Dear Salty: Quick question. I’m generally a good tipper—almost always 18-20 percent automatic and can go up if good service, etc., rarely down.
But I have a problem tipping on an already overpriced item that requires almost no effort. If I go to a place and order a bottle of wine—let’s say it’s $40-50. Tipping etiquette would say I owe $8-10, but in reality the server did very little than bring it to me and open it. Many times I pour it myself.
I know this is to counterbalance those that order water, but is it really expected to tip the normal 18-20 percent on a bottle of wine (or the alcohol in general) when it’s so inflated to begin with. Always feel like a cheapskate, but $3-4 for bringing me a bottle seems reasonable…
Not trying to be a cheapskate, honest
Oh honey, honey, honey. I’m not so sure I believe you. You sound like a person who goes out to dinner a lot, so you realize that you’re not just paying just for the food or drink, right? You’re paying for the ambience, the music, the rent, the electric and water bill, the tablecloths, the labor of laundering and ironing said tablecloths, the luxury of eating dinner and not have to wash the dishes afterwards. If you’re going to start nickle-and-diming everything on the menu, where will it end?
Yes, 20 percent on a $50 bottle of wine is a lot of nickels and dimes. But are you really just paying for that bottle? Or the special curation and storage of said bottle, that’s now discussed with you if you like, brought to you from that climate-controlled wine cellar, opened for you with a bit of a flourish, and poured into likely exquisite stemware? Think of your dinner bill total as including not only your meal—which your server didn’t prepare, after all, but still gets tipped on—and accompanying beverages, but also a kind of an hourly table rate for renting and enjoying that particular real estate.
Lemme tell you about that 20-percent tip. (Yes, the tipping industry is a travesty and all servers should be paid better wages to begin with. Believe me, you don’t need to tell me—Or my sad savings account.) Many restaurants have a “tip-pooling” practice, so that all tips get shared with not only waitstaff, but bussers, dishwashers, and runners, who are all working their asses off so that you can have a nice dinner. That server may be—probably—making less than minimum wage. So round your “automatic” 18 percent up to 20 percent on your whole bill every time, unless you actually see the server spit in your food. If you can’t afford that, you can’t afford to dine out, and we’d all rather you not-trying-to-be-but-are cheap-asses just stay home, leaving that table in my section open for someone who’s a bit more generous. After all, you hardly ever need reservations in your own dining room.
But here’s a possible solution for you. Find yourself a BYOB restaurant in your area. Liquor licenses are a pain in the ass, and those restaurants need your patronage, too. That way, you can enjoy your restaurant meal with a decidedly non-marked-up bottle of wine. And you know, that server will probably open it for you regardless, so please: tip them well.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.