More than 19,000 Customers ‘Pay it Forward’ in Starbucks South China Stores

On a normal Monday morning, something unusual and uplifting happened in Starbucks stores in south China.

A customer ordered a cup of coffee to start his work day and was surprised when his Starbucks barista said the beverage was free. If he wanted, she said, instead of paying for his own drink he could purchase coffee for the person behind him in line.

One after another, customers began buying coffee for others. Starbucks intended to purchase the first 50 beverages in each south China store.

“Generosity ruled the day and a majority of stores used fewer than 50 free beverages to keep the chains going,” said Jeff Miller, vice president of operations for Starbucks China. “In the end we saw 19,170 people forward beverages from one customer to the next with the longest chains being 30 customers in a row.”

A few customers posted thank you messages on social media channels:

Thank you Starbucks to give a shy guy like me one chance to say ‘hi’ to the girl next to me.

Share love with someone and you will get a miracle.

It feels good to pay for one cup of coffee as usual but receive double happiness as exchange.

Coffee connects strangers and makes us smile genuinely to each other.

Starbucks first ‘Pay it Forward’ campaign in China was inspired by a man who purchased 500 beverages for others. Mr. Tong is a regular customer of Starbucks GuoMao store in the southern city of Zhuhai. When he ordered his usual beverage last year during the holidays, his Starbucks barista gave him a larger drink for no extra charge.

In a surprising display of his gratitude, Mr. Tong turned to the store’s shift supervisor and said, “I would like to buy the next 500 beverages.”

“It is very amazing the way you treat me, and I want to spread that spirit around,” he said.

For the rest of the day, when a customer stepped up to pay, he or she was told their coffee was a gift from a man named Mr. Tong. Customers were given a sticker to place in a notebook along with a message. Those notes of thanks were compiled in a book and presented to Mr. Tong during China’s recent Partner Family Forum.

The generous gesture came full circle on July 7, 2014 when Starbucks offered to pay for 50 beverages in each store across south China. Thousands of customers continued the chain-reaction of kindness.

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