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Dec 14, 2012 02:55 PM

Tipping on wine in restaurants?

Lets say I purchase a bottle of wine in a restaurant worth $100 retail, most restaurants would charge $200 to $400 for the same bottle. Lets say $250 for arguments sake ($270 including tax). What would the fine dining hounds tip on a $250 bottle of wine? $50 would be the customary 20% on the pre-tax bottle alone . Now, if the sommelier spent some time with me (as he should for a $250 bottle) and decanted the bottle, brought in wine specific glasses, etc., then just perhaps that's appropriate. But if a waiter just opens and pours, do you tip the full 20% on a bottle of wine that's likely already marked up 100% - 300% by the restaurant? I personally don't feel 20% is appropriate (I tend to tip only ~10% on heavily marked up wine), but am interested in what other experienced diners do.

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  1. I tip on all of it. For two reasons:

    1. Food is overpriced too. e.g. some kitchens split the tip with the kitchen staff but I wouldn't decrease the tip based on the QPR of each dish. So if a dish of ravioli made with butternut squash ran $28 I wouldn't only tip on $15 because I thought the dish was overpriced....*shrug*

    2. I don't really break down service that way - I feel it's up to the management/staff of a restaurant to figure out how the tip is split and different restaurants share the tips differently. So, I try not to speculate who knows if the sommelier gets part of that at all? And often the waiter is the one who has to hunt down the sommelier, source wine glasses, and help with pouring if the sommelier is otherwise busy

    8 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      1. If I'm paying for the preparation and technique, I don't mind a dish that's highly marked up one bit.

      2. I feel they have already made a big portion of their money on the wine mark up. Service from a sommelier is one thing, but just having a waiter open a bottle of wine that they are already making double to quadruple on, I don't think is fair to tip on this mark up.

      Admittedly this makes it more difficult to calculate tip, but I usually hand write the math on the receipt, so they see I'm only tipping 10% on the wine charge and 20% on the rest.

      1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

        Perhaps I could have been clearer - apologies. I'm not speaking of the profitability (which who knows? how profitable the restaurant is)

        Typical restaurant markup on food is say 300%
        Typical restaurant markup on high-end wine in my area is about 100 - 200%

        The restaurant markup goes completely to the restaurant owners. It does not matter if the kitchen staff just buys the food frozen and microwaves it or if they spend hours on the perfect sauce and individually inspect each grain of rice. The restaurant still receives the same markup.

        Same whether the wine is on a shelf above the stove and there's only two types of wine to pick from. Or whether the sommelier spends 15 minutes with you, let's you try a bottle, and helps you navigate a 50 page list. The markup regardless goes to the restaurant owners.

        Now tip is what is given to the servers. So I'm saying if you figure in the markup of wine (which goes to the restaurant owners) into the tip. Why do you not figure in the markup of the food into the tip??

        I'm not saying you are incorrect in your views....just trying to clarify the analogy.

        1. re: goldangl95

          speaking specifically to Southern CA where I am, typical wine markup is between 2.5 (the best) to 4 (unfortunately pretty normal these days) times the wholesale price of the wine. So, 250% at best to 400%...
          While I've heard restaurant managing friends talk about high food costs being around 30% of the item's sale price.
          Just to anchor that I'm not pulling these numbers out of the air, I work in the wine industry.

          1. re: jdwdeville

            To be clear 30% of the item's sale price is a 233% markup I believe.

            Yea at a lot of restaurants in the SF bay area most of the wine lists I notice that have bottles in the $180-280 range the mark up is pretty reasonable (e.g. a $90 bottle marked up to $180). Which is 50% of the item's sales price. Or a 100% markup.

            1. re: goldangl95

              Yeah, you are likely right about my math on the food part now that I think about it. Think all these "fiscal cliff" news reports are rotting my brain for numbers.

              Re the wine markup, are you going on the retail costs? We are basing our assumptions about food on the wholesale cost- it seems appropriate to do the same for wine, no?

              1. re: jdwdeville

                Someone can correct me if I'm wrong - but I dont think there's a huge wholesale discount on wines that retail in the $100+. Mainly because I don't think the restaurant itself would buy wines in that price range in large-scale bulk (an exception would be something like Ruth Chris which has a bunch of high end steak houses all over the country). The restauranteurs probably get a 15% discount but nothing too substantial.

                1. re: goldangl95

                  No, you're wrong . . .

                  To describe the myriad of discounts wholesalers offer to restaurants would take an hour (minimum) for me to write out, and would be boring as hell to read, but even $800/case wholesale wines can get discounts.

                  There are stand-alone discounts, brand discounts, family plan discounts, by-the-glass discounts, etc., etc., etc., and even if the case is "net" (no discount on that specific case), it qualifies OTHER wines for discount . . .


                  And, FWIW, a 15 percent discount on the case is a lot!

                  $800/case one = $66.667 btl. $100 retail = 50% markup = 33% profit.

                  15% discount = $56.667 btl. $100 retail = 76.5% markup = 43.333% profit

      2. re: goldangl95

        I respectively disagree (totally). I don't think comparing the price of food to wine is reasonable.The price of dishes in a restaurant are relatively close to eachother in price, depending on the category of course such as appetizer, main course and dessert. The most one dish will vary from another in price, within a category, might be 50% less to 100% more or so. Therefore what you tip is not going to vary greatly with the price of the meal. This is not the case with wine. You will find wines on a typical restaurants wine list that can vary from $40 a bottle to $400 and much more. Does that mean you should tip 10 times as much on the latter bottle? I don't think so. Here's why:

        You can spend as much time with the sommelier about which bottle to choose amongst bottles that are priced between $40 and $60 as you do for ones that are between $40 and $400 a bottle. Also, it is the same work for the sommelier or server to choose one set of glasses over the other and bring them to your table. Pouring the wine is also the same amount of work. As far as decanting, whether the bottle should be or not does not necessarily depend on the price of the bottle.

        Therefore, the only reason to tip more is because of the price of the bottle and I feel this is not a good enough reason. You may have other reasons to do so but they should stand on their own, such as exceptional service, something that was served to you on a complementary basis or other reasons specific to your experience at the restaurant.

        Also, I think you should only tip on the pre-tax price of your meal and alcohol, not also on the government's tax. There is no reason the restaurant should get a bigger tip because the government taxes or increases their tax.

      3. I wouldn't hinge my tip amount for wine on the price. What's the difference to the somm if its a $75 bottle or a $750? The work involved is the same for him/ her. Decide what you'd like to tip based on service only and not on the price of the wine.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Chinon00

          Well yes. At some point the rule may be stretched to the point of incredulity, but I don't think that starts at the $200-300 bottle on the wine list. Let's say for two people a $50 dollars worth of ingredients meal pp cost $120 pp. And the wine was marked up from $100 to $250.

          The markup on the wine and food is about the same. I realize there are people on this board who regularly order bottles of wine off the wine list that are over $250 - but that's not most people - even on this board.

          And not to beat the analogy to death but what does it matter to the kitchen staff how costly/how much the markup on the ingredient is? It may be much more labor intensive to debone an inexpensive fish for example than to shave truffles over pasta.

          Also we, the consumer, subsidize the staff through tips. The salary the restaurant pays is not the true salary of the staff in the United States (even sometimes - the kitchen staff).

          1. re: Chinon00

            Exactly. This is evidenced by the flat corkage fees that restaurants charge. They are charging a flat fee for their costs on wine service. The value of the wine makes no difference in what they charge. Thus you are tipping only on their service fee.

            1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

              However, waiters are taxed on a percentage of their total sales for the year, and that includes alcohol.

              1. re: jdwdeville

                Is that pre-tax sales or do they get taxed on the tax?

                1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                  Been out of the restaurant side and into the wine side of things for some years now but I recall it being something like 10% of your year's sales that it is assumed you made, so sales are not the total w tax.
                  That said, see my comment below- if you can afford it regularly, you should damn well tip on it. If not, well, be cool and offer a taste to the waiter- chances are they haven't tasted your 2000 Mouton before, either.

              2. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                The corkage fee goes to the restaurant owners. It's mainly to replace the lost opportunity on a wine markup. It's calculated in order to benefit the restaurant owners.....why would use that calculation to measure how much to compensate your server? They're different constituencies.

                1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                  As I have often pointed out in the past, when I ran the wine program in a wine bar back in the 1980s, we changed a flat FIVE DOLLARS OVER SUGGESTED RETAIL for all wines on our list.

                  So, if a wine carried a suggested retail price of, say, $20, it meant that my wholesale cost was $13.33. My wine list price was $25, and my Beginning Gross Profit was $11.667 a bottle, or 46.667% That $50 retail bottle cost me $33.33; I sold it for $55, and my BGP was $21.67, or 39.394%. $100 retail? $105 on the list, $38.333 and 36.5% profit. The more expensive the bottle, the higher dollar profit, but the lower the percentage profit -- the more expensive bottles were a better deal for the customers.

                  Corkage started out at a flat $5, too, but we eventually raised it to $10 -- even so, we rarely had people bring in bottles; our wines were just so affordable!

              3. Here's my take:
                Is it a super-special splurge bottle you've saved up for that you'd never be able to afford under normal circumstances? Tip what you can, then, and be super nice and cool to the somm and waiter.
                Is it some screamingly expensive bottle that you buy every night because you can afford to drink that way? Then tip on the damn total, you can afford it, and it's probably good for your karma.

                1. I tip on the total, but I don't buy expensive bottles at restaurants.

                  I understand a premium on inexpensive bottles - it's another way of the restaurant recovering costs - and it's tolerable for being able to enjoy wine with my meal. Where that premium continues to be applied in the same percentage (usually exorbitant) without regard to the cost of the bottle, things become a little absurd. The finer the wine, the less it is merely an accompaniment to the meal; it is an experience in itself and a celebration of the wine. When that is the case, it is simply stupid to pay an additional $100-1000 for a bottle; the fact that I am drinking it at a restaurant rather than at home doesn't remotely justify the premium, and I would much rather have a better wine (or multiple bottles) at home than at a restaurant. Knowing what extortion it is would actually detract from the experience at a restaurant.

                  17 Replies
                  1. re: mugen

                    >>> I tip on the total, but I don't buy expensive bottles at restaurants. <<<


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Now, I have been known to do so, and tip on the wine, so long as the service is good.

                      For me, there are often "stemware selections," the caraffing of FR whites, and maybe a few other things. I expect those, especially when buying a "special bottle," and usually receive them.

                      In very general terms, my average restaurant wines are in the US $ 120 to $ 450 range, but have been exceptions, both up and down the scale. As more usually goes into the service of the upper-end wines, I do not hesitate to tip on those.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Will you tip $90 on a $450 bottle of wine? I certainly wouldn't. Perhaps I'm a cheapskate, and perhaps I'm wrong, but my policy is this:
                        1) If the sommelier is obviously very knowledgeable and spends time assisting me in selecting the right bottle(s) of wine for dinner, I will generally give him/her $20 in cash after dinner...and,
                        2) I always tip at least 20%, but since I tip the sommelier separately, regardless of how expensive a bottle of wine I order, I'll never tip more than $25 for the wine portion of the check. (For example, if food is $400 and wine is $250, I'll leave $80 for food, and $25 for wine).
                        I think this is fair, and indeed appropriate.

                        1. re: josephnl

                          I agree with and like this policy. Seems fair and reasonable.

                          1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                            And, I should have made clear (and this may where others think I'm cheap)...if the choice from the wine list is clear to me, and I've had no special help from the sommelier, the $25 max still applies...or perhaps a bit more if a 2nd bottle is ordered.

                            1. re: josephnl

                              I do not believe that anyone (and certainly not me), has claimed that you are "cheap." Your plan is your plan, and I will defend that, even if it's not what I might do, under the same circumstances.


                              PS - with last night's example, I invited the sommelier to join us, and when we still had a bit "left-over" (lot of wine on my table last night), we "gifted" three light pours to other diners, all of whom thanked us profusely, and enjoyed those pours.

                          2. re: josephnl

                            <<Will you tip $90 on a $450 bottle of wine?>>

                            In a word, yes. I just did so last night, with a wonderful bottle of DRC, but I also got a good deal from the sommelier. My "discount" was greater, than the tip, in that particular case.

                            I have also given separate, cash tips to various sommeliers too, but it just depends on so many variables.

                            Different folk have different plans for tipping, and I am, in no way, indicating that mine is the "correct" way to address things - it is just what I normally do - nothing more, and nothing less.


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Very interesting! I've always considered myself a rather generous tipper. I essentially always tip at least 20% (aside from my wine policy as stated above), and almost always offer servers and sommeliers a pour of my wine whether it's purchased from the restaurant, or brought in from home (for corkage). Nevertheless, I find it difficult to understand why a server deserves a $90 tip if I decide to splurge on a $450 bottle of wine (a very rare occurrence for me), whereas he/she would only be tipped $20 for a $100 bottle of wine (which I frequently will order). The server is being paid for their service, and I would expect the same care, glassware, and service for a $100 bottle, as I would for the most expensive bottle in the house.

                              I'm also curious as to what others do when they bring a terrific and expensive bottle of wine in and pay corkage. I'll always offer a taste of the wine to the server, but have never even thought about tipping based upon the value of the wine. The corkage charge (at least in CA) is typically about $25, and I, as well as most others (I think), simply tip ~20%, or perhaps a bit more, on the total bill.

                              1. re: josephnl

                                For me, and this is just for me, personally, I tip on the price of the wine. I do not advocate that anyone else do so. It is how I handle things - only.

                                For the BYOW, that is seldom a course of action for me. When it has been, I have never been charged any corkage fee, though I have been willing to pay such. Especially with something that I do bring, I always plan on sharing that wine with the sommelier, probably the chef, and likely the owner. Still, unlike many, I seldom arrive with my own bottle. When I do, I have spoken to the appropriate person(s), before showing up. IIRC, the last time that I did, the sommelier knew exactly how many pours he needed to get from a bottle of '48 Taylor-Fladgate VP, and he did it nicely - with a second pour for my wife, the "birthday girl."

                                When it comes to BYOW, I am the last person, who should comment.


                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  I suppose it's a regional thing, but bringing wine to a restaurant for corkage is quite common in California. We were in the Napa Valley a few weeks ago, and in a few restaurants where we dined, it appeared that perhaps as many as 25% of the diners were bringing in wine. Some of these folks obviously worked in the industry (they brought in several bottles, we're known to the staff and shared their goodies with the staff) and some (like us) had picked up some terrific bottles visiting wineries and tasting. I have no idea what the appropriate tipping policy should be for this. Anyone?

                                  1. re: josephnl

                                    Besides regional differences, regarding mind set, one also has to consider the laws: state, county, and even municipal. They vary, and can vary greatly.

                                    As an example, in Hawai`i, only the County of Maui (the Island) did not allow BYOB/W, and also did not allow for re-corking of a bottle of wine, to take back to one's hotel room, or home. I understand that this changed recently, to align more with the other counties/Islands.

                                    Phoenix, AZ, has some strict rules on BYOB/W, and they apply to licenses, seating, etc.. One needs to check.

                                    However, we are in San Francisco about 30x per year, and even with the short flights, I do not think about bringing my own wines, when we dine (maybe 70x per year). Maybe it is just me?



                              2. re: Bill Hunt

                                Bill, where is the world did you find a bottle of DRC for $450?! Dear god, even their worst vintage is over four figures here in Los Angeles.
                                In a case like that I can certainly understand the tip being in the $100 range...

                                1. re: jdwdeville

                                  In my case, it was at Campton Place, in San Francisco, and was the 2009, which was over-stocked, and needed to be moved.

                                  The price was a "special," and listed as a "take-out - one per table," but we sort of danced around that part.

                                  Also, along with the "sommelier's pairing" for the meal, we did a wonderful Montrachet, as a starter, so the wine tab was already "up there," before the DRC.

                                  On a slightly different note, at a restaurant in Phoenix, the sommelier approached me, with a beautiful DRC, that had just been rejected, but was more than perfectly fine. We were offered B-T-G for the bottle, at a really good price. The restaurant had a very good wine, that had been opened (that patron had ordered several, and rejected all... ), and we ended up drinking the bottle, at a more than fair price. One time, where befriending the sommelier paid dividends, and really good ones - too bad my investments never work out that way!


                                  1. re: jdwdeville

                                    Something about your question bothered me. I puzzled over it most of the night. Even this evening, I had to do a bit of research, to find what it was.

                                    The poster, to whom I responded, and from whom, I took a quote, used the figure $450/btl. I responded, without adequate clarification. The DRC, that I ordered, was US $650, and not $450. That lower figure was one cited by another.

                                    Just wanted to clarify, so that no one heads to that restaurant, screaming, "Well, Bill Hunt got it for $450." IIRC, the "regular" wine list price was ~ US $1200, but, to clear the cellar, with some stipulations, the price fell to about US $650, which was what I paid, and what I tipped on.

                                    Sorry if my replies might have led to some confusion, as that was never my intent.

                                    I hope that this clarification paints a more accurate picture, and that I can now sleep, without puzzling over "what was wrong there?"


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Thank you for the clarification, though even at $650 (for an '09!?) it is surely a steal, if out of my normal drinking range. I do think I would make an exception for any of Aubert's children priced thusly, though.
                                      Down here in LA we have an Italian restaurant with a DRC page whose sub-heading is "THE LOWEST PRICES ON THE PLANET". While that hyperbole might occasionally be true, it also should probably say "the worst vintages from the winery"...

                                  2. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Where did you get a DRC for $450 in a restaurant? Just kidding, but green with envy.

                                    As Hunt notes, different strokes for different folks. I worked as a waiter all through college, sometimes at family places, sometimes at very fancy restaurants. (In the early 70s mind you.) So now that I can afford it, I tend to tip well. And as I noted above, I tend to tip on the total bill, including the wine, until the bottle gets over $250, then I tip a little less on the wine, but still tip on the food portion by a percentage of 20-25%.

                                    When I bring my own wine and pay a corkage fee, (and here in Maryland, you have to pay tax on the corkage fee btw) I tend to leave an extra tip for the server for the wine. How much depends on the service I receive, but normally an extra $15 to $25 depending how good a bottle it is and how much I saved by bringing it instead of buying something comparable from the list.

                                    And while it may cost the restaurant just as much to open that $30 bottle as it does the $300 bottle, that twit who wants to show off and sends back the $300 bottle just because he can, costs the restaurant a whole lot more than when someone sends back the $30 bottle. (Another story, a couple of years ago I was in a restaurant in Washington DC, when the guy at the table next to my party sent back a 2000 Gaja Langhe Conteisa, claiming it was corked. Included in our party were two wine experts, one a wine shop owner, the other a Beard award recipient sommelier. The sommelier saw them and offered them the returned bottle to taste. It was excellent. The lady with the twit who had sent the bottle back in an effort to impress her got up, said something to her date about not being impressed by pretentious assholes, and started to leave. My wife invited her to join our party instead. When she did, you could hear the comments from all over the restaurant. I would have hated to be that guy.)

                                    1. re: dinwiddie

                                      Actually, that was at Campton Place, in San Francisco, and the sommelier had added several DRC's to the cellar, but they were not selling quickly enough. During a meal, he offered me a "deal," and I took him up on it.


                          3. Tip on the total. Servers pay taxes as a percentage of their sales at a lot of places now.

                            If you can afford to go out and spend money on food and drink you can afford to take care of your server.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: twyst

                              Well I live in Canada and they don't tax waiters like that. They are expected to be honest and report their tips. Also I bet the way waiters are taxed in the US does not assume they are getting 15-20% tips on $400 bottles of ones.

                              1. re: Flexitarian

                                "Also I bet the way waiters are taxed in the US does not assume they are getting 15-20% tips on $400 bottles of ones."

                                8% is the minimum you can claim. If someone orders a $500 bottle of wine and tips less than 40 on it the government is still going to come looking for their piece of your $40 tip