On a brisk December morning, as customers at a Tim Hortons drive-through in southeast Winnipeg waited to pay for their orders, a strange thing happened: the driver in the car ahead of them picked up their tab. That simple act of generosity wasn’t unheard of in the Prairie city. Last fall, Maclean’s revealed that customers at various coffee shops across the city were being surprised by random acts of coffee charity—a story that quickly went viral and was picked up by news sites worldwide.
Only this time, the generosity became infectious. Car after car, customers kept pouring it forward, and what might normally involve one or two free beverages became a three-hour phenomenon. By the time it was over, 228 patrons had paid for a stranger’s double-double or Timbits.
The seemingly endless flow of freebies initially caught restaurant staff off-guard. Then, as the chain grew longer, a drive-through manager kept shouting out random numbers as the tally reached into the dozens, then hundreds. “This sort of thing happens quite frequently where one of our guests will buy a coffee for another,” says Tim Hortons spokesperson Michelle Robichaud. “But we’ve never seen something of this magnitude.”
It’s still not entirely clear why this wave of generosity has caught on so strongly in Winnipeg, though, as Maclean’s did point out in our original story, the province enjoys the nickname “Friendly Manitoba.”
Of course, all good things must come to an end. Attempts were made by local reporters to figure out the identity of customer number 229—the individual who finally broke the chain. All that’s known is that he took off with four cups of coffee—paid for by the person in front of him—and left the person behind him to pick up his or her own three-coffee tab.