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Oct 19, 2007 12:59 PM

gratuity on wine corkage?

I'd like to hear any thoughts on this subject.

I'm a server in (maybe arguably?) one the best restaurants in the somewhat small town I live in. I recently waited on a party of 14 who told us when making the reservation that they would be bringing their own wine. We let them know our corkage fee is $15 a bottle. When they came in, it turned out to be a CASE of mixed bottles of wine. Chardonnay, Cab, Merlot -- none of which were expensive (think trader joes). No other drinks were ordered from the party.
When the (seperate per couple) checks came with an 18% gratuity added to each bill (as listed on the menu for parties of 6 or more) the person who asked the corkage be put on his bill didn't seem to understand why a gratuity was added onto the wine as well. He thought the price of $15 a bottle should somehow include my services as well as compensation towards the restaurant.

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  1. I've seen this talked about, i.e., a corkage fee. What does the $15. cover?

    1 Reply
    1. re: dolores

      I can tell you it doesn't cover the service provided and it goes towards the restaurant. I would imagine it covers the loss of a sale for the restaurant (which offers a full bar and wine list) as well as the usuage of glasses that will later be washed and polished at the cost of the restaurant.

    2. The corkage fee is for the restaurant. They feel that since they are allowing you to bring in your own wine, they wont be making money on their own wine sales. Also, they're giving usage of glasses, decanters, ice buckets, and whatever else is needed. It's just profit for the restaurant, not the server. Since you're opening the bottles, pouring the bottles, getting glasses, etc. I think you should be tipped on that extra service. It would be nice if the restaurant gave the corkage fee to the server, but I've never heard of that being done.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

        Thank you both. Then I heartily support a tip on the corkage fee.

        1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

          I've never heard of that being done either (the restaurant giving the corkage fee to the server). The man insisted in his experience that is the way it should be done and "my bosses were taking money that should be mine"..

          1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

            In addition to being "profit for the restaurant" it's also insurance against glassware breakage. Restaurant wine markups (a whole different argument/discussion) include things like stemware and decanters (if necessary) and the attrition that will occur as they break. If a restaurant does not charge a corkeage fee and a customer breaks a glass...the restaurant is stuck eating the cost of that broken glass. Much easier to levy a fee and probably make a few bucks but also make sure they're not likely to lose a bunch either.

            1. re: ccbweb

              I do not mind paying corkage. But to justify it by suggesting the diner may break a wine glass is weird. If the restaurant is using Waterford or Reidel it might become an item, but few do. It's the waiter's/buser's time, glass washing and such. My husband's hobby is wine collecting, so we often bring our own wine and happily pay corkage.

              1. re: Gail

                I knew someone was going to suggest that the glassware wasn't an issue or shouldn't be. But, what happens if a customer knocks over 3 three glasses while reaching for something and breaks them? Such an occurance is usually built into the price of wine when you buy it from the restaurant. I'm not arguing that they build the cost of X number of glasses into the price of each bottle (although, with some restaurants it seems like they do given wine prices). Regardless, it's not a situation where a manager is going to say "excuse me, but since we allowed you to bring your own wine, I'm going to have to ask you to pay for those glasses." I agree that corkage is, in part, about the time of the people in the restaurant to do things related to wine service, and it's also about making up a bit for what the restaurant might have made on wine; but, it's also about making sure that some of the overhead normally included in wine prices is taken care of (including server/busser time and things like glassware).

                1. re: ccbweb

                  Also, the servers are handling extra glasses for you (sometimes several if you are drinking a couple different wines with dinner) and that increases the risk of them breaking the glassware. Or the busser. Or the dishwasher. Wine glasses, even the not fancy kinds are pretty costly, in restaurant terms.

                  1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                    Wow, where are these restaurants where wine glasses are being broken, right and left?

                    So to summarize, a corkage fee is for the restaurant who would have made lots more markup on 'their' wine, as insurance for glass being broken every which where, for the cleaning, handing out, and picking up of said glasses, and for overall insurance against a patron accidentally impaling themselves on a broken wine bottle that wasn't bought and insured by the restaurant?

                    And in all of this, the server gets zero from the start. Does the gratuity for the possibly lethal bottle of wine have to be shared with the busser, thus reducing the gratuity for the server?

                    Now I know why I'm not fond of corkage fees and would never get in a situation where I had to pay them.

                    1. re: dolores

                      In a house where tips are pooled even the tip from a corkage fee is spread to bussers, food runners, bartenders, hosts, etc.

                      1. re: dolores

                        Work in a restaurant. Wine glasses get broken often. They are delicate and oddly shaped. Putting them in racks that go in the dishwasher can simply snap them at the stem.
                        As a server I have never broken a plate or dropped anything. But I have broken wine one or two wine glasses int he ways I've described.

                        So, problem solved. You don't like corkage, don't take wine out. Pretty easily avoided.

            2. jfood would, at a minimum, pay the percentage on the corkage but at 18% of $15 sounds very light. jfood would put this into a minimum $5 per bottle to the server.

              4 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                We usually tip whatever precentage we tip on the meal on the cost of the bottle we would have ordered, minus the corkage, had we not brought our own.

                Edit - I didn't say that quite right:

                meant that we tip on the cost of the bottle we would have ordered had we not brought our own, minus the corkage.

                So - if normally we'd order a bottle in the $60 range, and the corkage was $15, I'd add $45 to the total bill, and the calculate then tip.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Well thought out, MMRuth. We have a local place that never charges us corkage as we go there often. My husband tips for the meal and adds most of the corkage to the tip. If it's a place that charges corkage, he tips on the meal + corkage. I don't want restaurants to not allow corkage, we choose to promote it.

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    thanks for the edit. :)
                    it wasn't as clear to me the first time.

                    1. re: .lmk.

                      Wasn't to me either when I read it over!

                2. I always tip on the whole bill, which includes corkage and everything else.

                  1 Reply
                  1. I get the impression this particular customer is just a cheep person arguing
                    what is expedient rather than from any sense of fair dealing.

                    implicitly the corkage is $17.25 per bottle ... that seems pretty fair to me.

                    do i understand correctly the per capita tip-on-corkage would have been
                    just under $2 in this case? 15*12*.15/14 people = $27/14 ~= $2. sheesh.
                    pass a hat around dood.
                    this is like one of those "tip on pre/post tax bill" debates.

                    --corkage: return to capital, i.e. for the owner.
                    [BTW, i think the "real" explanation of corkage is there
                    has to be some incentive for the owner to allow somebody
                    to bring in their own wine. i know it is not allowed in some
                    states, but i would think any resto owner could disallow it.
                    as the say "the power to tax is the power to destroy" so the
                    owner could of course set corkage to $100.].

                    --tip on corkage: mandatory. it doesnt even matter whether you
                    pour your own wine ... or bring your own glasses.

                    in re: the comment about "your boss is taking your money" ...
                    1. does he think your boss should serve the free bread and refill the water
                    which generate no bill increment and thus no marginal tip for you?
                    or di dhe explain to you that you are being exploited when expected
                    to manage those non-gratuity generating parts of the service.
                    2. i hope this didnt lead to your having to explain things at length/argue
                    with him. that must be awkward. and a lamer may very well use such an
                    confrontation as a TipDing. i know in my line of work when somebody
                    gets into a misunderstanding with someone we are working with, we often
                    have somebody else come in to "explain" the situation. i know i'd have
                    been hard pressed to resist asking "Are you being disingenuous or
                    are you an idiot?"

                    [and note, i'm not from the "waitstaff are heroes and deserve 30% tips" school.
                    i'm firmly of the sublinear tips on high end wines school].