Starbucks Barista Says 'Pay It Forward' Chains Actually Suck For Staff — What You Can Do Instead

Act of kindness or guilt trip?

starbucks drive thru i am Em /

Ever ended up paying $20 for your morning latte just because you were guilt-tripped into participating in a 'pay it forward' chain?

Well turns out your random act of kindness wasn't just inconvenient for your bank account — it's also kind of irritating for your barista.

A viral post on Facebook written by Hannah Wilson, “a former Starbucks barista of nearly 7 years,” had something to say about the popular ‘pay it forward’ trend that happens whenever you go to the drive-through.


She says that the whole trend is “extremely annoying and makes everything confusing,” and that there are better things to do instead of ‘paying it forward’.

How do Starbucks pay it forward chains work?

The way it works is that the person who starts it will ask the drive-through barista to also pay for the person behind them, whatever the order, and then the next person will have a free meal.


What turns it into a pay it forward chain is when the next person decides to keep it going, so on and so forth.

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What a lot of people believe to be a ‘kind’ gesture, is actually very controversial and has been criticized by people on all ends of the chain — from the baristas to the people who feel guilty if they don’t pay it forward.

One Starbucks barista says 'pay it forward' chains suck for staff.

“It makes it easy to hand out the wrong drinks, and just sucks,” Wilson said. “Instead of paying for the people behind you, who can probably afford their own stuff since they’re in line intending to pay, tip the people making your drinks who have been working understaffed for months.”


Food service workers, especially those who work at popular restaurants or cafes like Starbucks, have a hard enough time as it is dealing with the fast-paced environment and sometimes deal with not-so-nice customers.

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Wilson thinks that instead of paying for someone who can clearly afford to pay for what they ordered, you should show your appreciation to the workers who are serving you instead.

Starbucks customers have complained about 'pay it forward' chains too.

Cody Katrina posted a Tik Tok in July describing her anxiety to say no during a pay it forward chain and ended up paying $30 when her order was only $10.


“To the person who paid for my Starbucks, very kind gesture but f--- you. My order was $10,” she said, “And because you had to go and order for the person behind you, my anxiety ridden self couldn’t be like ‘oh okay thanks bye,’ I had to pay for the person behind me. $30?! ‘Pay it forward’ is a scam!”

People argue that she could have just said no, but a lot of people who have been in this situation truly feel trapped in that social trend of repaying the ‘kindness.’

At a Starbucks in St. Petersburg, FL, an 11-hour streak was ended by a blogger named Peter Schorsch that complained “When the barista asks you to pay it forward, it is no longer spontaneous.”

He believed that people were only participating out of guilt and instead gave the barista a $100 tip.


“I’m really not trying to be a Grinch,” Schorsch said. “I know things are hard for baristas and I am willing to help people.”

He also emphasized that it’s unfair to the people whose orders aren’t expensive at all but end up paying for bills larger than their own — like Katrina.

“I got a $6 Venti Frappuccino. Someone might just get a $2 coffee," Schorsch said. "This is unfair to that person who paid for me."


A social trap at worst, and a moment of kindness at best, pay it forward chains can be toxic to those who aren’t confident enough to simply say no and break the chain.

When it’s organic and genuine, it can be a very nice gesture, but the best gesture you could perform is to tip your servers.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and politics.