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Oct 4, 2006 04:57 AM

Proper tip on wine? Seeking waiter's perspective

Many of you may have read a recent article where a wealthy man had spent an obscene amount of money on wine while dining. The Wine far exceeded the food bill. The total was in the thousands for food and wine.
What is appropriate in this situation with regards to tipping. If one tips twenty percent on the food, my question is as was posed in the article, what is the appropriate percentage for wine which may exceed the food by hundreds or thousands and is often self poured. Where does the waiter weigh in on such a scenario.

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  1. If there was a wine steward involved (as one might expect in such a scenario), the question is not necessarily going to be answered by the waiter but by the older custom of how to tip a wine steward or sommelier.

    1. If you buy a special bottle of wine, and there's a wine wait[er|ress], a wine steward[ess], a sommeli[er|ère], or whatever you want to call it, it's polite to invite him or her over to have a bit of the wine. I've never bought a thousand-dollar bottle of wine but I don't think I'd tip $200 on it.

      I could be totally wrong and rude, though.

      1. This is one area where it may be helpful to know your state's income tax law as relates to income from tips. When I was waiting tables, I remember having to report 8% of the total of my tickets for the evening (and I can't remember if that was 8% of pre- or post- sales tax). The appropriate income tax on that 8% was then deducted from my paycheck (the whopping $2.01/hr I was making). If an expensive wine was ordered, it was included on my evening total, and I would be taxed on it. I understand completely not wanting to tip $200 for a bottle of wine (even if it is a $1000 bottle), but at the same time, I would hate to be responsible for a server getting taxed for income he did not receive. I have no idea what the laws regarding tips and income tax are, state-to-state, but I imagine that every state has at least some reporting regulation to cover federal income taxes.

        Anyone else know more about the tax angle?

        1. all tips are required to be reported... not just 8% of sales. but since a lot of wait staff don't report all their tips, or in the absence of documentation as to the actual amount of tips received, tip income can be re-calculated based on the average tips for the area, type of restaurant, etc. I think that is why most restaurants end up using some sort of construct like the 8%.

          frankly.. I have to pay taxes on every dollar I earn, i don't see why it should be any different for wait staff.

          and if you have the cash to spend that much money on wine... and assuming you are eating in a restaurant that offers full wine service & probably a sommelier... then why stiff the waiter on the tip? there is a lot of extra work that goes in to properly decanting and serving wine.

          20 Replies
          1. re: withalonge

            What's the extra effort between decanting and serving a $100 bottle of wine and a $1000 bottle of wine, besides $180 in tip?

            I'm not trying to be mean, and I did work as a waiter, but I never got tipped 20% on fancy bottles of wine.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              well, I would assume that if you ordered a bottle that cost $1,000 vs. $100, there would be a elevated level of "wine service". i.e. at that level one would think that you wouldn't be pouring your own wine at all... perhaps fresh glasses with new bottles, etc. so I do think that there is extra effort, time and expense involved.

              sure there is a line there where 15%-20% of the cost of the wine is a bit steep for a tip, but I guess my point is that if you're that serious of a wine drinker... and are at an establishment that recognizes that, then don't be cheap. I would think the tip should at the very least cover the normal corkage charge, plus.

              1. re: withalonge

                Poppycock! Pouring wine is pouring wine!


                1. re: TexasToast

                  Balderdash TT!

                  I disagree.. you order a bottle of wine in one restaurant and you get 1. the bottle opened and 2. the first glass poured. you order a bottle of wine at another restaurant and you never have to pick up the bottle after it is opened.. *and* you get fresh glasses if you switch from white to red.. or even between varietals. there is totally a difference in levels of "wine service". not to mention getting a "uhm, we have a house red and a house white" vs. "the chardonnay would be a much better accompaniment to your pasta madame".

                  1. re: withalonge

                    The OP asked about whether the tip should be increased for a really expensive wine. The post I replied to said that there would be a different level of service simply because one wine cost more than another. While that may be true, why SHOULD it be? It takes no more effort to pour a $10 bottle, than it does a $1000 bottle. The act of physically pouring the wine into a glass is EXACTLY the same, no matter what the cost of the bottle.


                    1. re: TexasToast

                      Your wrong....A $1000 bottle a wine should never be treated the same as a $10 bottle of wine. From the way it's handled, to the way it's presented, uncorked, aerated, and poured. Every aspect should be handled with a lot of care and calmness.

                      1. re: Infomaniac

                        Are these things ever priced into the price of the bottle?

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          I would think so, but I'm not 100% sure.
                          I've never ordered a $1000.+ bottle, but have seen one refused after it was presented, looked at, smelled and tasted. What happens to that bottle after it has been opened?
                          My host was never charged, and his excuse was accepted by the restaurant. I'll have to ask him about that the next time I talk to him.
                          The whole scene was not ordinary though, and it was handled in a manor that I had never experienced with food or wine.

                          1. re: Infomaniac

                            Infomaniac, sometimes the wine is corked, or bad. In that case, it would be sent back and the restaurant would receive credit from the seller for the wine. On occasion, the wine may be fine, but the restaurant chooses to make a VIP guest happy, accept their opinion of the wine being bad, and then offer it by the glass to other VIP guests or drink it and use it for (very expensive) server training!

                            1. re: psfoodgirl

                              if the wine is bad the resto gets a refund.

                              if the wine was fine the resto can always sell it off by the glass.

                              1. re: psfoodgirl


                                [I know that this is an old thread, but was recently cited on a much more recent, and very similar one.]

                                You are correct. With a good relationship between the restaurant, and the distributor (in a 3-tier system), all flawed wines should be credited. [In many cases, the individual purchaser, and drinker, is sort of "out of luck," unless they do really good business with the retailer, from whom they purchased that bottle, six years ago - last month, then it usually works the same way.]

                                Restaurants DO have to "eat" good wine, and it's usually due to a patron's ego, or lack of knowledge. When that happens, a good sommelier, who knows his "room," will approach other patrons, and make them a great deal. I have been the recipient of such an instance, maybe a dozen times. Even if the wine did not really fit into my dishes, if it was interesting enough, or perhaps a really "great deal," I normally helped out, and did some B-T-G selections, that would normally not be there. In a very few instances, I have had two glasses of the returned wine poured, and gifted to us, but the general idea, is to recoup some ROI, and I understand that.

                                In my observations (when I was near-by), the return was usually part of a show by the patron, or was due to their lack of knowledge, but tempered by their ego. One was the return of a Le Montrachet, because, "As any fool knows, all Burgundies are RED!" That one yielded the entire bottle for us, at about 1/4 of the listed price - it was great! Right time - right place, and a sommelier who knew that we loved Montrachets, especially Le Montrachet. And, of course, we got to wink and nod, over the other patron's "knowledge" of wines, and especially those of Burgundy.


                            2. re: MMRuth

                              MMRuth, which things? The tip no. The expense of storing a wine like this, yes, but has no impact on the server - the house has the expense and charges for it.

                              1. re: psfoodgirl

                                And the return should go to the resto that took that risk. The waiter did not take the risk of all these items and should not benefit as the resto does. He should get a good amount for the pour, not all the other stuff that went into the bottle being so expensive.

                              2. re: MMRuth


                                [I know that this is an old thread, but was recently cited on a much more recent, and very similar one.]

                                The restaurant should normally factor in such aspects, reflected in the price of the wine.

                                One often sees this reflection with different vintages. Let's take out many Old World vintages, as they DO change, and prices can fluctuate, depending on what the winemaker thinks the market can bear. If one considers older bottles of wine X, from Napa, it is likely that the restaurant, if they have a serious wine program, will purchase that wine from the same distributor, as the next vintage of the same wine. Due to fluctuations with inflation, the older vintage might have actually cost less, that more recent vintages, but because of the storage, and the longer term for ROI, the older will likely be priced above the next, and the next vintages. This is not always the case, and seldom accurately reflects, say Bdx. vintages, where a great vintage can double, or triple, the price of the otherwise same wine, to the restaurant. With such vintages, the 2005 might well be more expensive, than the 2004 (random examples), because of the market's perceived value, though the cost of storage, and the time for ROI, to the restaurant, is greater, for the '04.

                                When discussing regions/countries, where "vintage" have less impact, the older (though possible less expensive in the $'s of that day) is likely to be more expensive, because of storage, and ROI.


                              3. re: Infomaniac

                                Of course you CAN treat the two bottles differently, infomaniac, but the actual pouring remains the same. You can choose to alter it, but it's not necessary to the defacto pouring.


                              4. re: TexasToast

                                Actually TexasToast and Das Ubergeek - Infomaniac is correct and you are wrong. More expensive wines tend to be older and therefore must be handled differently. It takes much more care to open a 20 yr old Bordeaux than a 6 month old chardonnay. If you shake or spin the bottle while opening the sentiment will stir up into the wine (not good). If you poor it too fast it will stir. You may need to decant it. To imply that opening a bottle is just opening a bottle is just not the way it is! I also HOPE a restaurant serving $1000 bottle of wine does offer better service than one serving a $10 bottle (by the way – where IS this restaurant!?) Do I think you need to tip 20% on a $1000 bottle of wine? No. But as someone who has worked in the industry for years, the portion of a server’s tip that they have to give to other people is often based on their sales and can be as much as 45% of what they started with. 20% on food and then 10% to 15% on expensive wine would make most servers happy I think, but then what is expensive? I agree with asiege2, when the wine reaches the value of the dinner and or over $200, 10% is appropriate. If you want to be really nice, offer a taste!

                          2. re: withalonge

                            See below I do not drink so I am an outside looking in observer.

                            If the definition of elevated is fresh glasses with a new bottle, isn't there a new ringy on the register and tip meter with the new bottle. I think the resto and the waiter got that covered.

                          3. re: Das Ubergeek

                            whats the extra effort between carrying a hot dog or a filet mignon to the table, besides the amount of the tip?

                            i always tip with the wine price included

                            1. re: thew


                              [I know that this is an old thread, but was recently cited on a much more recent, and very similar one.]

                              There is not that much difference, but you are aware of the differences between a 1er Cru Bdx., with some years on it, and a hot-dog - at least by your next statement.


                        2. when I have a big night out and spend big bucks on wine I ask for two checks - 1 for food and 1 for wine - then I tip according to the services provided by each staff. (typically 25% for food and 10 % for wines.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: drobbia

                            That's an interesting approach. It tries to get back to the traditional tip for wine stewards, which IIRC was 10% (higher for cheap wines, lower for very expensive wines; and the invitation to share a bit).