Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

Life and Time, a Bend restaurant offering healthy takes on the traditional fast-food menu, recently added a tip button to the payment system at its drive-thru window.

It’s a sign of how common it has become to solicit tips for everything from coffee poured behind a counter to a plate of tacos handed out the window of a truck. Life and Time was already asking for tips inside. “We would have a dozen or two dozen people a day through the drive-thru asking how they could tip,” general manager Blake Doria said.

While some customers expect to tip for counter service, questions about whether they must, under what circumstances and how much are far from settled.

Life and Time customer Genna Salmon gladly tipped 20% on her breakfast sandwich last week. “I like their philosophy here and everything,” she said.

But she said she wouldn’t tip the same rate for counter service at Boneyard Beer’s pub. Dining there with family, she said her relatives were confused by the experience.

Though she likes to support locally owned businesses and people who are earning low wages, Salmon said, she sometimes balks when the payment screen defaults to a 20% tip. “It’s like when I go to a coffee shop, and I get a cup of coffee. Sometimes, it’s really expensive.”

For the record, the rules of etiquette say you should tip for any service beyond what you could do for yourself, said Mindy Lockard, a Lake Oswego etiquette expert. “That doesn’t translate to the counter service,” she said.

“The food industry is a really tough one to survive in,” Lockard said. “In order to support thriving local business, it really helps them if you tip their counter service.”

Lockard said she tips 10% to 15% at her favorite local coffee shop. She spends less on tips at Starbucks, partly because she knows employees can qualify for health insurance and other fringe benefits and partly because she pays through the company’s mobile app. She said she makes up for it by leaving a big tip, $50 or more, around Christmas.

The advent of Square and similar technology that make it easy for small businesses to accept credit cards is a big reason consumers are being asked to tip for everything, Lockard said.

“I don’t think people push a button because they’ve experienced good service,” she said. “It’s a way to be done.”

The habit pays off for those businesses and their employees.

The average tip at Oregon coffee sellers that use Square is 13.45%, according to Square, which processed millions of transactions in the U.S. between June 2017 and June 2018. The average includes transactions with zero tip.

The typical tip at Life and Time, where starting pay is $11.50 an hour, is 15%, Doria said. Tips are divided evenly at the end of each week based on hours worked, he said.

The average is similar at Boneyard, but general manager Jon Avella thinks it will increase as people become used to counter service. “If you go to Portland or San Francisco or San Diego, people tip a standard percentage,” he said. “It’s still new in Central Oregon.”

At least, in some settings.

Avella thinks the confusion about counter service at Boneyard stems from the size of the pub. It’s more spacious than some well-established restaurants, including Spork, Jackson’s Corner and El Sancho, which also rely on counter service.

There’s also inconsistency among restaurants in what’s expected of customers after they place their orders, Avella said. Some will bus tables, and others won’t.

Boneyard buses tables, Avella said. Tips are split evenly among front-of-house staff with a percentage going to the kitchen.

“If the food is good and beer is good and staff is still knowledgeable and friendly, we’re essentially all doing the same thing,” Avella said. “We come by a little bit less.”

Doria also believes Life and Time customers are tipping for good service. “What we strive (for) and what we expect out of all our staff is to be attentive,” he said. “If time allows, we’re out on the floor, conversating with guests and asking if we can clear their trays for them.”

At the McDonald’s one block north on SW Century Drive, customers who place their orders through self-service kiosks also will see employees carry their food to their tables.

The kiosks resulted in a shift in labor toward the kitchen rather than a reduction, co-owner Nanette Bittler said. “It’s just to create a better experience.”

The McDonald’s on SW Century advertises starting pay at $11.50 per hour, which is 25 cents more than the minimum wage in Deschutes County. Not accepting tips hasn’t hurt McDonald’s in competing for labor, Bittler said. McDonald’s offers tuition assistance and flexible schedules, she said. “We’ve made it a priority to offer benefits that far exceed the value of tips.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com