Wine Tipping Etiquette

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Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Jenise » Sun May 19, 2013 12:05 pm

So a friend is going to a good restaurant this week and will be ordering a $400 bottle of wine that the sommelier/wine director has already set aside for him. He's a generous tipper, but is unsure of the etiquette involved on an expensive bottle of wine. The food part of his bill will probably total around $150.

How does one tip when the majority of one's bill is an expensive bottle? Same old way? Sliding scale? Slip cash separately to the somm?
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Brian Gilp » Sun May 19, 2013 1:28 pm

We rarely go out anymore so when we do its generally more expensive. In the past, I just lumped it all together and tipped on the total but now we figure the total based on one rate for the meal and a separate rate for the wine. Nominally its 20%/10% but it slides with service. I don't hunt out the Somm separately as I don't know how the break up tips at the end of the night and figure my actions could end up making it worse or resulting in a different outcome than I intended.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Redwinger » Sun May 19, 2013 2:06 pm

Jenise-
You'll probably get a wide range of answers to this question with some/many proposing that 20% on food and 10% on a high value wine is appropriate. I probably wouldn't quibble with that, but have a slightly different take:

In your friend's case, 20%on food and 10% on wine would equate to a total tip of $70.
If the tip was calculated at a straight 20% he'd tip around $110.

I guess if I could afford a $400 wine, I most likely could afford the extra $40 especially as the wine director has gone through some extra customer service in holding the bottle. A special wine, presumably for a special occasion, so I'd hate to walk out of the place feeling that maybe I was a tad cheap.

So, bottom line, it really boils down to what your friend is comfortable with.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby David M. Bueker » Sun May 19, 2013 3:02 pm

Good point. If you are willing to throw down $400 for wine it seems kind of cheap to try to save $40 on the tip.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Sam Platt » Sun May 19, 2013 3:24 pm

If the restaurant took steps to obtain or hold a specific wine for me I would tip 20% on the cost if the wine.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Jon Peterson » Sun May 19, 2013 4:27 pm

In the past, I've gone 20% on the food/wine total. If it's a place where I know the people better than just going once or twice a year, I go 25 to 30% and I've slipped the Somm some cash. That's just me.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Dale Williams » Sun May 19, 2013 11:08 pm

I've always tipped on total bill (usually 20-22%, 15% for service I was less happy with, 25+% if extraordinary service or good corkage deal (why should waiter suffer if management gives me free corkage?).
I don't buy $400 bottles. I could see the argument for tipping less (10-15%) on expensive bottles- a $400 bottle isn't really more work than a $75 bottle. But as others have noted (a) in this case it is a bit more work as somm has set it aside and (b) difference between tipping 10% on a $400 bottle and tipping 20% is $40. If you can blow over $600 on dinner, why scrimp on what you give your server?
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Tom Troiano » Mon May 20, 2013 9:59 am

I fall into the camp of - if you can afford the wine you should tip the same as the food.

I only dine out 2-3 times per year where I'm buying wines over $100 per bottle and I always just tip 18-20% on the total food/wine.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Robin Garr » Mon May 20, 2013 10:55 am

I can't improve on 'winger's philosophy, so I'll just say "Dittoes."
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Bill Spohn » Mon May 20, 2013 1:28 pm

When the restaurant is doubling their cost on the wine, is seems odd to add another 20% just for opening it properly.

On food, sure - they assembled it and created something new from the components and the served it.

Wine - any moron can operate a corkscrew (and many wine waiters fall into that category, believe me) and we handle our own pouring, so why is pulling a cork (and usually screwing up the decanting) worth significant money. $40 to pull a cork = around $500/hour. Nice work if you can get it.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Tom V » Mon May 20, 2013 2:00 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:When the restaurant is doubling their cost on the wine, is seems odd to add another 20% just for opening it properly.

On food, sure - they assembled it and created something new from the components and the served it.

Wine - any moron can operate a corkscrew (and many wine waiters fall into that category, believe me) and we handle our own pouring, so why is pulling a cork (and usually screwing up the decanting) worth significant money. $40 to pull a cork = around $500/hour. Nice work if you can get it.



Lots of facets to this argument, but I must admit I have some degree of sympathy with your thoughts. As for me, I just don't order ridiculously priced wine in restaurants, and that solves the problem. If I want to drink something special I'll bring a bottle from my cellar and pay the cork charge. For instance, went to a real nice restaurant on Mother's day out on Easten Long Island and brought a bottle of 1986 Meyney, $30. cork fee.

As for the tip, for me it depends on the situation. If I'm ordering other drinks or wine with the meal from the restaurant, as we did on Mother's day when we ordered 3 cocktails before the meal, then in my opinion I've fulfilled my obligation to the restaurant and I'll tip 20% on the total bill including the cork fee if there was one. If I order no other drinks or wine and if there's no cork charge, or the cork charge is less than $30. I'll add $30. or the difference necessary to bring the cork charge to $30 to the bill for purposes of figuring the tip... and as always if there's something special in the service another bump in the tip. Works for me and never picked up any adverse reaction from the wait staff...which leads me to believe I am being fair. Also, I always give a healthy taste to the server (s).
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Redwinger » Mon May 20, 2013 2:06 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:When the restaurant is doubling their cost on the wine, is seems odd to add another 20% just for opening it properly.

On food, sure - they assembled it and created something new from the components and the served it.

Wine - any moron can operate a corkscrew (and many wine waiters fall into that category, believe me) and we handle our own pouring, so why is pulling a cork (and usually screwing up the decanting) worth significant money. $40 to pull a cork = around $500/hour. Nice work if you can get it.


If I were to order a $400 wine, which hasn't happen yet, I probably would feel a bit generous to the individual making all of $2.13/hr, which is the topic of another conversation.
So, what would you tip since you feel even 10% is way out of line?
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Bill Spohn » Mon May 20, 2013 2:23 pm

I'd probably tip generously on the food total without wine and add on $20 for corkage on the wine. It takes approximately the same time to decant a $1,000 bottle as it does a $50 bottle. By what twisted rationale is the former worthy of 20 times the gratuity?
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Redwinger » Mon May 20, 2013 2:28 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:I'd probably tip generously on the food total without wine and add on $20 for corkage on the wine. It takes approximately the same time to decant a $1,000 bottle as it does a $50 bottle. By what twisted rationale is the former worthy of 20 times the gratuity?


It probably takes the same amount of time to serve a $5 burger plate as a $50 entree so you'd tip the same dollar amount on each selection following your logic?

Also, we each have to do what we are comfortable doing.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby wnissen » Tue May 21, 2013 2:19 pm

There is a certain lack of correlation between the price of menu items and the labor required to serve them. That's why servers dislike split plates, hot tea, and dessert, and conversely love pricey main dishes.

However, the most expensive item on the menu is usually only twice the price of the cheapest, three times at the outside. With the wine in question selling for nine times the price of the cheapest wine on the list, some tip adjustment is required. 10% on the wine is fine. And I say this as someone who has left a $120 tip for dinner for two on several occasions, when the service merited it.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Redwinger » Tue May 21, 2013 3:33 pm

wnissen wrote:There is a certain lack of correlation between the price of menu items and the labor required to serve them. That's why servers dislike split plates, hot tea, and dessert, and conversely love pricey main dishes.

However, the most expensive item on the menu is usually only twice the price of the cheapest, three times at the outside. With the wine in question selling for nine times the price of the cheapest wine on the list, some tip adjustment is required. 10% on the wine is fine. And I say this as someone who has left a $120 tip for dinner for two on several occasions, when the service merited it.


I agree that some adjustment is necessary at times, not that I'm about to drop $400 on a bottle of wine anytime soon, or later for that matter. it is just that we all have our own threshold. As I think about this more, and the price examples escalate, I probably would tip the lower of 20% or $100.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Mark Lipton » Tue May 21, 2013 4:34 pm

I've found this whole discussion very interesting and well-argued from all perspectives. Since I'm also unlikely to ever spend $400 on a bottle in a restaurant (unless we get 20% annual inflation for the next decade :P), it's a moot point in my life. However, I think that an interesting guideline to use would be to tip whatever their corkage fee is. The idea here would be that the restaurant has priced the costs of their wine service when they establish a corkage fee (of course, that's a tad disingenuous since many restaurants price it punitively, not on a strict cost basis) so that's a guideline.

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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Bill Spohn » Tue May 21, 2013 5:32 pm

That was more or less my thought, Mark.

If I brought a $400 bottle of wine in with me (and I have, every once in awhile) and got it served for a $20 corkage fee, in what strange universe would the fact that the restaurant had provided the wine and was thus also making at least a $200 profit on it justify a higher service fee than for the bottle I brought myself?

One other comment on gratuities. Many, perhaps most, seem to view them as a given, unrelated to quality of service, which was the original rationale for them. I have seen people given horrid service still tack on 20%. Makes no sense to me. If I get bad service, I give a reduced, or no tip, and I often tell the server (and possibly the owner, if it has been really bad) why.

My restaurant clients tell me that they would rather hear one angry customer telling them how their staff had screwed up than have 20 go away pissed off but silent, never to return, and he'd never know there was a problem.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Redwinger » Tue May 21, 2013 5:49 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:That was more or less my thought, Mark.

If I brought a $400 bottle of wine in with me (and I have, every once in awhile) and got it served for a $20 corkage fee, in what strange universe would the fact that the restaurant had provided the wine and was thus also making at least a $200 profit on it justify a higher service fee than for the bottle I brought myself?

One other comment on gratuities. Many, perhaps most, seem to view them as a given, unrelated to quality of service, which was the original rationale for them. I have seen people given horrid service still tack on 20%. Makes no sense to me. If I get bad service, I give a reduced, or no tip, and I often tell the server (and possibly the owner, if it has been really bad) why.

My restaurant clients tell me that they would rather hear one angry customer telling them how their staff had screwed up than have 20 go away pissed off but silent, never to return, and he'd never know there was a problem.


No disagreement that an individual's "standard" tip percentage should be adjusted up or down based upon the level of service.

That strange universe that you keep referring to is my universe and I don't believe at any point in this discussion I've told anyone to do as I would do, or at least not intentionally. You've referred to strange logic and strange universes a couple of times. You are a literate man, so there is no need to be insulting or demeaning to make your point....Mark did so, and so can you!
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Joshua Kates » Tue May 21, 2013 9:51 pm

I, too, think this is a well argued discussion, but I also think a middle ground is being missed. As has been pointed out, though tip is or should be commensurate with quality of service, it's never commensurate with quantity of labor: the waiter makes more on the night's chauteabriand special than he does on the standard vegeterian entree, but the labor involved is the same: bringing over a single plate. Thus to use the corkage fee as a guide, to my mind, at least, does not wash.
At the same time, as many Forum members are aware, in many restaurants the better deals on wine often actually lie at the higher end. Most places double or triple the retail price on bottles readily available. But on wines hard to find, which you can only buy in the secondary market or at auction, their cost at restaurants is often no more than 50-75% more, and it's sometimes roughly the same, if the restaurant bought the wine and cellared it on release. (The only place I've drunk Truchot is at a certain restaurant in Tribeca, where I believe it costs about the same as what it would be if you can find it elsewhere, but I never can!)
Thus as we approach these higher figures, and I've yet to go beyond the low $200's even in a restaurant, it's not unreasonable to scale down a bit on overall tip, hit the lower end of the 15-20%, though I myself, once long ago a busboy, prep cook, and waiter, usually don't.

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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Bill Spohn » Tue May 21, 2013 11:32 pm

For an actual example, Jenise and I had lunch and paid exactly $20 corkage on a $450 bottle (that retails at $2,000, hee hee) recently.

None of us (6 participants) were moved to insist that we pay 20% instead for corkage.
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Keith M » Wed May 22, 2013 2:25 pm

Mark Lipton wrote:However, I think that an interesting guideline to use would be to tip whatever their corkage fee is. The idea here would be that the restaurant has priced the costs of their wine service when they establish a corkage fee (of course, that's a tad disingenuous since many restaurants price it punitively, not on a strict cost basis) so that's a guideline.

I'm sorry, I don't understand this logic at all. The corkage fee goes to the restaurant (covering the overhead costs of operating the restaurant). The tip goes to the server (covering the costs of service). Why should one determine the other?
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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Joshua Kates » Wed May 22, 2013 9:13 pm

Yes, just as Keith says, Bill,

Other than making the point that you have a fantastic cellar and are gracious enough to share it with others, your anecdote does not seem to be "dispositive," as I believe you barristers say. In question was not tipping on a bottle one brought—what’s on the check is on the check and in that case it will be the corkage—but one purchased at the restaurant. In this case,again, what’s on the check--now a far larger figure--is on the check and the issue is how much to tip on that.

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Re: Wine Tipping Etiquette

Postby Bill Spohn » Wed May 22, 2013 11:34 pm

Joshua, the bottle I spoke of was purchased from the restaurant for $450, not brought by us. We did not tip on the value of the bottle.
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