The holidays are a time for giving — and that spirit was in full effect at a Dairy Queen in Brainerd, Minnesota, where more than 900 customers participated in a “pay it forward” chain.
According to general manager Tina Jensen, the chain stretched over the course of nearly three days, starting on Thursday, Dec. 3, during the store's lunch rush, and ending on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 5.
"A gentleman during our lunch hour came through and said he'd like to pay for his meal and the car behind him … The next car pulled up and we said, 'The gentleman in front of you paid for your meal. If you'd like, you can pay it forward,'" Jensen told TODAY Food. "She was like, 'Yes, of course,' no questions, just, 'Go for it."
Jensen, who manages two Dairy Queen stores in Brainerd, said that the event led to about $10,000 in sales. In the past, she's seen pay it forward chains that last for 15 or 20 cars, but nothing like what happened last week.
"After getting through the lunch hour, it was still going and over 100 cars," Jensen said. "That's when I was like, 'Oh.'"
Before she left for the day, she instructed employees to let her know if anything happened to end the chain. At the end of each shift, Jensen would post an update about the chain on the restaurant's Facebook page, and the event quickly caught the attention of social media watchers.
"The community was posting it on different pages, and the word spread," she explained. "We heard a few different times, 'Oh, I've seen it going on Facebook, I wasn't sure if it was still going,' and we'd tell them they were the 300th car or something and that's where the excitement really came in. People would get very, very excited."
It wasn't just those in line lending a hand: Jensen said that at least one person called the restaurant and asked to put money on a gift card that could be used in case a car couldn't pay it forward.
"There would be times where people ordered a $5 Blizzard and the car behind them would be a full family getting, you know, a $30 or $40 order," Jensen said. "To keep a chain going, you've got to make sure that somebody is paying it forward, and that's what we did."
By the time the chain came to an end on Saturday evening, when a customer couldn't pay for the party behind them and the gift card funds had run out, Jensen said that she and her staff had been excited and energized by the experience.
"They were encouraging the attitude when people were coming through and the energy was just really good to see," she said. "Since March, tons of things have changed, tons of things are going on, and it's not just in the store. We are people. We have things going on outside … The energy was definitely uplifting. There was no negative energy going on."