Wine tasting for the first time, or even in a new area, can be a daunting experience. There are countless unwritten rules throughout the hospitality industry whether service staff may expect a tip for their service.
Do you tip at wine tastings similar to at a bar?
Tipping the wine steward is not required, but if you experience excellent service, you are encouraged to show your appreciation with a tip. Many modern tasting rooms operate similar to wine bars, which generally accept and appreciate tips.
Here are a few reasons why you should consider tipping at a wine tasting and how you can get the most out of the experience.
Reasons to Tip While Wine Tasting
Most wineries offer wine tastings to encourage visitors to buy bottles of their wines. Wineries can be small, local family businesses, or large corporations that mass distribute their wines. Even small wineries hire support staff to help run their tasting rooms. The people that pour wine for tastings, called wine stewards or even sommeliers, that are employees of the winery are typically paid by the hour.
These wine stewards provide a service to visitors to the wineries. While they pour wine for tastings, they may offer up knowledge about the wine. They may share facts about the flavor notes and aromas you may expect to taste in the wine, or even history of the vintage, where the grapes are grown, or even how the wine got its name. This knowledge helps improve your overall experience while wine tasting.
Some wine stewards may be more knowledgeable than others, provide better customer experience, or overall help you to have a more enjoyable time during your tasting than other wine stewards. If you genuinely enjoyed your experience, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to tip your wine steward to show your appreciation.
The cost of wine tastings varies fairly widely, depending on the size and prestige of the winery to the expense of the wine. Some tastings may only cost $5-10, while others could cost $50 or more. These tasting fees are even sometimes waived if you buy a certain number of bottles from the venue.
Even if your tasting fee is waived if you purchase bottles, still consider tipping your pourer or wine steward. Depending on the policy of the tasting room, the pourer may not receive any commission or bonus for patrons that purchase wine. If you liked a wine enough to buy a bottle, the pourer likely provided good enough customer service to help you find the wine you enjoyed.
Some people may even use tipping to help ensure better customer service. For example, dropping a couple bills in the tip jar towards the end of your first flight or glass might inspire a pourer to share a couple extra tastes, or break out a special bottle to try. However, don’t expect to automatically get kickbacks, discounts, or bonuses for showing off that you gave your pourer a tip.
For each wine tasting, despite the cost, if you believe your pourer did a wonderful job, a tip of $5-10 would be reasonable. Even for less expensive tastings, consider dropping a couple of singles in the tip jar. For full service, seated tastings, where a meal might be served in addition to the tasting, consider tipping similar to tipping at a restaurant, where 10-20% would be proper etiquette depending on the quality of the service.
Wine stewards that have less experience or work at smaller, less known wineries may have hourly wages that are similar to bartenders and waiters, around $8-15 per hour. Wine stewards and sommeliers might make considerably more due to the experience, or working at a larger winery. Sommeliers sometimes even have salaries instead of being paid by the hour and could receive bonuses, commissions, or profit-sharing.
How to Get the Most of Your Tasting Experience
Beyond knowing whether to tip or not, there are a few tips for wine tastings to help make sure you and others around you have an enjoyable experience.
Many of the wine stewards or pourers in tasting rooms have a basic knowledge of the wines they are serving. Unless you are paying a premium for an up scale, seated tasting in a swanky winery, the pourers are likely more similar to bartenders than sommeliers. They may have been hired more for their customer service than their wine knowledge.
If you are a wine connoisseur, you may know more facts and tidbits about certain aspects of various wines. However, try to avoid over correcting a pourer or showing off your knowledge. This can diminish the experience for others in your party or make your wine steward feel uncomfortable. Try to have an open mind about what the pourer tells you, chances are there may be unique circumstances around how that specific winery may have created their wine.
Be open to suggestions the pourers make, as well. They generally have a good knowledge about how customers receive the wines they are serving. The wine stewards may ask questions about what types of wines you know you like, ask what aspects you like about them, and make recommendations. These recommendations might sound outside of your usual range, but you may enjoy them. However, feel free to spit out your wine (tastefully) or pour it out if you don’t like it.
Feel free to also take responsibility for your own experience by asking questions about the wine or the winery. Pourers may be able to tell if you are interested in narration while they are serving your wine, but they may not be able to read your mind. If you are interested in the profile of the wine versus where the grapes are grown, let them know! Don’t assume that the pourer provided poor service if you didn’t provide feedback along the way.
Showing appreciation and consideration for others in the tasting room, including the wine steward, will help improve your own overall experience as well as those around you. Tipping is just one way to exhibit that appreciation.