Ashley LodatoBy Ashley Lodato

Talk around the dinner table the other night turned to the concept of “pay it forward” and I thought I’d share one of the best stories I’ve heard recently that fits that particular theme. John and Lyn Roth took their daughter, Sarah Brooks, and her childhood friend, Charlie, out to dinner at the Freestone Inn earlier this fall. The foursome had a rollicking good time, reminiscing about days past and laughing over funny anecdotes retold.
After appetizers, drinks, salads, entrees and desserts, John excused himself for a moment. Shortly after he returned to the table, the server came over and told the party, “Your bill has been taken care of.” When the server left, Sarah and Charlie began thanking John for the lavish treat, assuming — as anyone else would — that John had discreetly handled the bill.
John’s jaw, however, was nearly on the floor, according to Sarah. Although John had been planning to pick up the tab for the dinner, someone else had beat him to it. Summoning their server back, the Roths probed for answers about who had paid for their dinner. The server was sworn to secrecy, however, and was only able to report that the people who treated them had done the same thing in the Freestone dining room the previous night and that their only wish was that the Roth/Brooks party would “pay it forward” some time.
Looking around the room, the party began to speculate about who their anonymous patrons were. There was almost no one in the dining room they recognized and (no offense to those who they did know) there was certainly no one there who would have bought them dinner incognito. None of the others present seemed to give the Roths any indication that they might be the secret benefactors and the party eventually left the restaurant, buzzing with the intrigue of the evening and already discussing possibilities for their own future anonymous offerings.
Hearing this story led Amy Sweet to tell of similar happenings at the Sweets’ bakery in New Hampshire, where one customer in line might buy a coffee for the stranger behind him, which made the second customer so surprised and thrilled that she bought a coffee for the person behind her, which set off a chain reaction of people paying it forward (or in this situation, backward), ending only when there just a single person left standing at the counter, now bearing only a free cup of coffee and the beautiful burden of plotting her own random act of kindness.