May 18, 2010; Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch | We’re all used to the idea of tipping for what we think is good service in restaurants. But what if you could pay whatever you wanted for what you ordered? Before you answer, what if you knew the restaurant’s net proceeds would be donated to local community groups? Would you pay a little more?

That highly unusual model is being tested in a Missouri cafe, St. Louis Bread Co. Cares, which formerly operated as a for-profit. Located west of the city it’s named after, the Clayton bakery-cafe began a new life this week as part of the charitable arm of the well-known and highly profitable Panera Bread Co. Items for sale carry the same price as other Panera outlets, which do business in the area as St. Louis Bread Co. But in this cafe customers pay whatever they like. Instead of a receipt telling them how much they owe, customers are given a “suggested” amount to pay.

In the charitable spirit of the enterprise, patrons are encouraged to pay more than list price. Those who can’t pay are invited to volunteer at the cafe. On Monday, Ron Shaich, executive chairman of the board of the parent Panera, spent several hours Monday in the cafe carrying trays and explaining to customers the pay-as-you-wish approach. Those who know Shaich, who retired as CEO last week, said he hinted at wanting to do something philanthropic when he announced plans for the company’s leadership transition last November. At the time, he said: “I have long harbored desires to contribute to the broader world beyond Panera.”—Bruce Trachtenberg