Paying and Playing It Forward at Starbucks

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“You might think, only in a place called Loveland could generosity pour out in the form of a Vente café latte,” the TV news feature begins.

Yup, just in time for the holidays, and to cheer everyone up during the recession doldrums, comes this story from KUSA Channel 9’s Adam Chodak – and picked up by CNN – about a customer at a drive-thru Starbucks in Loveland paying for the beverage of the person behind them in line – then that person paying for the person behind them, and so on and so on.

It’s a nice story, a good story, but only in Loveland? No.

The same thing happened last year in Seattle when a woman allegedly paid for the person behind her, setting off a chain of 490 people doing the same thing. (If I were there, I’d be hoping the person behind me didn’t order a Vente frappacino if I only got a coffee, by the way.) The “Pay It Forward”-style gesture got plenty of media attention in Seattle and again this year.

And it wasn’t the first time, either. In fact, the Starbucks “Pay It Forward” tradition apparently goes back at least to 2005, according to this blog, and has engendered skepticism from people who believe that it is being started every year by Starbucks as a PR strategy – a truly cynical one, if true, and something the chain denies.

Skeptical yourself? Or feeling inspired? There’s only one thing to do. Get over to your own local Starbucks – or better yet, go to your favorite independent purveyor of the Joe – and start a Pay It Forward line to see if it works. What will it get you?

That’s for you to figure out. – Jonathan Shikes

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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