Tipping on wine ordered from a restaurant wine list causes more consternation than it should. The reason? There are no written rules. With this in mind, I checked with a few Orange County sommeliers, and here’s what they had to say.
It’s customary to tip based on the total amount of the check. The server must report his or her tips to the IRS based on total sales. If you find a wine on the list that you like without assistance, and you receive the proper wine service and stem ware, and the wait staff returns to re-pour wine as necessary, the tip should be the same as the tip on food: 15 to 18 percent. If the wait staff or sommelier assists you in choosing your wine, tailors your wine to your expectations, returns to ensure you are pleased, and offers exceptional wine service, then the tip should be the same as the tip on extraordinary food service: 20 percent. This seems reasonable. But what if you order a special bottle of wine costing, say, $300? Would you leave a $45 to $60 tip? Most would say “yes,” if you receive good service, because it would be customary to tip $45 to $60 on $300 worth of food.
In summary, there are no hard-and-fast rules. My advice is to tip an amount commensurate with the service you receive and your total experience. This is especially true if you plan to return to the restaurant and want to be treated as a good customer.