Drive Through, Pay Forward

drive-thruIf you drive through New Braunfels, Texas, on Highway 46 and go through the Chick-fil-a drive-through (a restaurant where you can be served without getting out of your car), be prepared for a surprise. It’s not unusual, when you stop at the window to pay for your order, to have the cashier (the person who takes your money) smile at you, hand you your food, and say, “The people ahead of you paid it forward (paying for the food ordered by the people in the car behind you).”

Some might say that such an experience is the result of small-town Southern hospitality (friendly behavior toward strangers). But a recent article in the New York Times says you could easily experience the same thing at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through in Detroit, Michigan, or a McDonald’s drive-through in Fargo, North Dakota. According to the Times, “Drive-through generosity (giving more than necessary) is happening across America and parts of Canada, sometimes resulting in unbroken chains (lines, queues) of hundreds of cars paying in turn for the person behind them.” It used to happen a couple of times a year. Now, fast-food operators say, it might happen several times a day.

Paying forward is an example of a random act of kindness – something that you do, without being asked or paid, to help someone or make them happy. Happily, the practice (doing) of random acts of kindness has been growing in North America. There’s even a web site.

Paying forward is not a new idea. According to a Wikipedia article, Benjamin Franklin, a well-known early American writer and diplomat, did it and called it “a trick of mine for doing … good with a little money.” Near the end of World War II, a representative of Alcoholics (people who drink too much and have trouble stopping) Anonymous, an organization that helps people stop drinking, said that “You can’t pay anyone back for what has happened to you, so you try to find someone you can pay forward.”

According to the Times article, the idea of paying forward became popular recently as the result of the best-selling novel, Paying It Forward, by Catherine Hyde Ryan. In the novel, and the movie that followed, the main character does three good deeds and asks the people who received the good deeds to do the same.

I like the way Ray Bradbury, well-known and best-selling science fiction author, writes about paying it forward. In his novel Dandelion Wine, one of the characters wonders how to pay someone back for saving his life:

How do I thank Mr. Jonas, he wondered, for what he’s done? How do I thank him, how to pay him back? No way, no way at all. You just can’t pay. What then? What? Pass it on somehow, he thought, pass it on to someone else. Keep the chain moving. Look around, find someone, and pass it on. That was the only way….

What a great idea – finding someone and paying forward!

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

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11 Responses to Drive Through, Pay Forward

  1. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    No one has left a reply yet. I am the first and it is honorable! To pay forward. It is like to pay before you get the service you have asked, I think. Pretty cool, huh! These traditions are found in other countries rather than Brazil and this is why I don’t understand these things but it seems to be nice. Sounds like weird! No matter what to pay before or after if you have to pay any way.
    Aecio from planet Oicea, in other solar system.

  2. Erica says:

    I was totally touched by this story! Paying forward, what a great idea!

    Not only people feel the kindness and generosity from others, and it’s highly possible they will pass this generosity to the next person, which shorter the distance of people and make the world even better.

    Thank you so much for such a nice story !

  3. Dan says:

    Hi everybody

    Since Erica has written what I wanted to say already, I am just going to say thanks.


  4. Myo ko ko says:

    Good story! Warren
    Thank you for telling us such a nice subject.

    Being a human being, I feel a bit better just seeing or hearing other persons do good deeds.

    As we don’t have such drive-through fast-food restaurants here where I live, I’m sure we don’t
    have such similar experience. But we’ve a lovely tradition that I think is an another form of
    “random acts of kindness.” That tradition occurs once a year and lasts only one night.
    On that night, at about mid-night or later hours, people hide things somewhere, especially
    around the fences of their houses, so other people can find out and get them.
    The things they hide include money, soaps, packages of rice, say, lots of stuff.
    This tradition is more active in rural areas, in countrysides. You know I grew up in a village.

    I remember going out and searching for those hidden things for fun as a kid.

    Thanks again, Warren, your today post makes me feel younger! 😉

    Myo ko ko

  5. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Yes, Erica, that’s a great idea, but it would be better if people would give money to care for children in disabled situation, to take care of the elderly, to feed the poor people in Africa, to heal cancer, to save people from diseases, to find a vaccine for AIDS and so on. Do you agree with me or I am wrong?
    Aecio from the four corner of the world.

  6. emiliano says:

    We have a saying in Spanish that says:

    “Haz el bien y no mires a quien”

    That have to be the rule, don´t give back the same thing to the person who has given you the gift or the favor, that´s
    could be not the right way of act. I do think that the best way of responding to to favors we received for other it is
    just doing the same with different one or the same if is it a good occasion in future time of doing it, but not as a reverse
    actitude for the favor, not, it has to be because something inside you, me, has change to good receiving favors along
    our life.
    It could be something similar as to share the benefits we are receiving or we received from people who surround us.

    In my long life I have the opportunity of doing that several times.
    We have received so many favors from friends and other since Cuca was ill that it has been like a vivid lesson to do
    the same or share our love, money or things with other that don´t have to be the same friends who gave us so many.

    In the same way that persons who helped us don´t wait for anything as reward, only a thank you has been enough
    I have changed my mind since a long time to do just the same waiting to received nothing, and that actitude make
    me really happy.
    As much as you, me, give the most happiness you, me, could be found in life. That´s the truth.
    When I was Young I was more of myself, more shelfish, didn´t share so many good things, now that I have changed
    or life have changed so much, I just do the contrary and it makes me more and more happy.

    Thanks Warren, it is a nice note, and yes, I have seen the movie and read something about the story.

    My best to all of you dear friends of the blog.


  7. Lassana says:

    Hi Everybody,

    Thanks to Warren for this very interesting and surprising topic !
    I’d never heard of this kind of practice before this day.
    I think it’s really interesting and especially it’s a good idea.
    This manner for people to share an important value, I mean the kindness. That should be an universal act.
    It does not exist here in France, maybe one day, I hope.

    The sentence :
    How do I thank Mr. Jonas, he wondered, for what he’s done? How do I thank him, how to pay him back? No way, no way at all. You just can’t pay. What then? What? Pass it on somehow, he thought, pass it on to someone else. Keep the chain moving. Look around, find someone, and pass it on. That was the only way….
    Is sot true !!!

    See you soon


  8. Dan says:


    The only certain things in life are death and taxes. Learn about avoiding taxes after death in this episode.


  9. Tania says:

    Hi! For the first time I saw a drive-through in “The American Beauty” movie, but without “paid it forward”.
    I think this kind of paying can be implemented in the wealth countries.

    We now have special dogs for persons with health problems, too.

  10. emiliano says:

    A good movie Tania, I liked it a lot.

    my best. emiliano

  11. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Dan, you are right: death and taxes you can run but you can’t hide. Wise words.
    Aecio from out of space.

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