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Dear Dr. Vinny,
When a sommelier at a restaurant assists in picking out a wine, opens it, pours it, etc., what is the proper etiquette for tipping? Do you tip the sommelier separately? If you do tip the sommelier separately, do you then tip the waiter with the price of the wine excluded in the overall bill?
—Steven M., Pittsburgh
If a restaurant has a sommelier, you can assume that there is some sort of policy in place for that sommelier to receive a cut of the tips from the work that they do. In most restaurants, servers will give a percentage of their tips to the rest of the service staff that worked that shift with them, including the sommelier. It’s rare for a sommelier to be tipped separately, but if a sommelier was particularly helpful, there are ways to thank them, including tipping them—in private—by handing them a personal tip, on top of the standard tip.
How much to tip at a restaurant when you get wine service really depends on what kind of service you had and how much your wine cost. Normally, I tip a standard 20 percent (15 if I felt the service was lacking) on the overall bill. There have been a few instances where the wine cost more than the food on the bill—say I splurged and ordered a rare, expensive bottle that cost hundreds of dollars. In some of these cases, I decided to tip 20 percent on the food bill and closer to 10 percent on the wine portion. In other circumstances I’m more generous—say I brought a bottle in and they waived the corkage fee because I ordered additional wine, I might tip over 20 percent. It really depends on the entire circumstances of the meal, but 20 percent on the overall bill is my baseline.
If you get good service from sommeliers, tell them. Tell them they made good suggestions, or that you appreciate their handling of a special bottle, or that they were terrific about the requests that a wine geek dining out sometimes makes. I almost always offer my sommelier a glass of wine from the bottle I’m drinking—either I ask them to join me for a taste, or I let them know I’m leaving some behind for them to sample when they have a moment.
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