I am often asked by my guests if they should tip the winery host when they do a wine tasting. The answer is no longer a simple “no” like it was when I first started in this industry back in the 90’s.
My first tasting room job was at Franciscan Winery in 1998. My hourly wage was about $10 per hour. I made no commission on sales but I did receive bonuses on wine club sign ups. Tasting fees were $5 for the regular tasting and $10 for the reserve. The Mt. Veeder Reserve was about $50 per bottle and Quintessa, which was a part of the Franciscan Family at that time, was about $95 per bottle. The official policy at that time was NO TIPS ACCEPTED. We were told to discourage and refuse tips unless it became more awkward to refuse it than it was to just take it.
My next job was at Sutter Home doing hospitality (dinners and special events and inn keeping). I made about $14 per hour. At Sutter Home not only were we not supposed to accept tips but if one was left anyways we were to turn it over to our manager and they in turn would donate it to charity.
In 2008 I started working at Hartwell Vineyards. Our tasting fee was $25 per person ($45 for a tour). This was quite high at the time. I made $18 per hour plus commission. We officially did not solicit tips but when we received one, unexpectedly, it made our day. My co-worker (there were only 2 of us there), Jona, and I would pool our tips together and go to dinner. We only went to dinner once because tips were far and few between.
One day Jona and I visited Quintessa, which was now no longer a part of Franciscan. The bottle was now about $150 per bottle and tastings were about $75 per person. The guy doing our tour said he made a lot of money in tips. Jona and I looked at each other. Tips? It was strange to us that tips were even mentionable. The guy told us they were allowed to have tips. We also learned that it had become customary to tip at sparkling wine houses because they do table service.
Year by year the standard and expectation of tipping changes. It’s been 6 years since I worked in a tasting room so I asked my friends and colleagues who do tours and tastings for tasting rooms their expectations on tips. I received a lot of feedback. Those who are newer in the industry said they rely on tips to supplement their income. Those who were old school like me said it was not expected or customary. People who are consumers also gave me feedback. They said if they are expected to tip at a restaurant or bar why not at a tasting room? Others said that buying wine and paying the tasting fee should be enough. Then there was the question of how much to tip. Is 20% the standard? And 20% on what? The purchase or the tasting fee? Should wineries include tip lines? If so how would they split the tips up like they do in the restaurant industry? I spent a lot of time talking to a lot of people and these are the conclusions I came to regarding tipping at tastings:
* If you do a tasting and receive good service but do not buy wine, you should leave a tip.
* If you receive exceptional service from your winery host and want to make their day, leave a tip.
* Tips are not expected but hugely appreciated.
* There is no standard of how much the tip should be so it’s completely up to you and what you can or cannot afford.
* You should feel no pressure or feel obligated to leave a tip since there is not yet an industry standard.
Look at it this way, tipping in wine country is what the whole concept of tipping is supposed to be, a way of saying “Hey, that was a great experience and I appreciate you.” It’s not like tipping servers who get paid a lower hourly wage because tips are considered the main portion of their salary. It’s kind of like when you go to a foreign country and tipping is not customary but the person serving you knows you are American and so they hope you might tip them. Then when you do you put a huge smile on their face and they tell all their friends. Well tipping in wine country is like that. So go ahead, make their day and leave a tip!