Drive Thru Dilemma: Why You Shouldn’t Pass it Back


Have you ever experienced that rare, but pleasantly surprising moment when the person in the car in front of you in the drive thru pays for your meal? It always seems to come when you’re having the crappiest of days… like at 2:30 am after a fight with your boyfriend and you’re binge eating McDonalds or an early Monday morning when the last thing you want to be do is head to work. Who knows what causes these people to be so incredibly kind? Maybe they noticed your resting bitch face in the rearview mirror and felt like you needed a pick me up. Maybe it’s a flirtatious move, while noble, it hardly leaves any chance for follow up though or maybe, just maybe people are truly, purely, genuinely kind.

When you think about it, although a small gesture, it can entirely turn someone’s day around. It’s only happened to me two or three times in my life, but in that moment, I felt so blessed that it inspired me to go out and do something good for someone else. It gives you a little faith in humanity and pushes you to be your best self.

So here comes the dilemma. In this moment when you feel surprised and elated that someone paid for your meal, what do you do? I commonly hear the opinion that you’re supposed to pass it back. People go as far as to say it’s their pet peeve when people don’t pass it back and pay for the person behind them, but I disagree. Now before y’all start crucifying me for being a cold, heartless shell of a woman that doesn’t like to give back to the world, hear me out.

No matter what the reason was, the person in front of you felt like you needed a blessing. There was once a time when I was being promoted and was switching from being paid salary to commission, so I had to go a whole month without pay. When I realized the situation, I went and discussed it with the accounting department to see if there was any way we could work around it. There wasn’t; it totally and completely sucked. A few days later I found an envelope on my desk with a check for a large sum of money that said “Happy Late Graduation present”. I cried. It was the sweetest gift I had ever received, but knowing I would never be able to pay it back, I gave it back. I thanked the giver endlessly and gave her back the check. Instead of being glad to not have to hand out a large sum of money to someone who would never be able to pay it back, she was angry. She told me I had blocked her blessing and that she had thought long and hard before giving me that gift. That I was prideful and that if I continued to block blessings, people would stop blessing me. Drive-thru-fast-food-restaurant.

That conversation really stuck with me and has impacted me in life. In the same way, the person in the drive thru wanted to bless me and didn’t expect anything in return. So in thinking, should I turn around and pay for the person behind me, I had to stop and think. For one, is this a family of 12 with a bill far larger than mine? If so, by paying this my blessing actually becomes a burden where I’m having to pay more than I would have in the first place. Is the person behind me going to feel obligated to pay for the person behind them? Finally, am I choosing to do this good deed out of the kindness of my heart or with the wrong intentions because I feel obligated?

It is after this thought process that I realized I don’t think you should pay it back. I’m taking a stand against obligated good deeds and throwing a wrench in commonly held beliefs. I decided I was going to be blessed by this person and enjoy the $7.07 gift that they gave me. I felt awkward as if the cashier was judging me when I grabbed my food and drove away, but I felt good. My day was made and I felt inspired. It inspired me to clean out my closet of all of the shoes and clothes I hadn’t worn in a year and donate them to Goodwill. It inspired me to go spend some time with my family. It inspired me to give back in general, which I think is really what you are supposed to take away from it anyway.

So that’s that, when the next time comes along, I’m once again going to giddily drive away with my free meal in hand. So what do y’all think… am I right or am I forever going to be everyone’s pet peeve?

C’est la vie,



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