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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I am retired, and regularly have lunch in a casual but nice restaurant. When I order a bottle of wine, they open and pour a taste for us but then leave us to refill our glasses. The bottles are $30 to $50, usually half of the entire bill!
How do we tip? If we tip on the food and a bit on the wine do we need to explain, or do we look cheap? It seems unfair to tip 20 percent on the bill if we pour the wine. Suggesting they pour isn't an option.
—Laura G., San Diego, Calif.
That doesn’t sound like very good service. I’ve had the opposite experience, too—when a server is constantly topping off my glass, which I suspect they do to kill the bottle and encourage me to buy another one.
I don’t know if you’re hanging out at restaurants with untrained staff, or simply with lax service standards. I agree it might be awkward to say something to your server—though pushing your wineglass in their direction when they approach the table, or nodding in the direction of the bottle and saying, “Do you mind?” might be all you need to do. And then say, "Thank you!"
It’s also perfectly OK to say something to a manager. You don’t have to make a big deal about it, just say something about how you always enjoy eating at their restaurant, but you wish the servers would refill your wineglass as often as they refill your water glass—whenever it needs it. Or maybe say that you’ve noticed at other restaurants servers fill wineglasses more often, and you like that.
I always tip on overall service, and the entire bill (unless there are some crazy expensive bottles). Normally I’ll shoot for 20 percent (more if there was something above and beyond), and down closer to 15 percent if I felt the service was lacking. I don’t think you need to explain your tipping to anyone, that’s up to your discretion.
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