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The Tipping Point: Tipping on Expensive Wine
The San Francisco Chronicle had a post last week that caught my attention. It regarded appropriate percentages to tip on high-end wine purchases in restaurants. (Seems an interesting time for such an article, but it appears that some are still spending). The amount used in this article as an example was $300, however I can see that what qualified as a premium or super premium would vary with location, and be somewhat in line with the menu prices in general.
In this post, a reader had written in with this question: "I'm going to a restaurant with two people. The bill without wine will be about $500. I'm buying a bottle of wine that costs $300. I usually tip 20%, including the tax, for the food. How much should I tip for the wine in addition to the 20% for the food? The interesting thing was that there really doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast answer.
Even more interesting are the comments below the article. On one side of the coin is what the industry thinks is fair or should be the standard, on the other side is what the restaurant going public thinks. I did a bit of research and came up with a couple of other articles on this (I am sure there are many more out there), and overall each seemed to draw the same somewhat uncertain conclusion.
Not surprisingly, the public’s view and the server’s or sommelier’s view were not exactly in alignment. One article suggesting that a standard 20% is a starting point and that great service should garner even more. On top of that perhaps you should offer the sommelier (and server and chef) part of the bottle. I certainly understand that perspective, especially if you are a server or sommelier, work hard at your profession, have spent years becoming educated and strive for exceptional service.
What I do wonder though, is that if we continue on this path, with tipping standards going higher and higher, are we going to hit a wall or resistance, where the public simply says "no more." Will dining out become only for the wealthy? In these economic times, the popularity of diners, roadhouses, food trucks and other relatively inexpensive dining options has soared. In regard to dining, are we losing the middle class? The wealthy having the upscale or fine dining option and the rest have other end of the scale, with everything in the middle going the way of the dinosaur?
What do you think? Let me know!
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
The New York Times
As we head deeper and deeper into our "economic situation" those $300 + bottles of wine will become more rare...I know that the finest restaurants will still have their sommeliers on staff, but will the restaurant one step down be able to do so? My point is that just like the situation with expensive wines have and is changing so should some of the more extremely dining practices...time will tell but my bet is that also will come down a bit!
Not to offer an opinion in particular, allow me to point out that there are different school of toughs, i.e. in Germany the tip is included and the guest rounds up the bill to the highest number as you like. Good or better. In general the service is good or even better in more expensive restaurants, since you will receive service from more educated personal, with more wine knowledge. In Japan there is no tip at all, since this would be considered 'cheap', since the server is proud of this what he does.
20% tip or higher is up to the guest, based on the quality of service. 8.5% have to be filed for taxes regardless if received or not.
I tip around 20% if the service was good to great since that is the custom. If the service was bad I mention it (as in there is room for improvement) and tip the 15% to make a difference. -
For your question in regards to the $300 bottle, which will be a $360 bottle at the end of the meal, my opinion is if someone wants to create a great moment in time, this question should not come up at all, especially if he is already paying $800 for the dinner. There is no difference, a big one that is. Just the discussion about it would take so much away from the (hopefully) fantastic experience the dinner party had. That moment should be remembered by the quality of people, laughter, conversations, food, wine it all took to make it happen.
Prost und Zum Wohl!
(Cheers to Your Health & Life!)
Visit www.KINGFROSCH.com German wines manufactured under the strict German purity law, no artificial ingredients and with the lowest levels in the world for histamines and sulfites! Our friends call our wines the no headache wines!
My opinion comes from 33 years in restaurant management. The concept of a percentage as a standard is a doubled edge sword, really good
and practiced service is almost nonexistent theses days. If your service is mediocre not even bad or terrible nothing should be left and a conversation with the manager about the service level should take place.
Conversely if the service is great to spectacular 20 to 35 percent cash tip should happen and a personal conversation with the waiter and the manager should happen. With the current wage rate, tips, are the major contributor to a waiters income.
Food VS Wine
Why should I tip for wine service when all the waiter does is take the order, open and pour the wine, they didn't make it. The same thing can be said about the food, but the tip is not necessarily disputed here.
As a General Manager and wine steward, I was polished, suggested the wines, gave wine room tours, told wine related stories, continued the pouring process and sold other appropriate beverages according to the table temperament. I gave a performance to every table that has been polished over years of working on my craft and often did not get tipped because the manager gets plenty of salary already.
I think it is better to tip on the wine service than bring in your own wine. There is another article for you.
Unfortunately the level of service nationally is poor and often in a restaurant setting the masses are asses.
Over the years I have worked in many different types of food and beverage establishments and I have to say that depending on where you are dining is how the tipping varies.
Yes 20% plus for excellent service such as The Ritz Carlton and high end restaurants. We usually tip 30% and better for a special night out.
On the other hand if a bottle of wine reaches over 100 dollars in value then the tip should be in cash and 10% for every extra 100 dollars. For example: 200 dollar bottle of wine: tip 30 dollars this way everyone can enjoy a special bottle of wine without breaking the bank.
We have favorite servers we tip 50% all the time. It is the experience that we appreciate so much.
Private Consultant-Director of New Openings Food and Beverage Operations
What would you tip at a nice wine bar for a glass of wine? I tip between $1.50 - $3 for a glass of wine (depends on the service). The same holds true for a bottle of wine for me, whether it be a half or full bottle. I believe it depends on the waitstaff/sommelier/wine director that is serving. If they recommend a new wine that turns out to be fantastic, of course I am going to tip more and offer a glass to the server. So in answer to your question, I would not tip 20% across the board. It would probably be between $7.50 - $25.00.
Christina E. Mirabile
Discover Wine & Spirits
Frankly, I am starting to think a different way. I used to believe a % was the way to go but logically, why? It takes no more effort for a server to open a $300 bottle vs a $75 bottle so why the entitlement to more? I don't have an answer but yes, I do believe the dining public will at some point, resent the presumption that a certain flat percentage is expected for a total bill. Good question!
That "pour" for the somm/server/chef of 1/2 glass [ 2 1/2 oz for 3 people to taste} costs $16.50. 10% of $300 plus 10% tax. Add a tip to it and it is ridiculous. A 10% tip $30 is appropriate without the "taste." There is no more effort in serving a $300 wine than a $100 wine, unless server is just a slosh and pour person.
In addition, the somm/chef/server are supposed to be familiar with the wine, that's why they serve it. o not forget that they are selling it to you.
They do not need to taste it unless the questions arises over the wine condition.
Tastes are offered when the guest brings his own wine and does or does not pay a corkage.
Obviously the restaurant does not serve it and it is unique , old or special. That is why you offer a taste. Tipping when guest brings his own wine should consider the question of the amount of the bill as if guest bought wine from the rest and if corkage and amount of it is charged.
Thank you for the forum.
Harold S Bartholomew
I run two fine dining restaurants----for a party of 2 or 3 persons----20% is a excellent with 10% on wine----if everything was outstanding---tip in the form of cash--
I am an exceptional tipper, but have become disenfranchised with less than stellar performance coupled with what seems to be a DEMAND for higher percentage tips. I own two wineries, and the greatest sin an employee can make is to NOT give a customer far more than they expect. It's a point so well made that our employees constantly compare the service they receive with what we consider minimum performance. For this service they receive no gratuity, just pride in hearing the praise of our customers. I will continue to tip ONLY based on MY expectations....minimum performance= minimum tip. Great service may very well garner 40-50%...no matter what level the restaurant.
Love your EZine and look forward to it.
This response regards your most recent copy on tipping.
I am always surprised that nobody ever wants to talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to tipping in the US. You began to scratch the surface when you questioned when tipping, and therefore dining will become too expensive for the middle class. Class aside, it is the increased reliance on tips as income that drives required tip percentages up in accordance with costs of living. Fortunately, for everyone who tips like it is still 1975, there are those who tip generously, so, for the time being anyway, service staff can rely on a certain amount of average income based on their sales each shift. Where indeed though does it end? Will we be expected to tip 50% in the foreseeable future?
I can tell you from years of experience, both as a diner and as a service professional, that tipping in the US has become a ridiculous and unnecessary element of our industry. As a social phenomena, some people tip to impress, most people tip in ignorance of current norms, and the rest tip appropriately. The fact is that as service professionals, we are not paid a living wage, therefore we rely on tips, for which we are taxed as income, to pay our bills. In most other countries, service professionals are paid a living wage, and tips are nominal, as service is included in the pricing of the menu.
Our problem in the US is that as our industry took shape, we never placed the required level of importance on the role that service professionals play in our hospitality industries. As a result, restauranteurs etc, have for decades been able to build reliable business models based on labor costs that do not have to accurately take into account the importance of service professionals. We now are in a situation where dining, and the important role of service professionals, has elevated miles above its humble beginnings in the US, but service professionals are still paid the same rate as dishwashers, even though their contributions are now more important and profitable than ever before.
The rub is that the average restaurant cannot even afford to provide medical benefits for their key staff, much less be able to pay a living wage and build those costs into their menu pricing. Its too late for this.
Meanwhile, the dining public has been faced with an ever increasing, and very nebulous, standard of tipping for service in the US over the past few decades. And the hospitality industry has done NOTHING to achieve any sense of clarity for their patrons on this issue. Tipping on expensive wine is just one question. Do you tip less for lunch? Even less for breakfast? What is a good tip? What is a great tip? How do I show my appreciation? Am I tipping too much? Where does my tip actually go?
I can tell you from vast experience that service professionals rely on two or three tables each shift to make their money. Their other tables will tip the same no matter how good the service is. The sad part about this is that we then have to budget our valuable time accordingly, and as a result, stereotypes (elderly, minorities, foreigners, etc.) are perpetuated as far as who actually gets the service worthy of a good tip. Our experience tells us who to devote our time to, so as a result those tables we deem to be the ones who will tip what they tip regardless of the our service are the tables that get marginalized service. At the end of the night, do I really know who would have tipped what? Who am I to judge who gets my best efforts? Why is this judgement even necessary?
My point is that tipping is an increasing concern for all parties, and it does not have to be. Imagine how much more enjoyable your experience would be if you did not have to stress about a tip at the end of your meal, when you should be feeling great and ready to go home. Imagine how much better service you would always receive if your service staff were getting paid according to their talents by their employers (what a concept!) instead of having to rely on you to do the right thing. I can certainly imagine how much better I would feel knowing that my employer valued my talents, experience, knowledge, and dedication enough to pay me accordingly, so that I would not have to rely on the roll of the dice to pay my bills, and having to bounce from house to house trying to find appropriate income
A service charge is not an option at the moment, except at the higher levels of dining, where it does seem to be catching on. Case in point, some San Francisco restaurants are now including a 4% surcharge on each check to cover their expenses for recent mandatory health coverage regulations legislated by the city government. Public outcry on this practice is all over blogs and Yelp etc. Patrons, rightly so, are not happy to see this on their check at the end of the meal, and are outraged at having to be the scapegoat in paying for an establishment's overhead. Most will back this fee out of their tip, so the service staff ends up literally paying for the benefits themselves. It would be so easy to select some of the top selling items on the menu and increase the price by a small amount to cover these costs of doing business. They would likely generate more than enough revenue to cover these imposed costs The customer would never notice and would not be in a position to judge an establishment's motives when they get the bill. These restaurants seem to be preaching to the wrong choir. Their problem is with the legislation; I fail to see the logic of passing this cost onto your patrons so obviously. A service charge would be met with the same, if not greater disdain in most dining situations.
So where does that bring us? Right to the point that tipping has become ridiculous. In our current economic environment, diners are seriously questioning whether they really can or should support service with a 20% or greater tip. I feel that it is a shame that it has taken 50 years and an economic downturn for people to really look closely at the topic. I predict that diners will continue to shrink their spending, and tipping.
And now to the real problem. Imagine going to your favorite fine dining establishment one night and finding that your waiter is also the busboy and the dishwasher. A trend has already begun wherein the true talented service professionals are leaving their calling for better paying and more stable incomes within the service industry, the supply side, or other industries altogether. We find it more difficult to justify our hours, working weekends and holidays, the sacrifices we make for a normal social life, and the time we lose with our families, in the face of decreasing income and increasing demands on the part of our employers. Many of us now work two or three jobs to make ends meet. We do have other options. We have immense transferable skills. And we are leaving, with very shallow talent pools to take up the slack, and a lack of ability or interest on the part of employers to properly train new staff. Everyone has their breaking point, and now, more than ever, service professionals are reaching it. Service quality has already begun to erode at all levels of dining. You can see the proof all over the internet in customer comments. I see it regularly in my own dining efforts. Good help is hard to find.
Our industry needs to address this issue. The credit card industry addresses it more than we do, which is pathetic, because we pay them millions of dollars each year for the privilege of accepting their cards as payment. I am referring to the sometimes seen tipping scales printed at the bottom of your credit card receipt. Certainly clears the air for foreigners and those stuck in 1975, but is no guarantee of behavior, and sometimes customers are even offended by its inclusion.
Bottom line, my grandmother would never even dream of tipping more than 10%, regardless of the service. Most foreaigners cannot understand our tipping procedures, and do not feel obligated to support our system, even when they do become aware of the "rules". Most minorities do not tip according to norms for whatever reasons they have. These are all situations that arise out of a complete lack of our industy's ability to deal with the elephant in the room.
Figure out how to pay us all a living wage, and the issue goes away. Diners are happier, service staff are happier, and our industry will continue to be able to attract and retain the talent it needs to move forward in competition with the rest of the world. Patrons will not hesitate to order the wine they really want, the dessert they want, the cocktails they want. Service professionals will be able to continue doing what they love to do. Restaurants will be able to rely on a stable pool of talent and the repeat business and increased sales we all bring to the equation.
Please feel free to include my email address for those who wish to comment on this diatribe, and thanks so much for listening.
I am writing in regards to your request for peoples opinions regarding tipping on wine.
I usually tip around 20% on the total bill before taxes (provided that the service is at par) without ever thinking much about the reason why we do so. Not too long ago my son started working at a medium to high end restaurant to help pay for his university, while dining at his restaurant I was waitered on by my son and his older ( 45sh) co-worker, we got talking about the issue of tipping and I learned a few things that shed some light into the tipping business. I found out that waiters usually work for minimum wage or a little more, also that they seldom work a 40 hour week as restaurants are usually open between 6 p.m. to 10 p.m, so their by-weekly pay cheques are only a few hundred dollars. I also found out that they are required by their employers to tip out a percentage of their sales to the bus persons, bartenders, kitchen help, this percentage can be as high as 7% and this is required to be paid out weather they get tipped or not. Also, as is in the case of where my son works, they work in teams of 2 waiters per section.
After finding this facts I did a little bit of math, The total bill for that night came to be around $450.00 dollars for two of us, $220.00 was food and a $230.00 bottle of wine. Lets say that us diners decide to tip 20% on food and 10% on the wine, that will equal to a $67.00 dollar tip for the waiters, then I deducted the 7% that they are required to tip out $37.50, with that deduction the waiters are left with $29.50, then we divide that by the two waiters and they are left with $14.25 each.
Having these facts I came to the conclusion that, yes we are living in some challenging times, and yes the tip adds up quite a bit to the bill, but lets be understanding of who are really getting hit the hardest, us customers that we go out to have a great time, meal, wine and service, or the waiters that are working for minimum wage and are trying to get by these very challenging times. I say that if we can go out and spend $1,000.00 on a bottle of wine we can certainly afford a 20% tip for the people that help us having a great evening, and if we are spending this kind of money on wine we are not hurting for money as much as we would like everybody to belief, specially the IRS and the in laws.
It really depends on service & food. Great service I tip high over 20%, better then average 20%, average 15%, so-so 8%, and really bad 0%. A tip is a gratuity for service and must be earned not demanded. Wine is included in the bill and is tipped accordingly. As far as sharing, I paid for the wine why must I share? I don't give the chef or server part of my dinner, why my wine? I am there to eat and enjoy myself, not feed and drink with the staff. I am paying for service. If I must share with the staff, I should stay home for a lot less or they should pay for part of the dinner or wine. Grant you this once I taste a dish out I am able to go home and recreate it. I live in Napa Valley and none of the fine restaurants require you to share you meal with the wait staff. Wine is part of the dinner. Next they will want us to bus our own tables before we leave. Ridiculous!!!!
I have been in the fine-dining end to the restaurant business for over 30 years. I know in Texas, servers get paid $2.13 an hour, with no health insurance or other benefits.
Proper etiquette has always been to tip on wine. If you have the class and taste to order a $300 bottle of wine, you should have the same class and taste to tip on it.
Ask your lawyer, doctor, real estate agent or stock broker if it would be OK to make some adjustments on their fees!!!! We all work for money. Be fare
Dear Margie, I agree that tipping on premium wines does get ridiculous, especially when the wine is more expensive than the meal.Being a Chef I have always been of the mind that the wine should complement the food not vice verse.
Good point about extravagant tipping. I'd like to put this to my examiner.com readers and to my facebook and twitter followers, too.
I wonder about this as I pay for nearly all of the meals and wines I review.
I have no problem tipping $6 on a $30+ bottle, maybe less/more based on service, fun, entertainment value (presentation), attention to detail, my friends, the specific food pairing, and time of day. I do have a tough time justifying a $60 tip on a $300 bottle of wine, regardless of the mentioned factors. I'll bring a $500 bottle (or two) out of my cellar and pay a $15 to $30 corkage.
Having had an unlimited corporate budget at one time in my life, I even had a tough time with this conundrum then. At that point it was not only an almost ethical thing, it was a responsibility to shareholders (including me).
Just my thoughts.
Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Examiner
When did 20% become the mid-point for a tip? Food prices have escalated far faster than the wage rates, which should warrant a reduction in the percentage not an increase. With the average waiter having 3-5 tables depending on restaurant type, and an average 1.5 hour turn rate, why should a waiter generate $20.00-30.00/hour in tips in addition to wages? Most of these wages are under the radar of the IRS.
Educated professionals earn less than this. Most wait staff are paid far too much to be paid at the 20% rate for popping a cork. $60.00 tip for a $300.00 bottle? Give me a break.
As you pointed out, there is no hard and fast rule. Generally a $300 bottle of wine will be at a very nice restaurant. If there is a sommelier and wine service is top notch with proper glassware, I feel that if you can afford the wine, you can afford the service and somewhere between 15% and 20% is appropriate and considerate. I don't feel, however, that you are obligated to give any of the wine to the sommelier or staff.
Another question that comes up: Suppose you bring your own $300 bottle of wine to a restaurant. Do you tip on the corkage or on the value of the wine? I believe 99% of people will only tip on the corkage.
I think if you want to play the expensive wine game, you have to be willing to pay for the service
Rusty Gaffney MD
The PinotFile at www.princeofpinot.com
I believe if you tipped already 20% for the food and than 20^ for the Wine-Steward is more than sufficient,because they making already a share out of the sale and should be happy that there are still customers who are able and willing to spend a couple of hundred Dollars for a bottle of wine,most of them anyway overpriced.I work since 40 years in the industry and do not understand those fools who try to ruin the business and the pleasure for their guest.Hopefully they have a job tomorrow and not serving coke and sprite on a foodcart at a construction side, with rude comments and no tips at all.
Having been on both sides of the table, my rule-of-thumb is that it's appropriate to tip 18% - 20% on the total bill; which includes wine, before dinner drinks, and tax. If it's a memorible evening (the chef presents special "surprises," the timing of service is at a good cadence, etc.), then it's appropriate to tip over that amount.
Serving wine is not simply "pulling a cork." The wine buyer must ensure the menu is current, with vintage and pricing; and more importantly, that the wine is in stock and available. If not, a good server or somiler will indicate this when presenting the wine list, as so not to disappoint. Of course, that depends on the management/wine buyer communicating this information to the front of the house.
Aside from that, good wine service doesn't allow guests' wine glasses to become empty, yet it's a fine line to understand not to push, and be able to read the host in case a second bottle is, or is not, in order. So, it's much more than pulling a cork (polished stemware, etc. aside).
Concerning corkage, if it is $35 or under, than the gratuity should be adjusted as to what the wine might cost on the wine menu. So one would expect a bottle a guest brings in to be at least $60 on the wine menu; and tip on that amount. The fact that restaurants expect a 30% beverage cost on wine instead of 50%, is another discussion entirely. Some smart restaurants have gotton away from this; but not enough to promote wine education and interest. The issue of tipping on tax is another intersting question, but not on topic here.
So, in a nutshell, tip on the total bill, and tip according to service (18% - 25%). When you look at the grand scheme of things, the difference on tipping 18% compared to 10% on a $300 bottle of wine is barely the cost of a dessert or coffee service, so it's better to tip on the bottom line when dining at a good restaurant.
My two cents (or 18%) worth,
I live in St. Helena, CA where there are many restaurants, and I hear very few comments about the expensive restaurants. Retired people avoid them because of their fixed incomes. And I have seen restaurants come and go. I think your analysis that inexpensive restaurants will become the sole survivors except for a few for people who can afford them
Speaking as a consumer and vintner, I see both sides of this issue. Having said that, the server or sommelier does not put in more work in the serving of a more expensive bottle of wine, versus one that falls into a more "reasonable" price point. At the most, they are going to bring out nicer glasses and perhaps decant the wine. So, for that service I would tip a bit more. But at a certain point, their services don't take any more time or trouble for a more expensive wine. And, as we know, it is the owner that has to carry the cost of having a more expensive bottle of wine on hand. However, he/she is most likely compensating him/herself more by charging a premium for the wine. So, we come to the point where the consumer is (rightly I think) going to resist tipping more on an expensive bottle than a less-expensive bottle. I believe there should be a limit on how much one tips for the service of pouring a wine. It would be nice if someone would come up with an appropriate tip for wines over a certain price, one that would compensate the staff fairly for their time, but still be reasonable.
Maybe you can come up with one?
a Napa Vintner
If you are interested... Look at what Oprah recently said about Chicago and Tipping. It is horrific. Our employees make server wages and live on their tips. Bottles of wine if referred from the server; "sold" in other words and if enjoyed, should get compensation. If one is just ordered without influence, then I think tipping based on the experience should be the norm. This is a great question and if you don't mind I would like to post your article at my work. W Hotel Lakeshore.
I am not willing to tip a full percentage on wine. Also, Restauranteurs need to wise up and stop multiplying by 3 their wine prices.
Tip (to insure promptness) should be based on service
-Karl S Mann
No way a tip on an expensive wine should be standard, at any %.
Just as in the rest of the service experience, the diner should judge both the quality of the total "feeling" about the service, the attention to detail, and the extent to which needs were anticipated.
When all of the above happens in the course of a fine dining experience, I've been known to tip as much as 50% on the whole tab (excluding tax).
Hope this moves the debate along.
GM, Capitol Hill Club
I support paying the dinner wait staff (split between quite a few people) 20% for fine dining, I always feel it's taking advantage of the customer to charge 20% on wine that's over $100/bottle. The sommelier didn’t have to sell that wine, someone paying that price knows what he/she wants to buy. The wine should be on a separate line item and tip for the sommelier should be "gratuity" for a job well done. We always share wine especially when it's a fine vintage with the sommelier. Most restaurants don’t itemize the wine separately and I think the sommelier would fare better if they did.
I think anything more than $50 on a bottle costing $300 or more is ridiculous. At the same time I think a restaurant should cap the amount of profit on most bottles at $50. Obviously, if a restaurant is tying up thousands in Petrus or some other exhorbitently overpriced collectible than let the buyer beware, even though we all know these show wines are mostly window dressing. A restaurant will sell more quality wine if it drops its high end margins. then the discussion becomes moot because the sommeliers won't even be able to keep up with the increased sales! I sell most of my higher end wine on Sundays where I sell everything for half price! What I lose in margin I make up for because I get many, many more second bottle sales.
Nice article, Margie.
One of the really healthy trends for good restaurants in hard times has been the scaling back of the sometimes extreme markups on wine.
A restaurant often depends upon wine sales to make the difference in red or black ink these days, particularly those which offer expensive proteins in more than micro-sample portions. Restaurants need to commit human energies to select, buy, stock, store, list, retrieve, and serve wines…and those costs are not trivial, so no fair person would argue with a mark up. But there are limits to credulity in this economy…and seeing a $14 retail wine for $45 on a wine list just isn’t going to encourage people to explore the wonderful variety and intrigue of wine and food pairings. Wines by the glass for $15 or 20 are even more absurd. (Really…I know how much they cost to make.)
Smart restaurants are trimming back the mark-ups, and guess what…making it up in volume, plus building customer loyalty. In addition, some consumers see that their budget is not totally whacked with one bottle, so they’ll try a different one with a different course, or order a glass of dessert wine. They may spend the same amount in the end, but feel fulfilled with a sense of value…and come back.
The waiter is not the one who, generally, is on the hook financially for an expensive, older wine. It’s the proprietor. The waiter has a responsibility to know the wine, advise if asked, offer gracious alternatives if price is a factor, and serve with verve. That definitely merits a tip, but whether it should go up arithmetically with the wine price is a matter of debate. 20% up to $100 is fair…and beyond that, maybe a lower rate, with a special bonus if the waiter leads you to the Garden.
Yes, truly wealthy people have the ability to buy $500 meals and $300 bottles…but those folks are not the future of the hospitality industry, even in San Francisco. They are disappearing, or else they live in Texas. In the meantime, I do hope they support the hardworking people in the hospitality industry…but don’t let the elite few set a standard which discourages other hardworking people from patronizing the same industry.
Wells Shoemaker MD, Winemaker
Sandie Shoemaker, Fomentor
Salamandre Wine Cellars
I agree with A 20% gratuity for restaurants. The servers make less than minimum wage and deserve at least 20% provided of course the service meets your exceptions. I have tipped higher with exceptions but our standard is 20%.
Brass Lantern Inn
717 Maple Street
Stowe, VT 05672
As a winery owner who eats out a lot while I am entertain clients I have a few comments. As several of my tighter friends point out, never tip on the tax, especially for a very expensive dinner. Always tip heavier if you are eating at a place that sells your wine or if you bring in your wine and are not charged for corkage. I would never buy a wine that cost over $150.00 but if I did I would probably leave a smaller tip on the wine especially if there was not a sommelier involved.
I’ll be interested in what others have to say, but here are my two cents worth:
Tip is an acronym for ‘to insure prompt’ service, and it really should be based on that, along with the food. We, the paying customer, have lots of choices of where we eat and we need to have a voice in all this. If we are expected to tip on a bottle of wine, where will it end? The restaurant only purchased the wine, they didn’t make it. They do have to cellar it properly, we hope, but I’m not in the camp of tipping on the price of the wine. If you order a cocktail, the bartender is relied upon to make a fine drink, which is quite different from opening a bottle of wine. . I ALWAYS insist on the server/sommelier sampling the wine I bring, which they appreciate
Let me know what others have to say!
John Von Lossow
Hola From Cancun,
Where US wine is off the wall pricey! Malbec not so much, so much for NAFTA.
As a Certified Sommelier and former wine buyer/staff trainer for multiple restaurants, this situation truly amazes me. Back in the so called Day, part of the pitch to get servers to understand and sell wine was, "Hey, it's like selling an extra entree and you get the tip."
Now it is more common it is equal to a four top and the pricing is absurd. I made a lot of money for clients marking up front line wholesale pricing about 2.25 i.e. $10 cost, $22.50 bottle, a bottle that was $14 to $16 on retail shelves. In some locations, I discounted the 2nd, 3rd etc. bottle. I often see 3 times retail on better restaurant wine lists. This is justified by "carrying cost of inventory". Not just one top end steak house chain's stewards told me they need to have at least $ .25MM at cost to even THINK they have a decent cellar. Yet admit 70% or more of sales are in the under $100 a bottle wines.
Shame on them. If the owner wants to collect a Bern's style cellar, fine. But that doesn't justify passing on the investment to consumers. In a 30 day net credit state, I consistently put out award winning lists while turning my inventory 13 times a year at cost. Monthly sales always paid for purchases, plus. Churning inventory is what makes retail (which restaurants are) work.
And, no matter what the price, how much value does pulling a cork add to dinner. I recently ate at Sonoma Mission Inn, and very well treated with a great meal. Policy, which I found fair, was $25 for using your own bottle, waived if you purchased something from the list. I brought a Ramey Cabernet ($75 retail at winery) and purchased a Schramsberg to start, $60 (reasonable) on the list. The steward noted he had some nice wines from Ramey at a good price, which was true. But, I'd paid about wholesale for the wine. The corkage would have been one third the winery price of the wine but a 20% tip on list price would have been more money. I'm considered a good tipper, but don't tip on tax, as mentioned in your piece. But I find it very difficult to go to any of the well known wine country restaurants for under $100 average ticket plus beverage. I appreciate service as a profession and have worked for tips but there are probably servers at Denny's that bust their chops harder than the well dressed but prix fixe plate droppers at Cyrus. Also a good recent experience.
The food may demand the price but what it takes to get it from the pass line to the tablecloth is not a lot different than getting hot, cooked as you asked, eggs and pancakes to you. And I never found it tougher to pull the cork on a '66 Bordeaux than the plastic one in a Yellowtail Chardonnay.
The sommeliers you spoke of seem to feel the public should tip more per bottle of overly marked up product than they would have on an entire meal at some of the finest restaurants in the country just a few years ago.
What did I do in the example above, 20% of approximately $200 in food and equaled the waived corkage for the wine. My reasoning; $12 at 20% on the bubbly, $14 as 20% of the retail price of the red, $25 was a round number. If eight tables (and there were many more) did something similar, the guy walks with $200, only reporting part of it to Uncle. The math says this is easily a $75K + job, for pulling 12 to 16 corks a night. And that's a slow night.
In response to your article "The tipping point" I submit that the only time my husband and I offer the waiter, sommelier or restaurateur a taste of our wine is when we bring it ourselves and pay corkage. I have never read another article or heard mention of the other. As far as tipping I do not believe that the standard 20% of the cost of the wine should be expected as regardless of the bottle price there is only the same 750ml in the bottle and the servers hands do not become more golden when pouring expensive wine. Thank you for bringing this up because I believe it is "time" the tipping point became "A discussion Point" for everyone in the wine industry.
We own a wine store and have partnered with local restaurants to "waive" the corkage on bringing wine when it is purchased from our store and they bring a receipt. Our customers love this and it benefits us all. We do remind them to tip on the value of the wine. Whatever that percentage is?
I think that you are right-on in regards to reaching a wall of resistance with diners. When 20% is no longer considered the standard for “great service”, I too will change my dining out habits in favor of more relaxed and cost conscious options. Personally, I believe that tipping 20% on wine service, up to a maximum of 20$ per bottle is more than sufficient. I would certainly be open to tip more if the service was for more than 4 guests, if the server was required to provide multiple stemware options to be varietal appropriate, and if the server was attentive enough that my tables guests were not having to refill their own glasses during the meal. If the server provided a great wine recommendation and seemed genuinely interested, I would request that they bring an extra glass and I would personally pour them a taste. If the Sommelier provided a great recommendation and attended to the wine service personally, I would offer to pour them a taste and would likely tip them directly for their service. Some of my biggest “turn offs” are being made to feel expected or obligated to tip the server and sommelier if only one of them provided the service, to tip 20% on expensive bottles of wine, or to be predisposed to share part of the bottle with staff unless there is wine left at the end of the meal. I feel that it is always appropriate to offer left over wine to staff, rather than taking it off premises. When diners start feeling obliged to make unnecessary concessions to servers and restaurant staff, it ultimately effects the amount of money they have to spend in your establishment and how often they can afford to dine with you. I believe that if you keep the wine experience from being stuffy, pretentious, and frightening , you will see a lot more people enjoying the wonderful world of wine.
Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa
Figuring out these numbers is not necessarily as complicated as appears to be portrayed. Excellent service, and personal judgement aside there is one reasonable point of calculation. Gratuities are no longer the perceived "Tax Free" earnings of the service personnel. The IRS now requires restaurants (and casinos as well as many recognized tipping occupations) to have their employees declare a percentage of their sales as income, or are assigned a benchmark income average. For a high end restaurant declaring 10% of sales is common. Factor into this equation the fact that most tipped employees also tip out along the service chain within the establishment and you will discover that a gratuity diminishes very quickly into the system. So, the next time you consider tipping $10.00 on that $300 bottle of wine consider, that server may have to declare $30 on those sales as taxable income. They may then have to tip out as much as 30% of their tips to fellow employees, and then at the end of the year they are going to pay 20-30% tax on their income based on sales. Figure out the math. Ultimately, the average server in this country earns less than $40,000 per year and will almost never get to spend $800 on dinner. So, if they give you stellar service, what are they worth?
So, Margie? 20 percent is the acceptable tipping guide? Thanks! You offer the most interesting subjects. I'm glad for you. Love your newsletters.
Plymouth House Inn
When it comes to food and your standard beer or glass of wine, I usually tip in the 15-25% range...as always depending on the service and experience.
When it comes to expensive bottles of wine, I tend to think a little differently because I've been in the business long enough to know all of the costs associated with running a restaurant.
Allow me to use this example.
4 people dine out at a high end restaurant to celebrate a special occasion.
Apps, entree's and desserts total $300
(w/out alcohol, the tip would be $60@20%)
But if that bill becomes $1300 because they drank 3 bottles of Opus, does that really justify an additional $200 tip on top of the $60 for the food?
That's basically an $70 tip for each bottle if you follow 20%.
Personally, I don't think any baseball player is worth $30 million a year, and I don't think tipping should be based on total bill percentages in this case either.
What I do in a situation like this is take to $60@20% tip for the food service, then I look at the wine cost separately. Using the above example, I would probably tip another $60 or so (basically $20/bottle).
The server still received a $120 tip for ONE table. The server also got a good up-sell for his check average (which the boss is more concerned about)....and he worked a lot less opening and pouring than he/she did bringing out food, bussing the table etc.
That's my take, like it or not.
I respectfully disagree with Steve and here is why. When you buy 3 bottles of Opus and drop $1300 on a meal you are "leveraging" something for personal or business gain. You may be taking an important client out, trying to impress someone special or friends, or trying to close that huge business deal. For a small percentage of people, this is simply how they dine. Regardless of the category you fall in, if you order it and receive great service then tip the 20%.
The other reason, and arguably the more important reason why you should pay up is more often than not the server will have to tip out the sommelier, the bar, or both, based on wine sales. It is not unheard of to tip out 10% of your wine sales. This could easily work out to the server losing $20 for every bottle you order. In addition, the server will have to pay taxes based on their wine sales. Now they are $30 in the hole for every cork they pull.
If you are going to act like a high-roller, you have to be willing to play the part all of the way to the end. Trying to look "Like the Man" or "The Woman" only to short-change the server is simply wrong. If you cannot afford the $70 tip on the $350 wine, then do not order it. Believe it or not, you will probably be just as impressive if you order a $150 bottle... and you can save yourself $40 on the tip!!!
It's simply not reasonable to expect 15-20% with the price of wine included on the check. The wine total can well surpass the food total; yet wine does not require the same effort, skill or quality control as food service. I consider the corkage charge, generally a flat amount per bottle, as a fair baseline for gratuity on wine.
INTERCONTINENTAL MARK HOPKINS SAN FRANCISCO
Just a quick note in regards to this article. I have been in the hospitality business for over twenty years, my food and wine education is ongoing. When diners are going out to a high end restaurant their server is not only well educated about the menu and all of its ingredients but often very knowledgeable about all the wines and are able to help you with food and wine pairings. While you the diner may know a bit about wine you probably are not constantly quizzed on new vintages and exposed to dozens of new wineries a week. There is skill involved in being able to quickly assess what type of food and wine a particular table will enjoy as every body's tastes are different. If you are relying on your servers expertise then by all means show your appreciation by tipping well!
Those of us in that have been in the restaurant business for many years have not seen an increase in the tipping standard. The standard in fine dining has been 20% for the last 20 years. I am making the same in tips that I was making 10 years ago, but the cost of living has gone up. Also, the government takes a larger percentage of our tips then it did 10 years ago.
Something to think about~
I run a distributor operation named J.W.Thornton Wine Imports in Sun Valley Idaho and we have been in business for 27 years now.
I have been here for 12 years and was previously involved in ownership/managerial operations for restaurants/winebars for over 25 years previous to my time here in Santa Barbara and now Sun Valley. This is a make or break time for restaurants. We have lost several of our high end restaurant accounts in the last two years even in a town with great wealth like Sun Valley. The reason is simply that the customer did say `no more` and opted for a more moderately priced dining experience or stayed at home. While a great deal of wealth was being lost in the economic cleansing purge, restaurants appeared to keep raising their prices, especially in the area of wine, where we have common markups of 300% on the wholesale price we offer. One reason for that in a resort town is seasonality (we probably have 7-8 months of tourist business, 1-2 months where you just hold on for the bottom line and the other 2-3 months where you close).
When I go out I usually know all my servers/managers/chefs because we are a small town and we are all trying to survive. So my tipping is usually always 20% or more because these are my friends/ customers and I commonly bring a nice bottle to dinner and have a glass and give the rest to the staff . What I found interesting about the article is that if your ordering a $300 bottle and spending $500 on dinner that a 20% tip would hardly matter
to someone spending this per person in a fine restaurant (I assumed this was 3 people). Our business only 5 years ago was 70% on premise(restaurants) and 30% off premise (retail) and today that has completely reversed.
More people are buying wines at retail and taking them into their favorite restaurant for corkage. I am not against this but the idea has been completely lost from the original intent of doing this. Diners that happen to have older Bordeaux/Burgundy/Barolo or whatever couldn`t find these gems on many restaurant list so they choose to bring them to dinner and most often would share a glass with the server/sommelier. Now people are bringing their own wine to just save money or they are drinking a glass at home first and then just ordering a glass (why the great BTG programs are in place) because bottle prices are exorbitant. Even the BTG programs seem absurd with restaurants charging for one glass what the bottle cost them wholesale so they can make profit on three glasses.
So I would encourage many restaurants to wake up on their wine pricing policies or people will continue to order a reasonably priced Pinot Grigio and skip that beautiful Burgundy or Napa Cabernet that they know they`re getting ripped off on. Because I have a expense account to go out much of the time tipping isn`t a big deal. But for the average consumer tipping on that over $100 bottle of wine at 20 % may be the reason they aren`t ordering it
in the first place.
Thanks and best regards,
J.W.Thornton Wine Imports
As a former waiter and sommelier of many years...
15% standard tip - means everything was OK
20% - good job
The tip is on food and drinks, not on a super exp bottle of wine. All they did was open it up.
But get this! In SF all wait staff get a living wage, it's like $9.25 an hour. They all must get free health insurance as well.
When I waited tables I got $2.10 as minimum wage for tipped employees, those tipped were everything!
Today waiters in SF make a decent wage, as in Europe, and they get Health Insurance, the extra costs of which are added to the diners check.
Maybe we should be tipping like Europeans when in SF.
In other parts - if someone is getting $3/hour and no insurance, I'm definitely tipping 20% on food and drinks and wine, unless the wine is over $75.
Daughter and son-in-law are nationally known restaurantors and as a Napa Valley winery owner have had the pleasure of traveling with them numerous times. When we are provided with a comp or discounted meal as well as providing library bottles of wine to drink and share, we always tip the staff based on the value of the meal and wine. It seems customary in the industry. Likewise, when we have VIPs at the winery and bring out special bottles of wine to taste with food accompaniment, the winery staff is sometimes tipped as a gesture of above and beyond appreciation.
Helena View Johnston Vineyards Management
Interesting line of thought regarding tipping on expensive wine. As the GM of Madrona Manor, I see a wide range of responses to tipping on more expensive wine. The most consistent response for wines costing more than $100 per bottle, is for the patron to tip approx $20 per bottle, which equates to 20% of $100. Personally, I would not tip 20% of a $300 bottle as paying someone $60 to serve a bottle of wine is too much, especially knowing that the restaurant is making $100 to $175 profit on the sale of that wine. I have also found that some servers would argue that they ‘deserve’ the full 20% regardless of price.
with best regards,
Wow, what an interesting post! Having spent a few years in the food service industry, I know I've always appreciated a good tip - and as a restaurant-going gal, I do try to tip generously when the service warrants it. However, your point about growing economic concerns and the middle-class pretty much disappearing is scary and intriguing at the same time. I'll be interested to hear the other comments!
Even a bigger question, what do you do when you have an added set gratuity % on tables of 6 or more with the wine gratuity?
Then it would add the 20+% automatically. The waiter gets an unfair amount of money from the guest for minimal work and the guest feels cheated. Not all guests of course, some don’t care.
I am one that does not add the full 20% on the amount of the wine purchase, but I also do not need any help on ordering, just opening and serving.
VP of Culinary Operations and Development
Southern Land Company
About tipping for US guests that I have with my company Wine Safari.
In fact 95% of my guests come though the Rick Steve's guide book about Provence.
As I am situated in France for everything that you pay TAX is included. The moment you had such a wonderful meal plus service, it is on your own initiative to leave extra money, but still a lot of Americans don't seem to know this.
Wine Safari, 120 Av Josph Vernet 84810 Aubignan
Good for you. Nicely rounded response to the debate ... that will continue through our lifetime, and beyond ;-)
Perhaps in restaurants where the wine has been marked up 300% you should cap the wine tip. But where the restaurant is charging retail or only a little more, it's not fair to stiff the waitstaff. I kinda wish there was a flat tip per bottle (I always tip $2 for a pour at the bar, no matter how much what I'm drinking cost)... like $10 per bottle for the "effort" of having to open it. Maybe an extra 5 bucks if you ask for it decanted.
Jessyca, you brought up a good point - the mark up. This weighs heavily in the question for me. A tip for me represents outstanding service and experience when eating out, this includes the quality of food and your server. However wine in restaurants is more of a retail item that IS marked up to make the restaurant $$$ and something they didn't actually have a hand in making. Would you tip on other novelty items you purchase in a restaurant (hat, chocolates, etc.)? The flip side is that restaurants DO work to present wine options to customers that compliment their dishes, so there is a little prep work/pairing involved... In the end I do consider the wine when tipping, but it doesn't weight as heavily a factor in how much to tip as the food, service, etc.
I spent 15 years in the restaurant industry, the last seven as a wine steward, before returning to school to study Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis.
My restaurant experience ranged from moderate-level to fine-dining restaurants with per person averages of $25-$100+ and wine programs ranging from 5-6 selections of mundane plonk to 2,000+ selections representing nearly every varietal, style, and wine-producing region worldwide. My most rewarding experiences nearly always involved introducing guests to new varietals and/or regions that they had never previously enjoyed. My most difficult experiences always involved guests asking for my suggestions, ignoring those suggestions, and then being less-than-happy with their selections. I always appreciated guests telling me they didn't want to spend more than "x" on a bottle of wine, which in turn prevented me from making unrealistic recommendations.
I have always believed that a gratuity should be based on services provided, which includes knowledge. If a guest enjoyed a wine I suggested I expected to be tipped on the wine and the degree of enjoyment should influence the percentage of the tip. This holds true for me still today. Even though I am a professional winemaker, I know I don't know everything about wine, especially wines from some of the newest regions just gaining international exposure. While I don't order $100+ bottles of wine with regularity, I do believe in rewarding a server's time spent learning about the wines on their list.
When it comes to wine, I believe the "take-home" lesson for dining out is that diners should not be embarrassed or afraid to find out if their server has any wine knowledge. If not, ask for someone who knows the wine list. Make your dinner menu selections before inquiring about wine. Be honest with financial limitations.
An important side note to remember is that in many higher-end restaurants service staff members pay taxes based on sales, regardless of actual income. Also, in some instances servers collect all tips and disburse a percentage of those tips to other service staff members based on a percentage of sales. For instance, for every $100 in wine sales a server may pay out 5% to the wine steward whether or not the guest tipped on the wine.
Finally, as a wine steward I always took issue with guests who ordered Lafitte and didn't tip on the wine. If you spend $400 on a bottle of wine, what's another $40 for a low-end tip on that bottle? If you can't afford to tip on expensive wine, you probably shouldn't order expensive wine. Order Shafer Hillside Select instead for $250 and tip on the wine. It's less expensive overall and you'll get better service on your next anniversary.
B. Kiley Evans
You do bring up an interesting point. However, it is easily dissected. The short answer is...YES...tip the percentage on the service in total. A sliding scale on expensive items is a slippery slope. What next? Don't tip on side dishes? Don't tip on cocktails? Don't tip on entrees over $30.00? Many of your readers are not aware of the actual percentage of tips that the server gets to keep. They have to tip out to food runners, bussers, bartenders, (in some houses) the door, etc. AND many servers pay taxes on their total sales...NOT on their tips. So, say tipping only 10% instead of 20% on a $300 bottle of wine can actually cost the server from his or her own pocket.
If you are talking about tough economic times; why are guests ordering $300 wines and complaining about tipping out on it? Order a less expensive wine.
Servers are often so under-appreciated in their work. Most have no benefits and are paid only half of the minimum wage by the restaurant (the other half is assumed to be paid in tips).
Is this country ready to go the way of most of the world and have manditory tips included in the bill? This deadens good service as the server knows they will get a gratuity regardless of the service quality.
If diners can't afford to tip fully on good service...they can't afford to dine out. Period. The server (and all who gets a taste of the tips) shouldn't have to suffer due to the low funds and high tastes of the dinner.
Thank you for your interesting point.
I agree ... this is a part of an ongoing discussion/debate.
I travel a lot to the EU ... "Service compris?" in (especially) France is a good question to know ;-)
The high markup at many restaurants does present a problem. Although I typically tip a percentage of the bill (which includes drinks and food), I think it is somewhat of a "mistake", because we should be tipping according to the quality of the service we receive, not the cost of what we buy. Is tipping a certain percentage setting a standard for mediocrity or excellence?
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Note, Canadians are notoriously low tippers so this might not be appropriate in New York or Las Vegas.
Let me explain:waiters,wine waiters and maitre all work at or below the minimum wage.
Yet they must be knowledgeable and be able to process to work in a fast pace environment.
And here is the question?
Why is everyone concern with what is fair and not and never question a plumber,carpenter,lawyer ,doctors and so on.
If you are saying a waiter just carry a dish to the table and a sommelier just pull a cork from a bottle than you do not know anything about the restaurant busyness at all so what is the point of having this conversation at all?
I welcome anybody here to work at a restaurant and having let us say 5 tables full of guests and that they are all there and ready to order and they all want to be served and cared for at the same time.
Well let me tell you ,it takes great skills to be able to do that and that does not come easy,do not underestimate that profession please.
I would call tipping a better word like profit sharing and yes 20% should be a good average.
If not happy with the service please have a word with management and not happy do not go back to that restaurant.
You do have a choice and if you cannot afford it do not take it out on the wait staff and have a burger instead or a fish and chips..
The bottle of wine you are purchasing has a hefty mark up; the cost of purchase, storage, chilling, corking and "serving" is already included.
Tip in accordance with the service only; and always minus the bar tab.
Even if you brown bag a bottle in, there will be a (tip)corking charge. Make sure you take into account this charge when deciding on the level of service and the corresponding percent.
The som should not be given a tip. His pay and gratuity is included in the cost of the bottle of wine you are buying. There are exceptions; when the som goes out of his or her way to get you that special bottle from another location.
Only tip at a tasting room if the tasting is free. The tip in a free tasting room should be about one to three dollars per person, according to the number of wines tasted and the corresponding information from the person serving. A simple rule is a dollar per 7/8th ounce served, if the info is good. The cost of doing buisness is included in the cost of the wine you buy at the tasting room.
If you go to a wine seminar, no tip is necessary. The gratuity is already included in the cost per person.
Harbor Springs, Mi.
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