I have a question that's been plaguing my ignorant self for years: When you eat at a fancy restaurant and the wine steward/sommelier helps you choose a wine, are you supposed to tip him separately and if so, how? Or does he get the part of the 20% you leave the waiter that's attributable to the wine? Or does he just do it for the love of it? Any thoughts?
That's not an ignorant question at all. Somehow, though people who work in restaurants know how this all works, no one has ever gotten around to explaining it to the rest of us. At most restaurants that would be high-end enough to have a sommelier, the wait staff, including the sommelier, pools all tips, and each gets a portion depending on his or her responsibilities. Therefore it's not necessary to either tip the wine steward extra or earmark a specific portion of the tip for him or her.
re: Leslie Brenner
I beg to correct Ms. Brenner's statement. While in some restaurants, the wine sommolier is included in the tip pool, at others they are not. The correct amount to tip the steward depends upon the level of service given to you. If you spent a goodly amount of time asking about various wines on the list and asking for recommendation etc. certainly you should show your appreciation to the steward for sharing his expertise with you. (Especially if he turns you on to a really great wine) On the other hand if he just comes over and pops a cork, less would be appropriate.
Most times, the wait staff will defer to the steward to take the time to sell wines to the table, as he knows the wine list intimately, and can help the customer make a better selection. If you are unsure about the way the tip situation works, you can always ask the manager on duty.
On the other hand,the column in Wednesday's _SF Examiner_ by Catherine Fallis, Master Sommelier indicated that the wine steward is often excluded from the pooled tips. She suggests that it is best to ask.