Drive-thru customers across America are engaging in random acts of generosity, reports Kate Murphy in The New York Times (10/23/13). It’s happening at fast-food restaurants in every part of the country: Drivers are picking up the tab for those in the car behind them. The concept was at the heart of a 1999 book and subsequent movie called "Pay It Forward," but it’s a relatively recent development at drive-thrus. Mark Moraitakis of Chik-Fil-A speculates that it’s happening as a way to "counteract" a popular sense of malaise.
The phenomenon is far from isolated: "Serial pay-it-forward incidents involving between 4 and 24 cars have been reported at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Del Taco, Taco Bell, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Maryland, Florida, California, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, North Dakota, Michigan, North Carolina and Washington." The record comes out of Canada, however, where "228 consecutive cars paid it forward." A Houston Chik-Fil-A reported a "string of 67 cars" and a Heav’nly Donuts in Massachusetts "had a good-will train of 55 cars."
Paying-it-forward usually happens one-at-a-time, and for some, it’s routine. "We have a lady who always pays it forward in the drive-thru, every day," says a bagel-shop owner in Tulsa, Oklahoma. People say they pay-it-forward for all sorts of reasons: to celebrate their good fortune, thank a courteous driver, or console an apparently distraught fellow customer. Connie Herring of St. Pauls, NC, says her pay-it-forward generosity has its limits, though: "I don’t do it at Starbucks because I did it there once and that one time ended up costing me 12 bucks … You can’t pay it forward if you’re broke."