How to Tip on Wine?

Dear Helena,

I really like to drink good wine, but I don’t tip 20 percent on the cost of the wine, because whether it’s a $100 bottle or a $500 bottle, I’m still getting the same service. In any case, the restaurant marks up wine so much more than food, I feel justified in leaving a smaller tip. A friend of mine calls me a tightwad (while drinking my wine, I might add). His argument is that if I can afford to drink a $250 bottle of wine, then I can afford to tip $50. What do you think? —Spends Too Much on Wine Already

Dear Spends Too Much on Wine Already,

Unless the wine is extremely expensive, you should tip the same as you would on food: about 18 to 20 percent. Usually you get more elaborate service as the cost of the wine increases. Seth Kunin, a winemaker who has also worked in restaurants, says: “In more upscale places, there is better stemware that may be hand-washed and hand-polished, the wine is kept at a better temperature, there are buckets and coolers, and the waiter is more attentive and better trained.” With pricier wines, you’re also paying for service you get before you even show up at the restaurant. Rebecca Chapa, owner of Tannin Management, a wine consulting firm, says: “They are doing the service of holding and acquiring the wine. It’s hard to find some of these exceptional bottles. They have to store them in the proper way.”

Restaurants do typically mark up wine more than food, but you shouldn’t punish the server for that by tipping less. He or she often has to split tips with hostesses, busboys, and dishwashers. And, as Kunin points out, “the restaurant is getting the markup, the server isn’t.” In any case, the markup may not be as much as you think. “Quality restaurants have a series of markups,” explains Chapa. “Less expensive wines are marked up more than the most expensive wines, so if they’re marking up wines by the glass three times, they’re marking up more expensive wines two times, or less in some instances.”

The only time you need not tip the full 20 percent on wine is when you’re buying very expensive bottles. This is because service on wine only improves up to a certain point—about $500, according to Kunin. Above that, Chapa suggests tipping a flat rate of $100 per bottle. “A nice touch is to give the sommelier a taste of the wine,” she adds.

This all may seem unfair. If someone can afford to drop a few hundred bucks on a bottle of wine, then he or she can certainly afford a 20 percent tip. But unfair as it may seem, a tip is a reward for good service, not a form of income tax.

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