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Jun 4, 2007 01:14 PM

Is it really expected that one order wine in fine restaurants?

Is one really *supposed* to order wine in upscale restaurants? I never do and sometimes the waitstaff seems annoyed. I do order cocktails, though. I enjoy the taste of wine, but I just can't drink it. Even half a glass makes me feel very uncomfortable: overly hot and flushed and bloated. I don't have this problem with other kinds of alchohol. What do you think?

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  1. They should not "expect" anyone tp order wine. Certain people cannot tolerate any kind of alcohol. I would not return to a restaurant that made me feel uncomfortable about that or any other item on the menu.

    1. I don't see why any server would be annoyed. Often, cocktails are more expensive than glasses of wine, so their tips will go up accordingly.

      1. Gosh, I know I'm in the minority but I really cannot seem to acquire a taste for alcohol of any kind. A good bartender to me, is someone who can mask the alcohol to I don't taste it at all. I feel self-conscious though at a nice resturant when I don't "round out" my meal with the proper selection of wine. I wonder if the waitstaff views me as either incompetent or a cheap-skate.

        1. I agree with the other posters that say it is not expected you order wine but it is the norm. This having been said, no waiter should make you feel uncomfortable if you order nothing more to drink than water.

          1. No, only if you like or appreciate wine.

            Many of the most upscale restaurants (French Laundry/Per Se comes to mind) actually have non-alcoholic beverage programs.

            Ditto the point about cocktails- booze is expensive no matter what! Plus, any savvy diner knows to tip a lower percentage on the wine than the food.

            43 Replies
            1. re: dude

              Dude, I agree with you. If you have an appreciation for wine only should you order it.
              A great wine paired properly with food will bring out the best in a dish and vice versa.
              One should never feel pushed in any particular way from a server, unless of course you have asked for his or her reccommendation(s).

              If a server seems annoyed about something, please do not assume it is anything that you have said, done, or not ordered. Unless you were rude they have no right to act annoyed by you or any table.

              That said, please understand that servers are people too, and we do get annoyed just like anyone else. Maybe he or she was just having a bad day. Dont take it personally.

              Oh, and I disagree about the "lower percentage" tip on the wine, but that is a whole other topic.

              1. re: dude

                I agree with everything that you said until the "lower percentage" tip on wine thing.

                I cannot understand why you would tip a lower percentage on beverages than food. This is an issue that has perplexed me for years. With the food, the server does next to if not nothing besides ring it in to the computer. (There are, of course, some exceptions, such as The Melting Pot, where the server basically prepares your meal. That is nevertheless not the norm.)

                When you order a beverage, the server is most likely adding the straw and garnish (if appropriate), as well as actually bringing it to your table. With a bottle of wine, especially, the server is doing ALL the work. The bartender puts the bottle on the well, the server carries it to your table. If it's white, the server also brings an unwieldy and large contraption to keep it cold (bucket and stand - ever carried that with a tray of drinks?). The server does an entire presentation which includes showing you the bottle, cutting off the top paper, unscrewing the cork, pouring a taste to the person who ordered it, waiting, then serving the group when okayed. Then, throughout the time you are there, the server is constantly repouring for all.

                There is clearly more done to serve you wine than ANYTHING else...why would you tip less for that?

                I don't get.

                1. re: hdvaughan

                  Because, often when I order wine, I order bottles that end up costing more than the food. Thus, in my case, more labor is involved in serving 2 bottles of wine versus a 4 or 5 course dinner. I usually tip 20 percent on food and 15 % on wine, which I think is very generous

                2. re: dude

                  Savvy diners do indeed tip as much on the wine as on anything else. The server is doing quite a bit of work to do the wine service, and should be given proper recompense. I've been a server for years, and can tell you that people who gush over how well I've treated them and then don't tip me on the wine are less than welcome in my section again, because I consider them to be cheap.

                  1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    It's not a matter of not tipping on wine, I just don't think servers do the work to justify a $100 tip on a $500 bottle of wine- the key difference is outside of wine there won't ever be (ok very very rarely) an item on a menu even in the highest class of dining that is $500.I tend to tip about 10% on wine but about 20-25% on the rest of the meal where the majority of the work lies.

                    1. re: jpschust

                      I think this is a reasonable approach. I don't tip a straight percentage on wine because it won't necessarily reflect the amount of effort or care the waiter or sommelier put in. If I order a $30 bottle of wine and they serve it with the same care they would a $400 bottle of wine...the $5 or $6 that would come from a 20%ish tip doesn't seem enough. On the other hand, $80 may well be out of line in terms of a tip on the high end for the service of a single bottle of wine. Yes, the restaurant is likely putting more storage time and more finely tuned equipment into storing the more expensive bottle (at least its pretty to think so) but that's why the bottle costs $400. I don't need to tip to reflect that, I'm paying for the bottle to reflect that.

                      Half bottles are another thing that sort of kills the percentage tip calculation. We often order half bottles and if we get, say, 3 of them the total cost will be, say $150. But there have been three entirely separate bottles that had to be opened, perhaps decanted, fresh stemware delivered, etc etc. I'd tip more than $30 for that.

                      1. re: ccbweb

                        The simple answer to this is start drinking full bottles :)

                      2. re: jpschust

                        I'd like to think that if you can afford a $500. bottle of wine, that you can afford to fork up the 15% on it to tip your very likely less wealthy server.

                        1. re: momof3

                          I have just never bought that as a concept. I can't really afford a $500 bottle of wine...but if i could, why should I be expected to fork over more money than someone else for the same service?

                          Remember, I'm positing the notion that for good wine service a straight percentage doesn't make a lot of sense; same amount of work on the part of the server for the inexpensive bottle of wine as for the expensive bottle. We could even allow that both bottles were definitely the same level of service on the part of the server. 15% on $50 is $7.50...I think that's too low. 15% on $500 is $75...that's maybe too much. Certainly its an arguable point...but I don't think its reasonable to say that because someone can afford the more expensive bottle they, therefore, must tip more than someone else would.

                          1. re: ccbweb

                            i just hope you all are keeping in mind that servers tip out to support staff on a percentage of SALES, not tips.

                            average "tip-out" is 5%. so no matter what tip you leave me for that $500 bottle of wine- i have to give away $25.

                            service is service- and the proper ettiquette as far as i've read is tip 15-20% on the total of the bill for good service. if you don't want to tip the proper amount you shouldn't be ordering the expensive wine. period.

                            my tip out percentage doesn't go up or down based on the price of your chosen wine- why should yours? also, the restaurant doesn't have a smaller markup for more expensive bottles. why would you decide that the server should get less in this case?

                            sorry, do what you want but know your server will wonder who you think you are if you decide you're entitled to a special rule just because you're spending alot on wine.

                            1. re: excuse me miss

                              A completely reasonable point that I hadn't considered. (I should point out that I never much worry about what the server or someone thinks of me based on what I've done....but I do try to be fair and reasonable about things for my own reasons.)

                              And, for all of my big talk, I went back and looked at receipts from the last few meals my wife and I went out for...the best example was at Quince in SF where we ordered two half bottles and my wife had a glass of dessert wine. Our server helped us select all three to go with our food choices, opened both bottles, brought appropriate stemware, refilled short, fabulous wine service which was entirely in line with the terrific service we received generally. We tipped just under 30% on the whole tab (including, as it turns out, the valet parking now that I'm looking at the receipt again). So, I guess when I'm hypothesizing on chowhound, I tend toward stingier than when I'm the recipient of good service.

                              1. re: excuse me miss

                                Then my server can think that and be greedy- getting what amounts to be a 25 dollar tip after tipout on a 500 dollar bottle of wine is pretty decent in my book if they are getting 20+% on their food.

                                1. re: jpschust

                                  Tipping on wine is a hot topic on and off on the wine boards. There is no general consensus but two are fairly common: 1)if you can afford the wine you should be able to afford a tip, or 2) once you get past a certain price point, a reasonable tip is all that is needed, not a percentage. (say a flat $20-25 per bottle, regardless of the price for higher priced bottles) If there is a sommelier, I make sure to tip him/her separately. I'm i the tip on the total cost school, but then I seldom spend more than $150 on a bottle of wine in a restaurant since here in DC they permit corkage and I prefer to bring something from my cellar. That is a whole different tipping discussion.

                                  As to the original question, one is never expected to order wine, regardless of the class of restaurant. Some people do not drink, others don't like wine, etc. Restaurants are there to serve you, not the other way around. Order what you like, and if the server is so unprofessional as to even hint that you are less welcome for not ordering wine, look them in the eye and suggest that they find a line of work more suited to their personality. (That is not to say that they should not inquire whether you want wine or suggest a wine to go with your meal, but to imply that one should buy wine because it is a fancy restaurant is very unprofessional.)

                                  1. re: jpschust

                                    what is your book called?
                                    and how many years experience do you have serving in restaurants?
                                    just curious.

                                    btw- unless you have the wine on a separate bill it just works out to be a certain percentage on the whole. $500 on wine: 10%=$50. say $200 on food: 20%-$40. total bill: $700. total tip $90. just under 13%.

                                    1. re: excuse me miss


                                      jfood believes that everyone focusses so much on percentages that they loose site of the dollars involved. And no jfood has never worked in a resto but has spent tons of time and money in them.

                                      At the end of the evening do you sit around and say:
                                      a - i earned 21.5% tonight or
                                      b - i earned $135 tonight

                                      would you rather
                                      a - the custo order the $300 bottle of wine and leave an additional $30 of which you have to tip out $15 or
                                      b - the custo order a diet coke for $5 and leave you $1 and you tip out $0.15

                                      jfood point is you do not spend percentages, you spend dollars and more dollars in at the end of the night is better than less. Instead of servers fixating on T/B (tip divided by bill) as the measure of the evening how about dollars in the pocket.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        both, actually.
                                        honestly- if i made $135 off $1000 in total sales i'd say i had a great night.
                                        but if i sold $2000 and made $135 that would be a bad night.

                                        that IS how we measure our success. you're right. i know it's bizarre. my boyfriend is also a server (professional waiter/sommelier in training) and we DO often stop and laugh about how it's rediculous that we can be "disappointed" to "only" make $135.

                                        that said- i'm THRILLED to get a 5% tip from let's say, a sweet elderly eastern european couple who really loved my service and genuinely think they're leaving me a great tip. it's the attitude of "well, since i'm spending this much on one item i should get to tip a lower percentace..." that i have a problem with.

                                        1. re: excuse me miss

                                          furthermore, jfood, the tipping system IS based on percentage, and when you calculate my tip it is a PERCENTAGE amount, is it not? so why turn around and say how dare we we focus too much on percent, not enough on dollars? and why is the customer who says "woah- 20% works out to alot of dollars so it should be less" in the right?

                                          if you spend $500 on food do i deserve the same tip as if you only spent $200- assuming i do the same amount of work?

                                          a good tip is 20%. that is the accepted rule, right?

                                          is it safe to say one who spends $500 on a bottle of wine could be categorized as "rich"? should there be separate rules for rich people? they shouldn't have to tip as much because the dollar amount is high? are these the same people who think paris hilton shouldn't have to go to jail?

                                          the rule is- a god tip for good service is 20%. if i'm greedy for expecting that amount no matter what the bill- or items on the bill, than you are also greedy for deciding i don't deserve the industry standard ettiquette tip amount because it's "too much money".

                                          oh, and i'd much rather serve the guy with the diet coke. $1 from a nice person is worth more to me than $30 from a rich jerk. if my focus is dollars in the pocket- how am i any different?

                                          1. re: excuse me miss


                                            Clutch in, downshift please. Jfood not trying to get your blood pressure off the charts, just having a different point of view like many on this thread.

                                            Jfood's point was that some servers focus on percentages and not dollars and when servers spend their hard earned pay, it's the dollars not the percentages that the grocer and the electric company would like to receive not percentages. But jfood also does not believe that a server deserves the same percentage on a $500 of wine and a $200 of wine. The actual serving is approximately the same and the tip would be 2.5 times greater on the $500 bottle. On this we probably agree to disagree.

                                            But to your questions:
                                            1- 200 vs 500 - the way you phrase it jfood would say that yes you deserve the same dollars on both. BUT, that's not the norm in the food industry. jfood believes that you would earn the same percentage on these two scenarios and therefore you would earn 2.5 times the tip in dollars on the complete food "service" for 500 versus 200. and jfood would disagree with your follow-up question of "so what;s the difference in the wine?" to that jfood would respond that a $500 food service is a drawn out process for the server with many touch points with the custo. the wine service is a single point of contact, serving the bottle that the owner of the resto, not the server has taken the risk of puchase, storing, etc. the server should make a reasonable percentage on the wine but if you are telling jfood that you work as hard on delivering a bottle of wine as you do in delivering the entire food service, well, that's a long putt.
                                            2 - 20% - if you look through numerous threads on CH you will find that this topic is discussed ad nauseum but the general consensus seems to be in the 15-20% range for normal tipping.
                                            3 - spending 500 for wine - jfood has other adjectives to describe someone who spends 500 on a bottle of wine, and if your viewpoint is "rich" that's ok with jfood.
                                            4 - jfood never used the word greedy. merely discussing different views on tipping on wine versus food. there is really no consensus on this topic and if you believe you deserve 20% and the custo does not believe likewise, unfortunately you are on the wrong side of that trade. likewise if you truly believe there is "a rule" then jfood has some bad news, there are no "rules" on tipping, there are guidelines and etiquette and those guidelines are for both sides. If the server gives better service, gets more, if less service gets less. That's why it's left to the discretion of the custo in this country. may not be the best or fairest, but it's what we got.
                                            5 - you contradict yourself on the last paragraph, jfood thinks your emotion kicked into turbo at this point. jfood will take the $30 if jfood wants more dollars in the pocket.

                                            There are some on this board that will kick it back at the end of the meal and say, "Hmmm, think $20 is a good tip for the service delivered" irrespective of the cost of the meal. And yes many of us have been all over these people as unfair to the server. so the percentage is a good proxie for getting to a reasonable amount of dollars that the server has earned. It is the means to the end and should not be the end.

                                            1. re: jfood

                                              I'm glad I waited for JFood to leave a measured answer to Miss Miss.

                                              EMMiss, surely you appreciate there is some tension between your emphatic
                                              "A tip is for service. What service did I receive??" in this thread
                                     you launched, and the
                                              "Strict Percentagist" view here.

                                              1. re: psb

                                                yes, but for great service i would tip 20%. bad service=lower percentage.

                                                THIS discussion was regarding lowering the tip percentage because a specific item on the bill is a high price. were we not assuming all other factors- ie quality of service- remained constant? some of you were introducing a sliding scale tipping system and i disagreed with the principle of that.

                                                1. re: excuse me miss

                                                  Part of many people's point is there is little ability to distinguish between
                                                  avg/excellent service in some cases.

                                                  If I get a lunch of burger/shake/fries, there isnt all that much a different
                                                  between good and great service.

                                                  Obviously the scope to "show off" is much greater in a 9 course, 5 hour meal,
                                                  so reasonably the the tipping range is wider. it's easier to tell good from
                                                  great service here.

                                                  So when one orders a $500 bottle of wine vs a $100 bottle of wine, your ability
                                                  to provide a greater range of service, allowing one to distinguish between
                                                  good an great does not expand in the same way as it does between a $10
                                                  meal and a $100 meal.

                                                  You know this is very similar to the discussion about the linear increase
                                                  in real estate agent fees as house prices have greatly increased ... whether
                                                  it makes sense for the percentage to stay the same, when the amount of
                                                  work has not changed greatly. It's also great to see the self interested parties
                                                  start sputtering in conversations about this, especially when moving from
                                                  percentages to per-hour payment comes up [analogous to moving toward
                                                  no-tip, salary only service].
                                                  See e.g.
                                                  and may other columns/comments there.

                                                  1. re: psb

                                                    Neglecting for a moment that freakonomics the book and often the columns are highly flawed from a core economics perspective, I think you're missing the issue here. The issue is one of total price- a server does not deserve to nor should they have the audacity to suggest that one tips $100 on a $500 bottle. I believe in rewarding servers well for their work, especially when it's good but wine does not neccesitate 20%. It's very very simple.

                                                    Now that said, just like dinwiddie, unless I am on someone else's expense account I tend not to order $500 bottles of wine out, I just bring my own high end bottles.

                                                    1. re: jpschust

                                                      As I've noted in other places, its also true that a straight percentage is probably insufficient at the low end as well. Sticking just with the wine, last night my wife and I ordered a half bottle that was $25. Our server took away the wine glasses that were set on the table when we sat down and brought appropriate glasses for the wine we ordered; he presented the wine, opened it, poured a taste, pour my wife a glass after I'd confirmed the wine was good, poured mine....later he came back and refilled our glasses to the apporpriate levels.

                                                      Excellent wine service (the wine didn't need to be decanted, so no worries there). If I tipped 20% I'd be leaving about $5 for that. Obviously, we didn't only get the bottle and it was a part of a larger meal that ended up costing about another $100 for the food. I left more than 20% as a tip total because the service was excellent, we're regulars at this place and they really go out of their way to make sure my wife's dietary restrictions (not many, but important) are met.

                                                      My point, again, $5 for that wine service doesn't seem to me to be sufficient. But its the same service as for (going from the wine list at the restaurant) the most expensive bottle on the menu, $90 for which a 20% tip would be $18.

                                                      What is the reasoning behind the idea that those two tips are both appropriate?

                                                      EMM's point about servers having to tip out based on sales is an important one to keep in mind, but as I think about it, I think that's a systems problem for restaurants and one that should be changed (ie, wine sales shouldn't automatically be factored into the sales totals on which servers have to tip out).

                                                      1. re: ccbweb

                                                        "I think that's a systems problem for restaurants and one that should be changed (ie, wine sales shouldn't automatically be factored into the sales totals on which servers have to tip out)."

                                                        FANTASTIC IDEA!!!!! but good luck. trust me, servers debate with owners and managers on a regular basis about tippools. at the end of the day- if we don't like it, we are welcome to look for employment elsewhere. did you know many tippools include 2% to "the house"? meaning the owners and managers get a portion of our tips on top of their salaries and profits.

                                                        i could go on and on, but i'm starting to get bitter, and i have to work tonight.

                                                        1. re: excuse me miss

                                                          >did you know many tippools include 2% to "the house"?
                                                          my understanding is this is not legal in California..

                                                          in fact they cant deduct credit card fees either.

                                                          although i dunno if CA is the exception or the rule.
                                                          additionally, CA doesnt have a tip credit.

                                                          1. re: psb

                                                            my understanding is it's not legal anywhere. but everywhere does it.
                                                            and what do you think would happen to me if i make a complaint about my employer to the labour board???

                                                            all things i will consider when i oneday own my own restaurant.

                                                            1. re: excuse me miss

                                                              not that this would make you feel better but lawsuit in NY as well.


                                                        2. re: ccbweb

                                                          It seems that the 2 systems dont mesh together . The tipping server and the tip-out support staff.

                                        2. re: excuse me miss

                                          book? I've got no idea what you're talking about.

                                          I've got a few years under me from everything in low end to casual elegant dining though I no longer work in the industry.

                                      2. re: excuse me miss

                                        sometimes servers tip out according to sales; sometimes they tip out according to tips. It depends on the restaurant and how the tip out system is set up. Not all work the same way.

                                    2. re: momof3

                                      My time is worth more to me to just tip the same on everything rather that figure out the different tips based on wine and food. And really, if you can afford the $500 bottle or wine and the meal to go with it, what's $25-50 difference in tip?

                                      Then again, the husband and I are notorious overtippers, I guess because we know what it's like. Just last night we tipped 25% on Greek delivery. They love coming to our house!

                                      1. re: irishnyc

                                        The difference is 25-50 dollars. You can buy a 500 dollar bottle of wine and be cost conscious as well.

                                    3. re: jpschust

                                      You try waiting tables for a while, your opinion on the work that goes on will change very quickly indeed.

                                      And whether you tip on it or not, I still get taxed on it. As it has been said many times before, if you can afford the wine, you can afford the tip.

                                      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                        You clearly didn't read my other post from above as I have worked in the industry. Wine over a certain price point NEVER deserves a 20% tip.

                                        1. re: jpschust

                                          jpschust, may i ask you to consider

                                          - that the server serving in a restaurant that serves $500 bottles of wine is probably very experienced and likely has been serving for many years.
                                          - that the server serving in a restaurant that serves $500 bottles of wine likely has taken courses and has extensive knowledge about the wines. he/she may even be a sommellier.

                                          in most, if not all, professions more experience and more education=higher salary. in restaurants, even in fine dining servers get server wage. the higher wage must come from higher tips.

                                          of course you can tip whatever you want- but if the general belief changes to support that wine over a certain price gets less of a tip- if there is a "cap" on what a server can make- if total tips on high bills are reduced to 13%- i would think less people would be inclined to be/stay professional servers- and the quality of service would fall.

                                          1. re: excuse me miss

                                            Beyond my view that the overall quality of service has gone far below what it should be, including wine service especially, let me respond to your points directly.

                                            Even if total tips come out to be about 13%, 13% on what is likely to be over a $1000 bill is 130 which is a pretty solid tip in my mind considering it's highly unlikely that the server only has one table- let's just say for a moment that the server has 4 four-tops (a smaller section than most get) that do 2 turns. It's highly likely that server is going to walk away with over $500 in tips even after tipouts for an evening- not a bad night if I do say so seeing as there are essentially 3 weekend nights plus 2 "slower nights". Reasonably a server overall at this type of restaurant can stand to reasonably make over 1500 per week in tips alone which seems to be a pretty nice living to me.

                                            Additionally there's no cap to what one can tip, I just think and will always think that tipping over 10% or so on bottles well over $100 is overtipping by far.

                                            1. re: jpschust

                                              LOL- quite a bit of an overestimate i'd say. my SO works in fine dining and he definitely doesn't make that much- and most people do tip 15- 20% on the total bills. and trust me- the servers at that restaurant DO derserve it. also a table that spends that much isn't likely to turn.

                                              so supposing service WAS at the level of quality it should be- in your opinion- it still would not warrant a proper tip? (proper meaning 15% as suggested by the emily post institute )

                                              1. re: excuse me miss

                                                from your link:
                                                >15% of cost of the bottle
                                                i'd be more than happy to tip 15% of the *cost* of the bottle.
                                                the *price* however ...

                                                >the servers at that restaurant DO derserve it.
                                                you left out the "and it's good karma" argument [sic].


                                                1. re: excuse me miss

                                                  It's very rough math to say the least, but looking back at some of my tips from working fine dining, not so far off base.

                                                  Regardless of what the post institute says, who by the way isn't the end all and be all of dining, tips on bottles of wine will always be limited at a certain point for me. You aren't going to change me on this as it's my cash and I really think it's greedy and rediculous of a server to ask for more than that on an expensive bottle of wine.

                                                  Now if you want to have a chat on why I think restaurants should treat their staff better and provide more for their staff so we have to tip less, even if it raises the cost of dining out in the long run, that's another discussion we can have, but for now wait staff is getting 20-25 from me on food and 10 or so on wine over a certain price point.

                                                2. re: jpschust

                                                  It does seem reasonable to limit the tip on wine since the price can be exponentially greater than say sodas/waters/iced teas without the exponentially greater level of service by the server pouring wine.

                                        2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester


                                          Are you saying a tip in general or a tip in the same percentage as the rest of the meal?

                                          Since Jfood does not drink there is no dog in this hunt but he would have a difficult time labling someone "cheap" for leaving 25% on the food and 10% on an expensive bottle of wine.

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            25 percent on the food and 10 percent on the wine, I wouldn't mind unless the bottle cost twice the meal. Usually it's 20 percent on the food and zero on the wine.

                                            1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester


                                              Gotta agree that there should be some tip on the wine, zero is a bush league response. Many of your colleagues have stated that the same percentage on the food should be applied to the wine. Glad that's not the position here.