Cup of black coffee on plate with spoon

Cup of black coffee on plate with spoon

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Good Intentions, Bad Results: A Look at the “Suspended Coffee” Viral Phenomenon

Nothing feels better than helping someone in need. Many of us don’t feel like we have time to volunteer or enough income to consistently donate. So when an opportunity comes along to aid the homeless in a quick and easy way, you can bet it will go viral. Just like natural disaster relief, the internet has a new do-good obsession: the “suspended coffee” business model.

The program allows consumers to “pay it forward” by buying an extra hot drink or food with their regular order. The “suspended” items will then be claimed for free by a needy person. The idea seems to be traced back to this unattributed email, which has gone viral on Facebook and other social media:

We enter a little coffeehouse with a friend of mine and give our order. While we’re approaching our table two people come in and they go to the counter — ‘Five coffees, please. Two of them for us and three suspended.’
They pay for their order, take the two and leave. I ask my friend:
‘What are those ‘suspended’ coffees?’
‘Wait for it and you will see.’
Some more people enter. Two girls ask for one coffee each, pay and go. The next order was for seven coffees and it was made by three lawyers — three for them and four ‘suspended’. While I still wonder what’s the deal with those ‘suspended’ coffees I enjoy the sunny weather and the beautiful view towards the square in front of the café. Suddenly a man dressed in shabby clothes who looks like a beggar comes in through the door and kindly asks, ‘Do you have a suspended coffee?’
It’s simple — people pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who cannot afford a warm beverage. The tradition with the suspended coffees started in Naples, but it has spread all over the world and in some places you can order not only a suspended coffee, but also a sandwich or a whole meal.

While the concept might sound great (and is indeed in practice at several restaurants), the truth is that the “suspended coffee” model isn’t as humanitarian or convenient as it’s cracked up to be.

 

Why “Suspended Coffee” Doesn’t Actually Help the Homeless

The first issue is spreading awareness of such a program. Although those able to purchase suspended beverages are having their Facebook timelines and email inboxes inundated with this call to action, most homeless or at-risk people aren’t on social media.

In other words, it’s hard to get the word out to the majority of people who would actually benefit from this free food and drink.

Moreover, the main focus of the idea is hot coffee. Although the drink might be welcome for those braving cold weather, it’s not a nutritious or well-balanced snack. Though some restaurants offer suspended food as well, the thrust of the viral idea is coffee – a caffeinated treat, not a meal.

 

Organizing a “Suspended Coffee” Program: The Pitfalls and Drawbacks

There’s also the problem of logistics. An unofficial Starbucks fan blog which examined the logistics of instituting a “suspended coffee” program and noted that the cash register system simply isn’t built to handle that type of cash flow.

Front of a Starbucks at Night

At a chain like Starbucks, a suspended coffee arrangement could put managers and customers in hot water.

Additionally, it’s difficult to monitor exactly who is receiving the donated coffee and/or food. If too many suspended items are purchased, the store may be left with a surplus that is given to preferred customers, or family and friends.

Also, dishonest individuals who hear about the program but are not homeless or at-risk could ask for suspended coffee and the barista would be none the wiser.

Finally, what if there’s a shortage of “suspended coffee”? Homeless people might loiter outside establishments and congest customer traffic while waiting for a free drink or food.

 

How About a Sandwich Instead? Alternative Ways to Help

So if the suspended coffee idea doesn’t hold water, how can well-meaning consumers help their fellow humans?

You can start by purchasing a few small gift cards to eateries that offer more food for less. The Consumerist recommends easily-accessible food franchises:

Look toward something marginally more nutritious than coffee: hand out cards with a $5 or $10 balance to ubiquitous quick-serve or fast-food places like Subway or Taco Bell.

Two women approaching a homeless man with a sign to give him food

There are more practical ways to feed the homeless than suspended coffee.

You should also consider tackling some do-good projects that won’t take a lot of time from your daily routine. A few hours at a soup kitchen on the weekends or an office canned food drive can go a long way towards helping people in need. Just remember to work with registered, legitimate charities.

What do you think about the suspended coffee idea? Could it be accomplished in a more efficient way? What are your favorite ways to pay it forward? Tell us in the comments!

 

See Also

3 New Anti-Scam Tips for Donating to Philippines Typhoon Relief Aid Charity
6 Tips to Avoid Fake Charity Scams During Breast Cancer Awareness Month
IRS Accidentally Leaks Thousands of Social Security Numbers to the Public

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Author:

Leah Steuer is a writer and pop-culture fanatic from Long Island, New York. She currently lives in Los Angeles and spends her days marketing and her nights blogging.

Comments

  1. AJPB

    Here’s another idea – if you have a desire to spend $5 or so to help the homeless (or more, depending on how overpriced your coffee) consider making a small donation to a soup kitchen or shelter. If everyone who thought the “suspended coffee” idea was great would donate just $5 to their local eateries for those at risk, even if only in the form of canned goods, I’m sure most of them wouldn’t have to worry about their pantries for a little while.

    Reply
  2. Lee

    A friend told me about the suspended coffee idea and suggested I do it the cafe I intend to open soon.I initially thought it was a nice idea… then I thought about it. My thoughts are at http://www.twobluefish.blogspot.com

    I’m also increasingly cynical about what is motivating the suspended cofees facebook page. The whole thing seems to be more focused on going as viral as possible than doing any real good for the world.

    Reply
  3. Richard

    I read the story about suspended coffee and loved it and decided to bring it to my home town. I have evolved the idea to mean that a suspended item could be tea or coffee (Americano) or a food item. The food available will vary between participating shops. Each item will cost £1 and the item can either be suspended and collected in store or a business card voucher can be written out in store and given to the customer who then passes it on to the person they wish to help. Any surplus is give to the local food bank in the form of vouchers. To avoid “loitering” outside shops an open/closed type sign will be provided which says coffee (or tea or food) is or is not available according to which side is displayed.
    The plan is to use suspended coffee as a lead in to getting more people aware of poverty and homelessness and doing more to help these people.
    Instead of lingering on the problems with the scheme I have focused on finding simple solutions. I plan to have the scheme set up without spending a single penny and relying on people donating time, skills and resources to help others less fortunate.
    Within 4 days I have gained nearly 200 facebook followers, 120 twitter followers and local media is very interested in me. 2 coffee shops are already very keen to participate with several others interested and wanting to talk about it.
    If you think it is a good idea take some ownership of the idea and make it happen in your neighbourhood rather than saying “What a great idea, someone should do that here”. If you want any help or support in doing this give me a shout, I would be happy to help

    Reply
  4. scarlett garner

    if they can get to the food pantry or food kitchen at a particular time or day if there is enough food or a pantry has enough that doesn’t require a stove to cook I have gone to a food pantry where I have gotten 5lbs potatoes (stove) hard French bread I jar peanut butter no plastic silverware so there goes my hand to dip it I have no bathroom to clean my hands so they are dirty now sticky all kinds of hard little Debbie’s now that is the way to eat obesity in the making Mrs. Obama would just die sense like you know the best for all guys I am saying if you haven’t done it please do not act like it is as convenient as jumping in the car going to price shoppers anytime you want everyone has the answers no one has a solution you haven’t walked in their shoes for a minute much less what must seem like an agonizing lifetime to those affected

    Reply
  5. Miguel Angel TInoco Rodriguez

    This article denies the point of the issue. Whoever wrote it needs to repent for she teaches precepts of men, having form of godliness but it denies the power thereof. The purpose is to get people to give, to think of the receiver is going beyond the mark. It is not that a person will go out of the way to get suspended coffee or sandwiches or meals for beggars but for any needy or hungry person, more particularly those that extend the hand. The opportunity to serve others presents itself if our heart is right and even if it isn’t to make it right. If I go to a place to eat or diner and I see a beggar near by or suspect one, then I take action. But if not I will keep looking for the opportunity to present itself. In most cases one does not have to use money or buy a thing, it is a random act of kindness. I do not even need to ask permission of the store owner to do it. I just say, I buy this or that, please hold it suspended until I or someone who requests what I have purchased comes back. Then I go out and tell or engage the beggar to request the item. Who knows, but a times the beggar will be the waiter or even me. Are we not all beggars before Christ?
    It matters not who is the receiver, is. And of this it is written concerning this issue. Or here is an inconvenient truth for those who think like the author of this article.

    And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another. And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done. I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.

    And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give. And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received. And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

    And I would that ye should remember, that whosoever among you borroweth of his neighbor should return the thing that he borroweth, according as he doth agree, or else thou shalt commit sin; and perhaps thou shalt cause thy neighbor to commit sin also. And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.

    (Book of Mormon | Mosiah 4:21 – 30)

    Reply
  6. Adam Lee Jones

    If the idea is doable and works then I’m all for it. I believe that more should be done for the homeless rather than just a cup of coffee, but at least it’s a start and it gives people an incentive to give. I think more thought does need to go into it but it can be built on if needed.

    Also, there are some absolute fruit cakes who crawl out of the woodwork to comment on this article. Miguel Angel TInoco Rodriguez, in particular should go and give his head a wobble. That talk about the big man upstairs is unnecessary, I get your point but you talk like you’re from the 19th Century, get a grip.

    Stay beautiful.

    Your hero,

    Adam

    Reply
  7. Nicky

    Oh my god, finally people with some sense, I have been really bothered by this idea mostly because the people I know who are getting behind it and reposting it are the people who if they were sitting somewhere and one of the people they had actually bought a suspended coffee for came in and sat at the next table, they would call management over to get them removed.

    Here’s more reasons why it is a terrible idea:
    http://bit-dot-ly/140iSDH

    Reply

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