Counter Service Tipping: Who Gives?

Add on the handful of customers who throw cash in the jar after a credit card transaction, and we may be edging toward a 50 percent rate — enormous growth over counter-service tipping a decade ago, when tipping at counters mostly involved the highly optional act of throwing change in a jar.

“The friction of leaving a tip has gone away,” said Aman Narang, the president of Toast, calling the rise of tipping “great” for restaurant workers as the cost of living increases in the United States and wages don’t necessarily keep up.

Business owners and workers tend to agree. I spoke to many, and not surprisingly, few see a downside. Nicholas Mallia, the director of operations at Paris Creperie, a counter-service restaurant in Brookline, Mass., that is a Toast client, said the switch from adding tips on paper receipts to digital-prompt machines, was “the turning point for us.”

“This was a quick and easy way for people to choose an option,” he continued. “They’re really only going to hit ‘no tip’ if something egregious happens.” He can now tell potential employees that in addition to their base pay, they can also expect two to three dollars an hour in tips.

But non-tippers are still a sizable bunch. And they have defenders, including Mark Roth, the chief operations officer for Chanson, a combination counter service and full-service cafe in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood known (at least by me) for its buttery kouign-amann pastries.

Chanson uses a point-of-sale tipping system, and 60 or 70 percent of customers leave tips, Mr. Roth said, but they shouldn’t feel obliged to do so. “It’s more up to the individual guest,” he said. “If they have a really great experience and want to recognize that, that’s a wonderful thing. But I certainly don’t think that in a counter service paradigm, it’s a requirement or onus on the guest to have to tip.”

The phenomenon is not limited to the United States. Mr. Roth previously ran high-end cafes in South Africa, and said that adding a tip via touch-screen on card transactions is common there as well. There are even signs in some countries where tipping used to be restricted to full-service restaurants, that things are changing.