The woman paid for her own drink, then asked to pay for the drink of the person behind her in the drive-through. That person returned the favor and paid for the person behind, and so did that person, until the employees at the St. Petersburg Starbucks on Tyrone Boulevard began a tally on green laminated paper near the drive-through window.
Then the next wanted to pay it forward. And the next. According to the Tampa Bay Times:
People ordered a drink at the speaker. When they pulled through to the next window, the barista, Vu Nguyen, 29, leaned through and said with a smile that their drinks had already been paid for by the person in front of them. Would they like to return the favor?
The apparently spontaneous chain of kindness continued for about 11 hours, a store manager said, totaling 457 transactions by the time it ended around 6 p.m., with nearly everyone paying for someone's drinks, just not their own.
"It was just somebody wanting to do a nice thing," said Celeste Guzman, a shift supervisor at the Starbucks, located near a busy shopping mall in St. Petersburg, Florida.
She wasn't sure how the chain had ended, but said baristas understood that some people didn't want to or couldn't afford to participate.
Inspired by local media reports, customers were rallying again at the store on Thursday morning. Someone bought a $40 gift card to share with the drive-through line.
By mid-morning, the chain had reached 100 customers, nearly as many as participated in a similar effort at the store several months ago, when 141 customers paid it forward.
"We've had a wealth of people trying to come in and be generous," Guzman said.