IT was in 2015 when I first began to grapple with tipping when ordering at a counter-service restaurant.

I had ordered a fried chicken sandwich at Pine State Biscuits in Portland, Ore, and a friend chided me for not taking a gratuity on my card-credit payment. I hadn't even considered it.

''They're working hard back there! They're getting paid so little!'' ''But I am just ordering at the counter! I always tip waiters well, but this is not a waiter! I'm not a terrible person!''

I lost the argument, and ended up going back to leave a cash tip.

''Turns out, I'm not alone. As small, independently owned cafes, smoothie bars and fast-casual restaurants in the United States have adopted customer-facing touch-screen payment systems in recent years - and as credit cards have replaced cash for even the smallest purchases - Americans and [heaven help them] foreign visitors have been confronted with a new kind of tipping.

Point-of-sale systems, with touch screens asking for you whether you'd like to tip $1, $2, or $3 for that latte or 15, 20, or 25 percent for a salad, have been spreading like an infectious disease - or an infectious new dance craze, depending on your perspective.

[Tipped via credit card is nonexistent or at least much less common at large chains like McDonald's and Burger King, Starbucks, though, allows tipping when customers orders through their app and managers are free to out a tip jar, said a spokeswoman].

So, is leaving a tip wherever you're asked now the norm in the United States?

Four years after the Portland incident, I usually do tip when I order a coffee and find a screen toward me, but that's in part to avoid the pang of embarrassment that comes from hitting ''No tip,'' which would be visible to the person behind me in line and often behind the counter as well.

But I'm still not sure if that's the right thing to do.

I set out to resolve this issue by speaking to customers on a sticky summer summer Saturday at Stumptown Coffee Roasters in the New York City neighborhood of Greenwich Village. They did not help much.

For Lora and Daniel Vimont, from Jersey City, the answer is absolutely yes. They usually tip 30 percent at their local cafe, and left a $2 tip on an $8.71 bill at Stumptown. ''In this country, people are paid ridiculously low wages,'' said Ms. Vimont.

But Sam Cotter of Manhattan, with an iced cold brew, was holding his wallet tight. ''Why should I tip 18 percent or 20 percent when they're getting an hourly wage? It really bothers me,'' he said.

[For the record, Stumptown employees are paid at least $15 an hour, the New York City minimum wage, and divide tips in addition to that. Some cafes pay tipped employees less, though they are guaranteed $15 an hour if tips don't make up for it. The minimum wage is lower in most of the country.

 Back to my survey : Ariana Kudlo had tipped - but only because she had ordered an espresso drink that took some work : an iced vanilla latte. ''Not the coffee. They just pour it and set it down,'' she said.

And Patrick Robles had tipped a dollar on his iced tea, but only because he was regular. Out-of-towners would have no obligation to tip, he said. ''I tend to in places I come back to often. If I want to expect consistent service, it's good to tip.''

Then again he admits he's not sure if he's right. ''I don't think there is a standard etiquette,'' said Mr. Robles. ''If there is one, it's openly discussed enough.''

Agreed. if people could not resolve the issue, could data?

Toast, a Boston based company that provides point-of-sale platforms to thousands of restaurants and cafes around the United States, provided me with 2019 tipping statistics for customers paying with cards in establishments that had activated a tipping module, the vast majority.

In cafes 48.5 percent of customers left tips, and for fast casual restaurants, it was 46.5 percent. The average tip for both was around 17 percent.

Clover, a Toast competitor, provided data for tipping at tens of thousands American restaurants under the category ''fast food'' which includes cafes and fast casual restaurants.

In May 2019, customers paying with cards tipped 42 percent of the time that tipping was available to them.

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 per cent 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 honor and serving of the latest thinking and practice on social and practical norms of life and living continues. The World Students Society thanks author Seth Kugel.


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