Tipping in the tasting room?

I just returned from a wine trip and was surprised when I was presented with a “tip” option when I was checking out of one appointment. I bought a lot of wine… I did add $20 so I hope that didn’t offend because it sure as heck wasn’t 20%

I went to 2 other tasting rooms and had 2 other appointments and no tipping line on payments…


I would say you nailed it. Seriously.

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I would think with a big bill that no one would tip 20%. I sure would not. $20.00 is fair for sure.

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I think social convention really is the only difference, and then the fact that the social convention being what it is, fast food workers are not paid a wage that reflects an assumption they will be getting some amount in tips.

To put it the same thing the other way around, if fast McDonalds suddenly started averaging $3 an hour in tips, they’d probably just get paid $3 per hour less in wages.

You could analogize a tasting room employee to a sales floor employee at a consumer electronics store. That employee might take time to show you a number of products they offer, show you how they work, let you try using them, answer a lot of your questions, and help you choose to make (or not to make) a purchase there.

Do you tip the Best Buy employee for doing that? No, because it’s not expected and conventional, and because it isn’t expected, the Best Buy employee isn’t paid a wage that reflects an expectation of him or her getting tips.

So you can’t find a strong thread of logic that tells you why hardly anybody tipped in tasting rooms 20 years ago, and some intermediate percentage do today, but nobody tips fast food workers or Best Buy salespeople. Or why you tip in a nice restaurant in New York but not in Paris. It’s just what it is and becomes at a given time and place.

But it’s probably a mistake to think that a shift to a tipping culture means tasting room employees will become significantly better compensated, at least overall and over time. The average tips received per hour is eventually just going to factor into what wage the winery pays them. Just like how waiters in Europe are paid much more because they receive little tip money, and waiters in the USA are paid much less and get most of their income from tips.

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But some people do leave big tips - above and beyond what I normally would. Same thing happens at restaurants, no? I don’t think it’s ‘wrong’ if you don’t leave a tip - but I know that in my place, both I and my employees work hard to give everyone an ‘individual experience’ that oftentimes lasts 45min to an hour. The people who work for me appreciate - and feel it is ‘deserved’ based on the level of service and attention to detail they offer.

Is it crazy when someone purchases a case and leaves a 20% tip on a $400 purchase? Yep - but it happens and they are happy to so - and my employees are happy to have it happen.

So what is ‘expected’? What should the policy be? You got me . . .



Question for you since I know some portion of the time you serve visitors in your tasting room. When it’s you rather than an employee of yours, do they leave a tip? Do you have any feeling about whether the customer’s tipping should or should not be different because it’s the owner or the winemaker rather than a tasting room employee in a given instance?

I’m not asking to make some kind of point, just genuinely curious how it goes and what is expected.

The wineries I worked at back when specifically told the tasting room staff to not accept cash tips. When I sold thousands of dollars of wine to customers, told them about the AVA, vineyard, clonal selection, canopy management, wine making and nuances of the wine they sometimes would present me a little cash while schlepping their wine to their car. I felt it was more awkward declining their gesture than accepting it. I never declined a little cash thank you. How do you think a 21 year old college kid paid for all their Coors Light tall boys after work? champagne.gif

I think the disappointing reality here Chris, is that they’re all pretty much paid the same, because for the most part these workers are basically considered replaceable. In California, tips don’t count against the minimum wage, so tips wouldn’t offset any actual wages. In this case (fast food) the company/franchisee has a huge incentive for not allowing tips, and that’s because a tip in reality works like a hidden tax. Fast food is so cost sensitive that even the expectation of a 10 or 15 percent increase on the receipt would drive buyers away. (which would likely be just down the street)

I think the convention seems to follow hospitality, because the expectation is that drinks at a bar, a night out at a restaurant or a vacation (tipping valet, wait staff, cleaners) are all discretionary and not a necessity, therefore individuals can be expected to pay a little more for a tip because these are often special occasions for people. This presumably now includes wine tastings, especially as fees have gone up and wineries market these as “experiences” and pourers less sales people and more hospitality. Unlike maintenance, oil changes, or whatever else are seen as more mandatory or necessary generally speaking are likely less to be “tipped”.

Nonetheless, it’s a peculiar custom. I think being generous is a virtue - but as I think about the subject, the lines seem to feel quite arbitrary, and there’s quite a few workers I can think of that would be well deserving of a tip if we think of it as merely a reward for “good service”. And I suppose this is why the rest of the world is confused on the subject when they visit the US too.


Great overall post, but I respectfully disagree about the part in bold. The vast majority of fast food workers make more than minimum wage, so they could indeed get paid less if consumers started tipping. The ones getting paid minimum wage could not have their wages reduced, as you note, though they could just be replaced by a touch screen or automation.

Anyway, our interest here is not in fast food, and presumably tasting room employees in the kinds of places we are talking about have gotten paid substantially more than minimum wage. So if they can expect tips, then the winery could easily pay less than they would have otherwise and still attract the same types and caliber of worker.

As a non-American, I find the whole tipping charade fascinating.

Firstly, business owners basically getting away with paying their employees a pittance. Employees making more from customers than they actually do from their boss. The employer can be a cheapskate to their employees, and the employees’ livelihood is dependent on the generosity of the customer?

Where and when to tip…seriously need a wiki to keep tabs on this. Tip your McDonald’s server? Hair dresser? The guy at cellar door pouring wine? Your stockbroker? The guy stacking shelves at the grocery store? The guy at the frozen banana stand? The guy who replaces the sodas in vending machines?

The annoyance of having to keep small notes on you at all times.

How much to tip? Do you tip with wine included, without etc?

Wait staff having the IRS assume a certain take in tips.

All so grey and awkward. Seriously would be easier if employers were made to pay a reasonable wage to their workers, and employers appropriately priced their goods and services. Would also give customers more transparency about total costs. Tipping a voluntary thing for above and beyond, and not as a compulsory surcharge.


I do find it a bit awkward when I am personally tipped. I nearly almost always let the customer know that it is not necessary, but do not refuse if they want to.

Hope that helps.

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I agree with basically everything you’ve said. And I don’t personally like the expansion of tipping to an ever increasing number of businesses and business types. I just also happen to overhear a lot of asshattery from people driving around the valley in their Porsches. Miscommunication and differing expectations, fine - I don’t like that either. Rich people being douchebags to people trying to eke out a living selling wine they could never afford, not fine.

Ben - you give the impression of someone who hates their life and environment.

Walk a mile in another man’s shoes . . .

We have no idea what Ben is ‘hearing’ and it might very well be quite frustrating to him and many others.

The wine industry is chock full of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ so it’s certainly understandable that that is coming out more and more these days in places like Napa.

Look, if you want to tip, go for it. If you don’t, that’s fine as well - I think the ‘expectation’ is becoming similar to a restaurant, but is truly only warranted when you actually receive ‘service’ and not just an attendant pouring wines and doing nothing else . . .


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I agree with Larry. I go out of my way to act as a good host in the tasting room. I talk about the wines, the history of the vineyards and the AVA. Customers ask me for hiking and dining recommendations. I share personal photos of interesting places nearby, I really try and make people feel good about their time with me. Most reward me and we have easy mechanisms to do that with a tip line on Square or a cash jar on the counter. A minority still do not tip. I used to think it was because of something I did or did not do, but now I realize some people just don’t tip. I move onto to the next couple. At the end of the day, I feel good about how I treated folks.

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Good advice. Because according to Steve Martin, when you do criticize them you’ll be a mile away and you’ll have their shoes.


Mr Pink!

I’ll admit this thread has made me a little red in the face, having never thought much about tipping in tasting rooms before. I have been extra generous at coffee shops, restaurants, etc throughout the pandemic. When I return to tasting rooms now I’ll be sure to tip in proportion to the quality of the service. Thanks for bringing up this topic.

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From my experience and reading this thread, I think the more likely thing is that some percentage just don’t realize that tipping in tasting rooms has (I think fairly recently) become a thing that’s expected, just like tipping a helpful sales clerk in a retail store. E.g. Steve Costigan’s post right before this one.

I would guess all or most of those same people do tip in places like restaurants and valet parking where they understand it to be expected and common.

But that’s just my take from afar, I obviously don’t see it firsthand like you do.

There’s a pretty big clue in the form of a tip line/tip button presented to them at the time of payment as well as a usually overflowing tip jar on the counter.

I really think some people, like Mr Pink, just are against the practice.