Restaurant Wine Service and Tipping

“Do I need to include the price of wine when figuring out how much to tip at a restaurant?”

We get that question—or a variation thereof—quite often. So, as people start to plan their summer vacations, I thought it would be a good time to re-visit the subject.

But first, a couple of tipping factoids…

  1. In the restaurant biz, “autograt” is slang for the built-in gratuity some restaurants charge for large parties. It’s intended as a way of making sure the server gets a fair tip, and the standard “autograt” is 18 percent. But as you’re about to find out, that 18 percent may actually be doing a disservice to the server…
  2. The standard restaurant tip no longer is 15 percent. It’s not even 18 percent. According to the folks at Zagat, it’s now 19.2 percent. If you’re a server, New Orleans is the place to work, because diners there tip at a nation-high rate of 19.7 percent.


But how does wine fit into all of this? For purposes of easy math, let’s round that 19.7 percent off to 20, and let’s say you order a $100 bottle of wine. With “standard” tipping, that would add 20 bucks to your tab.

But let’s say that, instead, you found a bargain bottle on the wine list—one priced at $20. Again following the “standard” tipping procedure, that bottle would add just $4 to your tab.

With either bottle, the work required of the server or sommelier is the same: He or she must fetch the bottle, open it, pour a sample for you or someone in your party to approve, and then fill all of the glasses on the table.

Then, during the meal, the server typically will return at some point to “top off” the glasses of the faster imbibers.

All of that holds true whether the bottle cost $20, $100 or $1,000. So why should the tip vary?

In my opinion, it shouldn’t. I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule, but generally speaking, I think it’s appropriate to tip a set amount per bottle. Sometimes it’s $5, and sometimes it’s $10, depending on the type of restaurant, the ambience and so on. And if the wine service is particularly stellar, I’ll add a little more.

Also, it’s perfectly acceptable to leave a note with your final bill, detailing how much of the tip goes to whom. (This becomes necessary because the typical restaurant credit card receipt has only one line designated for a gratuity.)

As an example, let’s say your total tip is $25. You could leave a note asking the restaurant manager to give $15 of the total to the food server, and $10 to the wine server.

Of course, in many restaurants, all tips are shared, so it becomes a moot point. Still, delineating the tip would show the restaurant owner how much (or little) you appreciated the work of a specific server.

Posted in Wine FAQ
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