The Tipping Point: How Do You Figure a Tip?

Below there is a raging debate going on about a new BYOB law. Restaurants and consumers are battling over rights and bottom lines. Servers seem to be stuck in the middle—their wages are directly related to the with-or-without-wine final bill. Here’s the question: when you go to a restaurant, do you tip on the full price of a bottle of wine? Do you subtract the tax before you figure a tip? Severs, what do your customers do and how would BYOB affect you?


  • Craig

    I never subtract tax when figuring out the tip, nor do I know anyone who does. Am sure it happens, however.

    I have no problem with tipping on the corkage fee, plus maybe a couple of bucks (particularly if an ice bucket is involved). I do have a problem with tipping on the full retail price of the bottle. Part of what I’m paying for when I tip on the wine is the server’s suggestions (if requested/warranted), the joint keeping the bottle in stock, the server retrieving said bottle, and the server keeping the glasses appropriately full. If I bring a bottle from home, I’ve relieved you of 75% of your duties on that list, so don’t expect an extra $12 when I bring in a bottle of Miner Oracle.

  • louis

    18% of the total bill. Period.

    (I don’t drink, so BYOB doesn’t affect me.)

  • Anna

    move the period. double it.

  • dallasboiler

    I pay ~20% on the total bill (incl tax) if the bottle of wine is under $50.

    I don’t often buy bottles over $50, but on those rare occasions I pay 20% on up to $50 of each bottle ordered.

  • Rawlins Nichol-Plated

    For God’s sakes, 20% on the entire bill or even 24% if it was exceptional. 15% if okay but lackluster. 10% if mundane and even if it’s sorry.

    At a bar, I often time 50% because I nurse a drink twice as long as most and that is a bar stool that’s supposed to generate business and bartenders respect that I am not dead weight.

    ** Now, No. I am NOT in the food and beverage business. So when Al Biernat and Amy Severson toss roses to me as the prototype good guy patron, it’s just because I am not a cheap SOB even though my income is by any description…marginal.

  • I do the easiest thing. Round up to the next dollar on the total bill and tip 20% of that. So, if you’re asking if I tip on a the full price of a bottle that’s on my tab, then yes. I don’t tip on the price of a bottle I brought in, though.

  • Gastronome

    I go 20% on the total tab, but feel that is on the generous side of things. Its really weird to go to some European countries where servers are paid a salary and possibly given good health coverage (as opposed to 1/2 of minimum wage here). For them tipping isn’t part of the custom. In some countries if the service has been exceptional a 5 Euro to the palm is gratefully accepted. Always ask a local when dining aborad as to their tipping practices.

  • DesignBoy

    I tip 20% on the full tab. More for exceptional service. On discounted meals (buy one get one free, a certain percentage off, etc.), I still tip on how much the meal would cost regular/full price. For BYOB, I tip extra since the waiter is still working as if I bought a bottle at the restaurant. In the end, you treat people the way you would want to be treated. Don’t eat out if you can’t afford to tip properly.

  • Brad

    20% of the total bill including wine and tax. In fact, I’ve never thought about this wine issue. I’m usually tipping more the more I drink, so they’ve got that going for them.

    And BYOB is going to be a travesty.

  • jacob

    also off the total including tip. 20% if the service is awful. usually 25% on a standard meal or more if I know the server or they do an outstanding job.

  • Someone here might be able to verify…
    I believe waiters/waitresses have to claim on their own taxes a percentage of the total amount of food sales they ring up? If this is true, I think it’s good that customers realize this when paying their bill and tipping their server. When I waited tables in college, I found the “older” patrons not tipping on tax.

    As far as tipping, at least a 20% tip and you always tip on the “original” amount of the bill prior to any comps/discounts. And finally, BYO…absolutely you give a tip towards bringing in your own wine. They are serving it right? Unless you want to get your own clean glasses and uncork yourself.

    If times are too tough and people are finding themselves leaving smaller tips and being cheap…they may want to stay home to eat with their “own bottle of wine” (OBOW).

  • luniz

    pre tax. I don’t order expensive wine at restaurants. If BYOB, I tip a couple bucks extra per bottle depending on level of service.

    My understanding is that servers do *not* have to pay tax on taxes?

    15% on pre tax used to be standard, now apparently it makes you cheap. I’m guessing you work in the industry..

  • sounds good to me


    On a small check like like breakfast at Barbecs I mght do 35-40%

    Around 20% otherwise. Will tip more If I linger at the table and there is a crowd. But I’m not a demanding customer. No special requests. Usually eat fairly quickly and get out of there.

    FYI, One reason older folks tip less is that 10% really was standard at one time. It seemed to go to 15% about 1980. And 20 in the 90s. When eating out with my parents who are pushing 80 I have been known to double back to the table and leave a bit extra.

  • BYOW

    As it relates to BYOW, I would probably tip between $10 and $30 per bottle for wine service (depending on the restaurant and the corkage fee).

    As it relates to non-BYOW situations, per bottle, I would tip 15% to 20% up to $100 and then maybe 5% thereafter.

    Note that 95% of servers do not understand how to serve wine, so I typically (and respectfully) ask the waiter to allow me to pour (or someone else at the table) the wine.

  • Justin

    20% percent for normal service, 25% for good. Breakfast type stuff (a la Cafe Brazil) where the check tends to hover around 10 bucks a person I usually tip around 30%. I waited tables for a few years and am pretty understanding about waitstaff and the bs they go through, I have to be really hacked off at something the waiter had control over to tip 15%. I always tip on the whole bill: tax, hooch, whatever. Always tip pre-discount. If a waiter hooks you up and gets you some freebies about a third to half of the value of the comp should be added to the tip.

    Be kind to your servers people, especially at low to mid price joints, a few extra bucks may help alleviate the tips cheap old people who still think they are living in the Depression leave. (Sorry to any cheap old people who still think we are living in the Depression reading this).

  • Matt

    I usually tip 20% on the total bill. Bad service would drop it to 10%-20%. Deliberately rude service — and it happens — gets a $1, just so it’s clear I didn’t forget.

    I’m not much of a wine drinker, but if I brought my own and was charged a corkage fee, I wouldn’t tip at all for the corkage fee or the value of the wine. I figure that if they’ve set the value of what I get for bringing it in, then that’s all they get. And unless the service is exceptional, I have the same philosophy for mandatory grat — if they’ve decided that 18% is added in automatically, then that’s what they get. If it’s not left to my discretion, then I’m not bothered by leaving less than I would otherwise.

  • Elijah

    or you could take the City Councilman Dave Neumann approach and simply not tip at all as a matter of policy*

    *per anonymous flyer circulating around Oak Cliff and apparently corroborated by local establishments.

  • Justin

    @Matt, good point about the grat. Even if I would have normally tipped more, if they grat, that’s what they get if that’s how they want to roll the dice.

    I do remember one time when I was waiting tables a large family subtracted the grat from the bill and didn’t tip. And there was nothing wrong with my service. (all servers hope you won’t notice the grat or tip extra). I wanted to go slash the tires of those cheap scumbags. If you can’t afford to tip you can’t afford to eat out. And don’t get me started on the douches that think bartenders shouldn’t be tipped for only opening a beer. It’s part of the social contract people, if we don’t tip our bartenders then the terrorists will have won!

  • Justin

    Follow up question for Nancy and the other Frontburners…

    Tipping food service workers that don’t make a server’s wage (ie the standard minimum/hourly wage as opposed to 2 dollars whatever an hour)?

    Despite my attitude on servers/bartenders (err on the side of overtipping), if you dont make a server’s wage you don’t get tips. Jockeying a cash register or steaming milk doesn’t warrant an extra tip on top of your normal wage, sorry.

  • BYOW

    A corkage fee should not be considered a tip to the server. the corkage fee covers, at a minimum, the cost of buying and washing glasses and any other extra cost to the restaurant of allowing BYOW. The corkage fee also may cover the revenue that is theoretically lost when a customer brings his own bottle (some restaurants set their corkage fee equal to the profit margin on their cheapest bottle of wine). I wouldn’t automatically assume that the servers get any portion of the corkage fee, though if the corkage fee is high it is possible that the servers get a piece of it.

  • The state of Texas is supposed to get 14%. Unlike in California or New York or Chicago that the above restaurants operate in. So in Texas, the restaurants would have to add 14% to have the same corkage fee. In the other states, the restaurants have made it quite expensive and difficult.

  • Gastronome

    Don’t assume that your waiter gets 100% of the tip you leave. These days most middle to upper end restaurants run a tip pool that all waiters, as well as bussers and dish washers participate in.

  • I’m sorry, wrong blog. Should be moved to the Dewhurst bill blog.

  • Cares~a~ lot

    Servers do have to claim their tips as income to IRS, then taxes are deducted from them. Some customers do not realize this and why tipping is a huge deal to a good server/bartender, not the $2.13 or whatever they make a hour. The restaurants keep track of the servers’ sales and it’s reported to the IRS. The IRS knows the restaurants income and how much other employee declared on tips. The server will more than likely be audited if they don’t report at least 8% of those sales.

    Tipping: 20% is the new 15%!! Just like 50’s are the new 40’s and 40’s are the new 30’s. :O

    Question…cork fees…does the server get these?

    These are all really good comments!

  • Gastronome

    Tipping is such an integral part of our culture that the IRS has a standard percentage of all sales that they ascribe to the waiter’s income; the state recognizes tips as the bulk of the waiter’s wage to justify setting their base wage at one half of minimum wage. The customer usually tips within a range, based on their opinion of the service. So why don’t they also get to pay for the food based on their opinion of it?

  • After the server reports all of the tips to the restaurant, the restaurant must match the FICA as payroll tax. So if the servers do not claim all of their tips , the restaurant owner can be fined for noncompliance for not enforcing and reporting properly to the IRS. When a restaurant gets audited, the bases of average charge tip may apply as the standard for the cash tips. I.E. average tip being 18-20 percent of the total. Having been though this many years past, I have learned a little. Not fun.

  • Gastronome

    Hey Al, my last steak was not quite cooked all the way to medium and the booth could have been a bit more comfortable, therefore I think my bill should be discounted 2 percent.

  • Gastronome

    OOps, I forgot how good the salad was – let’s just call it all even.

  • Alie Jane

    Al Biernat…you rock! In fact, you make me want to go there right now! Yum! Keep it up! You’re awesome!

  • Servers if you do tip out to your busser or bartender,keep records or you might have to prove it in court. The restaurant should have a predetermined percent of payout that the judge will honor. If you do not keep record of names the entire distribution of collection may be allocated according to their hours worked.

  • Try telling the IRS people don’t tip on wine and see what their reaction will be.

  • Gastronome

    @Alie Jane: I’ll second that.

  • Round up to the nearest dollar for Sonic, but not less than $.50.

    $2 to Bobby at Tom Thumb who helps load my groceries.

    $5 to the piano guys at Houstons or Popolo’s.

    20% at minimum on the full check (including tax), but never less than $2 (even if it’s just a soft drink) at a sit-down restaurant. And if they are amusing and nice to this lady who often dines alone, the upside potential is great.

  • Tim

    Now if you wait on a banquet serving 30 people who each brought their own bottle of wine the waiter or waitress loses bacause alot of times restaurants have a standard gratuity policy on large parties.

  • hooferjoe

    I do not know when the idea of tipping became mainstream in the restaurant industry. I do know that in Europe, most restaurants have a built in service charge added to the price of the food, which explains why Europeans tend not to tip when dining in the states.

    As a foodserver, When I get a tip I am required to not only pay taxes on them, but I also have to give percentages of what I make to my server asst., the bartenders, foodrunners, and wine steward.

    Anyone who has worked in the industry knows what it is like to depend on this income. I wish that everyone would have to wait tables for a certain amount of time so that they would understand what we all talk about

  • NC

    Zac and I generally tip 20% or more all the time no matter what (although I’ve been known to leave nasty notes to nasty waiters only b/c I waited tables for more than 10 years and think I deserve to).

    And, when I’m able to, sometime in the future, I’m going to randomly leave $50 on $40 tabs as a tip to awesome servers as payback to a guy who used to leave me $50 at lunch when I worked at 8-0 way back when. I miss waiting tables sometimes. It was so fun.

    We never byob, so it’s never an issue.

  • Justin, Not sure I quite understand your question. Do you mean if a service person is making say $10 an hour at Starbuck’s v a waiter being paid $2.50 at a restaurant?

    US v “European” method. Would you prefer US restaurants to include a service fee or would you prefer to pay it at your discretion? Hmm. Prob I see is that in other countries, restaurant service is treated as a dignified profession, not a way to make money in the summer or for a new car.

  • s

    we had 6 bottles of Stags Leap last night at Chamberlain’s and tipped on the entire check. But if it was BYOB and the exceptional experience Barbara gave us last night was still the same, maybe an extra 5-10 points would be included in the end price.

  • Holy Hangover, I’m surprised you remembered to tip.

  • Bo

    worked in the industry & have helped fund several failed ventures so I think understand this business…curious as to why you tip on tax..guess ya’ll have forgotten what tip means…maybe I should tip Uncle Sam when I pay make taxes huh? nuther question for you bloggers out many think of you think a server should be tipped [pick your fav amount but say 20% for this example] $16 for opening a $200 bottle of wine that he/she contributed nothing to but the physical demands of uncorking the bottle & pouring?…while I’m at it, how many folks honestly believe that you taste the wine to see if it is ‘acceptable’? I once ordered a fairly expensive bourdeaux in Switzerland & the sommelier opened it a checked it in the cellar & presented it to us…reckon all my fellow american wine experts would have had apoplexy @ even the thought… as someone previously posted…food service is a profession in Europe…not to say it isn’t here in many many cases but we’re starting to rub off on them [tip for service] & I think that is not a good thing…as for byob…if the gouging will stop…then I will be happy to make some calls

  • s

    NN – it was a table of 8 🙂

  • joebob

    i havent even read all these posts, but this is my opinion on bringing your own wine. i think byob is ok, but think the patron should atleast buy one bottle from the restaurant. its the same thing as people who bring their own birthday cakes. i dont agree with it to some extent… to me its the same thing as saying, oh man, “i just got this great kobe steak in, im going to take it with me tonight to dinner at al biernat’s and see if they will cook up real nice for me”. If its some crazy bottle from like 1966, drink it at home. we dont live in napa valley were that is protocol and totally acceptable. we live in dallas texas where many great restaurants have superb winelists.

  • lovestomixitup


  • sommelier

    @ JoeBob – As a restaurant worker, I sorta agree with you about the byow – But not quite.. I think that if it’s a wine the restaurant does not carry, such as a 1966 something-amazing, then why not let the guest bring it in, with corkage fee of course.. However, if restaurant has said bottle of 1966 vino, then No, guest should not be allowed to bring it in. I know some people who bought wine when their kid was born and then gave them that vintage bottle at their 21st birthday.. My parents don’t drink wine, but I wish that they did something like this for me. And if they did, and we went to dinner somewhere special, I would love to be able to drink it at dinner – If the restaurant did not have that vintage- And I would expect to pay corkage fee – For service, glassware, etc. I think people forget WHY they pay extra for the Filet Mignon at Steakhouse then at the market – Duh, it’s for the ambiance, the service, the Fact that someone else is preparing it for you!
    Back to the original thread – Tipping – As a sommelier, I do NOT expect a tip from a guest, whether I just offer a suggestion or I actually suggest, pull, open and pour the wine. I do however, expect them to tip the server that is waiting on them for said wine, as that server tips out a certain percentage (Of sales or tips depending on the restaurant) which I am included in, as well as the busser, bartender and hostess staff. My job is to help the servers, as well as the guest. My job is to find wine the guest will enjoy in the price range they are comfortable spending in. If server is busy and needs help opening wine, no matter the bottle, cheap or expensive, young or old – I’m there to help them with wine- To help educate servers, to keep wine list agreeable to guests, to order and stock wine and to keep wine room clean – There is a lot that goes into a wine program at the higher end restaurants.
    I have mixed feelings about the percentage a guest should tip on a bottle over $X amount.. This is because I have worked in a place where you tipped out on sales.. So, even if someone had $100 food tab, and $200 wine tab – But tipped $30 (20% on food, 5% on wine) and server had to tip out 3% of Total Sales – They tip$9 and only take home $21 for a $300 tab.. Wouldn’t that suck.. Not to mention they pay taxes on tips, so their $2.13 an hour paycheck more often than not, is a big fat whopping $0! Where I currently work, servers tip out on tips rather than sales, which means the server doesn’t lose more money if he gets a lower percentage tip. But not ALL restaurants are like that. Keep that in mind when you only tip 5% on wine over $X amount..