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Jul 14, 2007 04:59 PM

Tipping on wine/liquor

A few years ago I worked for and traveled with a guy who had interesting tipping habits. He left reasonable (~20%) tips on food, but always tipped a fixed amount on beverages. As I recall it was $5 or 10 for a bottle of wine and $1 or 2 for a drink.

His take on it was that there is no difference between serving a $25 bottle of wine and serving one that cost $200, and that a server's efforts have nothing to do with the grade of liquor poured into a glass. But frankly, we didn't drink many $25 bottles of wine or much booze from the well.

Once I figured this out, my solution was to sneak money to the servers to make up for what I perceived as his under-tipping. I was eating and drinking well at somebody else's expense, and didn't mind hiding a few bucks under the dessert plate when my boss wasn't looking.

As years have gone by, though, I've occasionally wondered whether my ex-boss's tipping theories were a merely product of his demented mind, or whether there is wider acceptance of those habits. Can anybody fill me in?

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  1. Oh, there are tons of threads on this on the Not About Food board, virtually bimonthly, that can give you a sense of what hounds have said in the past. Just in case people don't respond as much on this one.

    1. OK, to summarize every thread in the past it falls into a few categories, but there is no consensus.

      1. Tip 15-20% on the whole check, end of story.
      2. Tip 15-20% on food and less on bottles of wine over a certain price point (some advocate for a per bottle flat rate, some do a lesser percentage. I fall in this group)
      3. Some amalgamation of the two.

      The answer is do what you think is right.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jpschust

        I'm more or less with jpschust on this one. One wrinkle....what to do if you're BYOWing....?Sure you're paying a corkage fee of $15-$25, but I think you should tip something for the open & pour service. The question is how much and what's right? Does it matter if they bring you better stemware? Decant? Both? Neither?

        1. re: Pool Boy

          I tend to tip equal to the corkage if it isn't CityZen ($50 corkage = rediculous)

      2. Here's my theory:

        If you can afford the $200 bottle of wine, tip the freakin' $40 on it!!!

        I've never really understood tipping less on a bottle of wine.

        If I went to a restaurant and ordered the least expensive thing on the menu, say a $15 burger, I would tip on that. In the same restaurant, if I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, say a $60 surf & turf (I'm being completely hypothetical with the prices and dishes) you'd tip on that.

        Same idea as many people's theory about tipping on wine....being -- why should I tip more when all they did was open the bottle. All they did was bring out the plate...same difference.

        8 Replies
        1. re: geg5150

          Hey, I'm with you. I was the guy tucking a couple of twenties under my coffee saucer. But the range of entree prices in a restaurant tends to be narrower than the range of wine prices; it is rare to find someplace that serves both a $6 burger and a $60 plate of vertical food, while it is commonplace to find $25 and $250 bottles of wine on the same list.

          For practical purposes, it's not an issue. Maybe one of these days a $200 bottle of wine will be something other than what somebody else orders. But in the meantime it seems like an interesting question...

          1. re: geg5150

            But it all starts to seem absurd when you think of two servers in the same restaurant, each handling a table for two, one serving that $200 bottle and the other the $25 bottle--their tips will vary by $40 when they've both done the same work. In fact, even if the one serving the cheaper wine has done a fabulous job and gotten a 25% tip, he or she would be way behind the other, who may have done a poorer job and gotten a 15% tip. The whole US tipping system is dumb enough, but tipping the full amount on pricey wine raises it to the level of insanity. And just because I may be able to treat myself to an expensive bottle of wine doesn't mean I want to throw my money around pointlessly.

            1. re: geg5150

              if you would like to tip 10, 20, or 50% on any bottle of water, wine or whatever, please feel free to do so. but there are many of us who do not agree.

              jfood feels tipping a full "dinner service" percentage on wine is silly. and the old "if you can afford..." comment (not used here thank you) is getting old from many responders. jfood does not tell anyone how to spend their money and expects the same in reverse.

              1. re: jfood

                The two points I would add are one: that the server may not know that that is how you are tipping and wonder why they only got say 12% on the total bill, and two: that the server does tip out the rest of the staff based on the total bill not on the tip received (at most places) and may end up with 5%. I know that not everyone cares about that, but it is something to think about.

                1. re: Missmoo


                  so busboys and water servers get a fixed percentage of the total tabs and the server gets the remainder. something sounds backwards here, jfood has his own issues with unfairness that he needs to address let the server, the busboys and the resto owner figure out their own equitable distribution. and as you point out jfood's opinion is that their problem should not be subsidized by the custo.

                  1. re: jfood

                    Yes, that's exactly what happens. It's not unfair because the server who gets the remainder does fairly well, overall. The busboys, bartenders, hostess etc plus the kitchen in some places share a % of the gross sales, and the server gets the rest. So if you don't tip on the wine you're screwing the server - at least on your particular bill.

                    1. re: hsk

                      On the occasions when I'm ordering an expensive wine, I am dealing with a wine steward/sommelier or someone performing that role. If I'm making the call, on the wine, then it's likely a flat rate per bottle, more if it requires decanting or extra work on their part. If they're making the recommendation, then it's a bigger tip paid directly to them in cash - more when the recommendation is a stunning addition to the meal..

                      As far as the waiter argument goes, so what? If I spend $300 on dinner (not incl. tax) and $200 on wine and tip 20% on the food and $10 on the wine added to the bill and another $10 (or more) to sommelier in cash, that's at least $90. If I tip 20% off the $500 directly on the bill, that's $100. But it was exactly the same amount of work. Giving another $10 to the waiter for no added service is not being cheap, it's irresponsible, IMO.

                      1. re: hsk

                        sorry hsk, but if anyone is "screwing the server" it's the co-employees who have priority on the tip pool in front of the server. Ifthe server could, (s)he should get the first % then the others can split the remainder (including aditional upside to the waiter), not the other way around.

              2. I do not drink wine, but do go out alot for drinks. I am a shot and a beer guy, & I tip $1-$2 per drink depending on the cost of the drink.

                A $3.50 beer, or a $5.00 tequilla shot = $1.00 per drink

                A $10 shot of tequilla = $2.00 per shot

                This works out to essentially a 20% tip, maybe a little more for a beer.

                There are exceptions though, a couple of weeks ago I was at a bar, and a customer was giving the bartender a hard time, so for each of my $1.00 Budwesier drafts I tipped the bartender $2.00 for each draft, figuring this girl was about to cry, and the guy probably wasnt going to tip her.

                1 Reply
                1. re: swsidejim

                  I've often thought about this, while sitting in a busy breakfast shop where I could feed an entire table for $25. Does this waiter/ress do less work than the waiter/tress at a fine dining restaurant ?? Essentially, I say no, the busy breakfast shop likely involves more work, but perhaps less finesse, and tables turn faster. So comparing total gratuity (not percentage), what exactly are you paying extra for in fine dining where the tip is often $20-$50 or more ??

                  Frankly, my conclusion is only this : it's a tax on your success. You're sufficiently successful to enjoy an extravagant meal and rare wine.... not an inexpensive luxury. These attendents, bringing a fork to replace the one you dropped, folding your napkin when you are in the restroom.... are hangers-on, in a way..... but not without precedent. Think about "service" trade in Europe or in some wealthy households in America. People who've made a career "in service" (I believe is the correct phrase) aspire to a position in a wealthy household for the relative share of success it brings. So return to the fine dining example..... you're purchasing a similar kind of service, and yes, you're paying a tax on your success in so far as the difference in gratuity between a meal with no wine, and a meal with a fine, rare, expensive wine.

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