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Tipping on wine

It seems to be fashionable these days to allow the non-tipping or severe discounting on expensive bottles of wine. This is a dangerous trend because it’s even been extended to say that tipping should only be done on food and not alcoholic beverages.

What’s next – only tip on main courses – you shouldn’t tip on appetizers?

C’mon people, let’s get real.

The main reason for these new pockets of “wisdom” is the escalation of price on wines.  As more restaurants offer better and more expensive bottles of wine, the “average American” sees this as a justification for the reduction of the tip. When wine was usually $4 – 6/glass and $30 a bottle, it didn’t seem important. But as the average price of wine is $8 – 15/glass and bottles average more like $40 – 70 these days, people are finding “justifications” for not including this new cost of dining into the tipping equation.

Frankly, this is just bullshit.

Here’s an example of how convoluted people are trying to make this. From www.tipping.org’s section on restaurant tipping:

The Tip calculation should be based on the PRE-TAX ammount (sic). Also, tips involving liquor should follow the following guidelines:

  • If one bottle of wine was ordered, then it is usually okay to include it’s (sic) cost into the tip calculation.
  • If there is a lot of wine ordered or if the price of a single wine bottle is above $10, I think it’s (sic) cost should NOT be included in the final tip calculation.

 

Frankly, when was the last time you saw a $10 bottle of wine on a wine list? I’ve been in the biz for over 15 years straight now and the cheapest bottle that I ever saw was $18 for a bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel and this was in the last millennium. That same bottle costs upwards of $30 in most restaurants now.

So, basically the last part of this advice cancels out the first part.

And it’s quite disappointing to see that some young people are “learning” that you “don’t tip on alcohol”. I have no idea where that came from.

Here’s the deal – wine has always been tipped on – in the old days, you tipped the wine steward/sommelier. The function of the sommelier has been taken over by the waiter. I would never argue that we waiters have the same level of expertise, since not only does the sommelier train far more extensively for wine service, they have actually tasted every wine on their list and every wine that darkens their door. A waiter can never do that. A waiter can’t even usually taste change of vintages either. But a waiter needs to have enough information to guide the guest. A sommelier only does wine. They don’t have to take food orders, deliver food, manicure tables, etc. So, people should consider the added burden on the waiter when the waiter is also responsible for the wine service. We waiters have to spend a lot of our free time staying current about wine, especially those of us who work in restaurants with expensive bottles of wine. For those of us who work in such a restaurant, wine is a very large portion of our sales.

“But…but…what if I don’t need “wine service” per se. I know about wine and I can pick out my own wine”, I heard the tightwad sputter. “why should I have to tip on wine. All the waiter does is bring the bottle, open it and pour it”. Well, my friend, all I do is take your order for food and bring it to your table, right? Look, the wine service is part and parcel of your dining experience, just as the “food service” is. Plus, in some restaurants, that nice crystal glass that you’re drinking from has to be hand-washed. It certainly has to be hand polished. I remember nights hand-washing and hand-polishing dozens of glasses in a shift (my current restaurant has nice crystal but it’s machine-washable – although every glass on my tables has to be hand-polished, so I don’t avoid that particular task).

“But…but…wine prices are insane! Why should I tip you on a $150 bottle of wine? It takes the same effort to pour that bottle as it does a bottle of White Zinfandel”. Hey buddy, you’re sputtering again. Well, first of all, I didn’t twist your arm to order that $200 bottle of wine. It’s not my fault that it costs more than your food. It’s not me trying to impress your date or help you close an important business deal or reward a successful colleague. You want to play, you gotta pay. If you had wanted, I could have brought you a perfectly fine $40 bottle of Cabernet instead of the Opus One. Are you going to now argue that you should tip less on the $60 dry-aged filet because, hell, it’s over twice the cost of the $25 sirloin? Obviously it’s no more work for me to bring one over the other.

People who can afford to buy a $100 bottle of wine can afford the tip. They shouldn’t be chiseling the bill down on the back of the waiter and his or her support staff.

I’m willing to cut a patron a bit of a break if their wine bill is very high. If you were going to tip me 20% for my excellent service on a $1000 bill ($500 of it just on wine), I’d be happy with $170 and I’d understand. However, if you thought my service was excellent and you would have tipped me $200 if not for the wine and you leave me $100 – $150, I’m going to think that you’re a fucked-up tipper on the low-end or just an OK tipper on the high-end, especially if you praise me for my service. Why should you care what I think? Well, you probably shouldn’t, although many people who complain about having to tip seem to think it’s important.

So here’s the deal. Wine is part of the meal. It’s tipped on, just like the rest of the meal. If the amount is way out of balance to the food, by all means, adjust down. But you should always tip at least 16% on the whole meal if you thought the service was great. If you are the type that never tips more than 15% regardless, then do what you must. But keep in mind that this will label you as a mediocre to lousy tipper (of course, you probably don’t care, since you don’t reward great service in the first place).

And, just so you know, most serious wine collectors and wine mavens tip on the full value of the wine. They even usually tip close to the full value of a wine that they bring in themselves. Not only do they pay a corkage fee, which covers the loss of sales to the restaurant, they usually will tip the waiter as if they had bought the bottle from the restaurant to compensate the waiter for the loss of sales. This has been my experience with some fairly important players in the wine community in my city, a city that has a pretty strong wine community. having said that, a dismaying number of “average people” who bring in a bottle and pay the corkage fee don’t tip on the lost sales. They should stop that. I guess they think that the $3 I get from their 20% tip on the $15 corkage fee makes up for the lost $10 tip on that bottle that would have been $50. I just hope they don’t get the idea to bring their own steak in for cooking  to save money on the bill and the tip.

Cartoon from http://www.winepressnw.com/photos/gallery/2386-a3831-t3.html

Post from SF critic Michael Bauer on tipping on wine brought from home

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/mbauer/detail?&entry_id=53505

Just a couple of comments on this.

I read through the first couple of pages of comments (and might read more later).

I don’t think that many guests realize that there’s actually more of a markup on inexpensive wine as there is on pricier bottles and this seemed reflected in some of the comments.

From my experience, the normal markup on $40 and cheaper bottles is usually 3.5 – 4.5 times cost. Bottles over $100 are usually only marked up double or even less for even pricier bottles. And bottles in between are marked up in between as well (obviously, this is just a generalization).

As far as tipping on wine brought in by the guest, if there’s a corkage fee applied, an extra $10 per bottle seems fairly reasonable unless the bottle is something very rare and expensive. Then, the guest should bump it up a bit. Those are lost sales to the restaurant and the waiter and the restaurant is extending a courtesy to allow a guest to bring in his or her own wine, so they shouldn’t scrimp on the tip unless their plan was simply to save money at the expense of the restaurant, and that’s not the intent of offering corkage. Most people who bring in a special bottle of wine do so because it’s not on the list and it means something to them. Most of them would gladly order it if it were available. So why not tip appropriately? Remember that the corkage fee compensates the restaurant but has little effect of the tip. A $20 corkage fee results in $4 extra tip on a “$100 bottle”, where as the same percentage tip on a purchased bottle would be that $20. That’s why it’s appropriate to leave extra per bottle.

I also don’t think that a restaurant should allow wine to be brought in that’s on the wine list. Three of my previous restaurants had that policy but my current one doesn’t. It’s only happened to me once, but it was certainly galling to get tipped only on the food check and the corkage fee on a bottle that should have been purchased from us.

Finally, I used to wait on several esteemed wine collectors (both had 15,000 – plus bottles in their cellars). Whenever they brought in a special bottle, they tipped as if they had bought it from the restaurant. I’m just saying that they understood the concept of taking care of the service staff and they were certainly “well-to-do, wine and food savvy”. It’s seems like the group represented by the letter writer should have had their own event catered at home if they wanted to do a “each person bring in a bottle from their own stash round robin affair”. A high-end wine pot luck, if you will.