Tipping, Bribes and Wine

How much do you tip in a restaurant?

I tend to go wit a standard 20%. If the service is just south of par I give the server the benefit of the doubt and continue along with the 20%. If the service is really bad, I go south of 20%.

The interesting question is, do you apply that 20% to the wine you ordered. I never do, at least if it’s a bottle of wine I’ve bought. Part of the service I’m tipping for is for th waiter to bring me my meal, and the bottle of wine is part of my meal.

An interesting article appeared today in the SF Chronicle about a group of servers that has formed to convince restaurants to add a standard 20% service fee to the check. If this were done, would you also tip? I probably would not…unless the service were so stellar that it surprised  me.

But here’s thing about tipping: There is a big difference between the tip you give at a restaurant and the tip you give in other circumstances. As the article in the SF Chronicle notes, "Tipping is about buying social approval." There is no question about this and the key is that the tip comes after the service has been rendered. In other words, the tip is actually a payment for service. The key to understanding the power of the tip is in understanding when it is offered.

Tips in advance of service rarely happen in a restaurant setting. It’s outside the restaurant setting when I really start to think about my tipping practices.

In other words, I’m thinking about the power of the   bribe, er…TIP

A pre-tip in my mind is an investment. You’re using it to let a service person know there there is good reason to pay attention to you. There are a number of situations in which bribing pre-tipping is an excellent investment:


In this case you want to be sure that the server gets back to you on a regular basis. If the first round of drinks costs $20 and I know I’m going to want more rounds an the place is crowded, I’ll usually give the server an extra $10 and simply say, "will you check on us in a while?"


If the cost of your room is between $200-$300 per night, a $50 tip to the person checking you in will often get you an upgraded room. It’s a simple procedure. Put a $50 bill on the counter and ask if they could look to see if any upgraded rooms are available.


If I’m going to be using the services of the Concierge over the net few days I’ll go over to them, introduce myself, ask a very simple question that can be answer with no effort, then leave them with a $20 tip. .

Finally, what about tipping in a winery tasting room? I’ve done it on occasion to reward really top notch service, but that is very rare. Today’s article by Peg Melnik in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat explains it best:

"No need to pester the tasting room staff about its tipping policy.
Here’s the story, plain and simple: There’s no expectation to tip.

pretty much the general rule," said Philippe Thibault, hospitality
operations manager of Chateau St. Jean. "Once you pay a fee, you’re not
expected to tip." Fees typically range from $5 to $20. Of course, if a
customer offers a gratuity in recognition of a particularly helpful and
informative staff, they won’t say no. "We tell the staff to keep it
because it’s awkward to say ‘thanks but no thanks,’" Thibault said."


9 Responses

  1. Mark Finley - September 13, 2006

    I came across a disturbing situation that I hope is only an isolated one. A restaurant we occasionally went to was closing down and on our last visit there a waiter related to us that the new restaurant that was opening in the same location had offered the staff positions in it. The pay for the waiters was actually going to be a couple bucks an hour better but all tips were to go to the house. The waiter politely declined.

  2. Outdoorgrrl - September 13, 2006

    Yikes! Maybe this is a location-related difference, but when did the standard tip go from 15% to 20%?

  3. Jared S. - September 13, 2006

    There is a fine line between “pre-tipping” and “bribing” – and I’m certainly not one to be able to tell perfectly where that line is. By way of discussion, though, I’ll use your examples…
    1. The crowded bar pre-tip seems perfect to me. Isn’t the whole point of giving T.I.P.S. To Ensure Proper Service?
    2. Pre-tipping for a room upgrade. To me, this is a bribe. You are not asking for proper or better service, but for a better product. I know that the clerk has the flexibility to sell (or upsell) unbooked rooms at subjective prices, but you are now putting money in the clerk’s pocket that might normally go to the hotel. (Not that I think they are more deserved of it.)
    3. Over-tipping for better future service by the concierge is, again, totally fine. You are tipping in order to get better service. No product is “stolen” to supply you with the reward – only the concierge’s time and effort. Which is the whole point.

  4. Ryan Opaz - September 14, 2006

    Always been 20 in the states for me and unless the waiter was obviously at fault(rare) it remained 20. On the other hand this is VERY cultural, over here in Spain some parts a 10cent tip is a ton, the fancier the place the more the tip is expected. But in some places in the south a tip might be thrown back at you(considered rude) or a waiter might coming running after you to give it back, not expecting it. As I travel it´s always something I try figure out right away when I arrive in a new country.

  5. Terry Hughes - September 16, 2006

    Would I tip if the restaurant automatically charged 20% for service? No. I don’t in Italy, where that practice is standard. Unless, as you say, the service is stellar. Anyway, the dollar is weak and I’m no Scrooge MacDuck, wallowing in a pool of lucre.
    I feel it necessary to give at least 20% in the US of A, where waiters are not paid a living wage; they depend on those tips to survive. Different ballgame.

  6. Fredric Koeppel - September 18, 2006

    There are many issues to be addressed here.
    Standard tip went to 20% long ago. If you’re leaving 15%, you’re liable to find yourself ridiculed on http://www.bitterwaitress.com
    As Terry says, tipping is very different in Europe, where it’s the practice in many restaurants to add a 15 to 18% service charge to take care of the tip. If the service was outstanding, you could add 5%.
    The whole situation would be different if restaurants paid waiters actual wages. My daughter has been a waiter, in New York and Memphis, for at least 10 years, and as she has pointed out to me many times, without tips, waiters could not survive. It’s the system that has to change.
    Look at the difference, for example, in what we tip taxi drivers (I just came back from New York), which is usually about 10%. No one would dream of going higher for them.
    I do tip on wine. Not everyone at a restaurant orders a bottle of wine, so I think the waiter who brings the bottle, opens it smoothly (without mangling the capsule), knows how to pour or deal with an ice bucket should get a tip.
    What you have to be careful of is not paying a tip on local and state sales tax: that money goes to governments and should not figure into the tip, I mean on wine or meals.

  7. Toni - September 23, 2006

    Two questions:
    1. What do you do if the person checking you in at the hotel sees your $50 on the counter and tells you that unfortunately, there are still no upgrades available? I would feel silly taking that $50 back, but that’s just me.
    2. I have never thought to NOT tip off the entire check, which would obviously include the bottle of wine. Now I feel like I’ve spent a whole lot of money over there years that I needn’t have. Would you say that it’s more common to tip with the wine, or more common not to? Does anyone feel like the restaurant would stigmatize you if you tipped without including the wine?
    Would appreciate open feedback from Tom and/or any readers…thanks!

  8. tom - September 27, 2006

    1. Depends. If I know the hotel and know that they tend to upgrade I might offer more and ask them to check again. Otherwise, I’ll just take the cash back and thank them. The person at the counter knows what’s going on.
    2. Some people do tip off the wine all the time. However, If I’ve spent $100 on food and $250 on wine, I’m just not going to leave an extra $50 tip. The wine is already marked up tremendously. However, if the wine is not marked up much I’ll tip on it. I was at a local Thai restaurant the other day and bought a bottle of J Sparkling wine for $30. Amazing restaurant price. I happily tipped.

  9. Toni - September 27, 2006

    Thanks for the feedback, Tom! $30 for J IS a terrific price. I visited the J winery 2 months ago and had the Brut… picked up the sparkling Rose at the supermarket a few days later. SO good 🙂

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