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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What is the proper tip on wine you bring to a restaurant and pay a corkage fee?
—J.D., Oskaloosa, Iowa
This is a bit complicated, so to make sure I don't get kicked out of a restaurant after answering this, I asked a couple of sommeliers what they thought.
Master Sommelier Larry Stone, of Rubicon in San Francisco, agrees that it's a tricky question. Here's what he said:
"First of all, a customer should pay the tip they would want to get if they themselves had been performing the service. A tip should reflect the amount of time, graciousness, thought and care put into delivering the wine to you ... if there are any special considerations, as in decanting or handling a fragile wine, this should be included in calculating how much to give.
"Even a corkage fee of $20 (which Rubicon charges) does not cover the expense of serving the wine if there are more than two or three bottles, especially if decanting and special glassware is required. The customer bringing wine in should realize that a courtesy is being extended to them.
"A sommelier may have to devote a huge portion of his or her time to these 'corkage' tables, and therefore the tip should reflect this amount of time and energy put into the wine service, which will not be compensated by the sale of wine."
Master Sommelier Kevin Vogt, of Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas, pointed out that each restaurant has a different procedure about how tips are handled, and many restaurants pool tips for the service staff. Delmonico charges a $25 corkage fee. Vogt adds, "If the service team that waits on the table does the wine service, I would just keep it in mind and leave a slightly higher tip—say, $5 to $10 more on the bill for the team. If the sommelier does the service, I would side-tip the sommelier the same respective amount instead of leaving it for the team."
So there you go.
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