small financial gift will help make some other area of their life easier.

    But, I think you have a good point here with the inequality of expectations. If I pay for one person’s coffee behind me, they should not feel obligated to pay for the 3 coffees 2 ice teas and 5 bagels/breakfast sandwiches behind them. Like for like. If I were on the receiving end, I would probably say “that is so sweet! I will be sure to do something kind for someone else later today”.

  6. I think the expectation really ruins the good deed. 🙁 I have been lucky to have my order covered for me before, and I have paid for the people behind me when I felt like doing so spontaneously. However, I have been lucky that I have never had someone ask/expect me to continue the chain. My husband has though. I strongly disapprove of the practice of taking something good and making it awkward. Think about if you are a struggling parent with kids watching you make the decision of whether to cover the cost of the person behind you in line? Too much pressure.

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