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How do you tip on wine?

General Tipping on Wine
It is customary in the US to tip on the wine at the same rate that you would for the entire meal.  Just as you would if you were drinking cocktails.  So, if you are planning to leave 20% for excellent service for the meal, then you would leave 20% of the entire bill except tax (wine and drinks included.)

What if it is an expensive bottle?
Consider how you define ‘expensive.’  Living in Los Angeles, I would consider this to be anything over $125/bottle.  For anything less than this, I would tip as normal.  For wine over $125/bottle, if there was no additional or exceptional service, then I would be inclined to tip a smaller percentage on the wine (say 10%) then on the rest of the bill (20%.)  I define excellent wine service as …

knowledge of the wine list and wines, proper opening, decanting when appropriate, crystal glassware, pouring proper amounts, proper temperature, proper timing of service, aged bottles and food/wine pairing knowledge.

Do you tip the sommelier?
To determine if you should tip the sommelier directly, you might say something like this: “The wine service was excellent.  Will a portion of the tip go to the sommelier?”  If the answer is no, and you received excellent service, then you might consider tipping the sommelier directly.  If you do tip the sommelier directly you might make note of it on the bill in case the server is required to ‘tip out’ on the wine sales.

Sommeliers get paid in many different ways:

  • They are a manager and can not take tips.  In this case, they are usually compensated by the restaurant, based on an overall percentage of wine sales.
  • The sommelier receives a percentage of the nightly tips from the service staff.  This is called ‘tipping out.’  Servers may have to ‘tip out’ many people:  the bar, the busboy, the food runner, the host/hostess and the sommelier. ( This is the most common method for how sommeliers are paid.)
  • The sommelier is tipped directly by the customer.  This is less common these days, but traditional, especially with extremely expensive wines ($300+) and exceptional service.

If you are bringing your own bottle of wine, expect to pay a corkage fee.

  • Most corkage fees range from $5 to $20.
  • Many restaurants will waive a corkage fee for every bottle you buy.  In this case, a good plan is to buy a bottle of white from the restaurant and bring a bottle of red.
  • If you are going to a very exclusive restaurant, you should check to see if they allow it – some do not.
  • Be sure you are bringing something special or unique – something that you can not ordinarily find on the list.  No “Two-Buck-Chuck”, please!
  • The corkage fee goes to the restaurant and not to the server or sommelier who is actually servicing your table.  When it comes time to tip, you should tip on the wine service too.  For example, if you would have ordered a $40 bottle of wine and you intend to leave 20% for excellent service, then you should leave 20% of the bill + $8 (for wine service.)