'Pay it forward' board

Rodeos Pizza & Saladeria has been operating a pay it forward board, where customers can pre-purchase food and drinks for future visitors to the pizzeria who may need help paying for their meal.

If they’re feeling charitable, folks stopping by Rodeos Pizza & Saladeria might want to take a peek to the right of the cash register at a small corkboard hung up on the wall, covered with unusual guest checks.

They say things like: “1 slice, 1 PBR for any active-duty marine,” “1 slice and soda for a KU student” or simply “1 slice for anyone who needs it!”

The IOUs are paid for by Rodeos customers who wish to fund someone else’s purchase at the pizzeria. Some are written for specific people, while others may require the person redeeming the check to have a mustache, call their mom or be a military veteran. The “Pay It Forward Board,” as it’s called, can be a dose of generosity and even creativity during tough times, said Rodeos Owners David and Nell Scott.

'Pay it forward' board

The pay it forward board at Rodeos on November 18, 2021.

“It’s fun and helpful. People who put money on the board feel like they’re helping, and people who take money off the board get the help they need,” David said. “And it’s pretty low effort on our part.”

Rodeos opened on Main Street in 2014 and put up the board in mid-2015. David said they were inspired by a pizzeria on the East Coast that made headlines by allowing customers to purchase Post-It notes, redeemable for a slice by those who couldn’t afford one. Rodeos just switched out the Post-Its for guest checks, allowing purchasers to purchase any number of slices, drinks, salads or even whole pizzas for their future recipients.

Nell said it’s especially enjoyable to watch people come up with stipulations for redeeming the checks. She likes seeing the creative requirements that show up on the board, from “a college student, but you have to call your mom” to “a person with a tattoo of a monkey.”

“When is that ever going to come up — but how cool would it be if it did, and then somebody could get that piece of pizza? That’s kind of the fun part,” she said.

More than five years after hanging up the pay it forward board, however, it appears that participation is waning. Data from the redemption of the checks, tabulating the total amount of money applied as 100% discounts under that category each month, show that 2016 saw $721.56 worth of pay it forward redemptions. This year is shaping up to be the lowest amount so far, with $105 redeemed as of November 18, roughly 85% less.

David said that may be due to a number of factors. Rodeos is seeing greatly reduced foot traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic (some checks on the board haven’t been redeemed in many months), and peak totals may have been due in part to people paying a few whole pizzas forward as opposed to individual slices. Additionally, the pizzeria moved the board, once prominently displayed, to its current, less conspicuous location after expanding into adjacent commercial space in 2017. David said it may be time to figure out a better location for the board.

“The pay it forward board is less front-and-center now than it used to be,” he said.

The Scotts hope the numbers rebound this holiday season, as communities in the area reel from a horrendous drought and fire season and stare down the barrel of a second pandemic winter. But it will take Rodeos customers choosing to pay it forward when picking up their next slice of pizza.

“I think humans love a good story. The purchaser who’s putting pizza on the board for someone else gets to create whatever story they want about who’s going to redeem that,” David said. “It’s giving people an easy way to be generous.”

David and Nell Scott

David and Nell Scott (left) and several Rodeos employees pose with the pay it forward board on November 18, 2021. The dollar amount of free transactions redeemed through the board this year is shaping up to be the lowest since the pizzeria opened, but the Scotts hope that could change this holiday season.