Tipping in Wine Country can be confusing for visitors, so we’ve identified five potential tipping situations and offer recommendations for each. To tip or not tip, and how much to tip when you do, is influenced by regional customs and personal preferences. Tipping is voluntary and visitors shouldn’t feel obligated to tip when the level of service isn’t up to expectations. Most wine country businesses recognize tipping as an important source of income for their employees, so a high standard of customer service is stressed in policy and practice.

How much of our tip remains in the pocket of the person who served us? Company policies vary. Sometimes the person we tip keeps of all it, sometimes they share much of it, and sometimes when we think they are getting a share they may not get anything at all. Keep reading after our review of the five situations for additional information on common tip sharing policies.

Five Wine Country Tipping Situations

Here are the five potential tipping situations unique to enjoying wine country.

1. Drivers: Hire a driver for a full or half day and you won’t get lost or risk unsafe circumstances. Whether an SUV, limo, or luxury coach, drivers will get you there safely and on time for your tasting, tour, or dinner reservations. Tipping is customary regardless of whether the driver works for a company or is self-employed.

2. Private Tour Guides: Tour guides offer a wide range of options for tasting adventures, from pre-packaged excursions to customized experiences at wineries that best suit your preferences. Tipping is customary for good service. Guides may come with a driver so they can use travel time to introduce the next destination and participate in tastings with you. Assume the guide shares tips with the driver.

3. Tasting Room Hosts: Tasting room hosts walk you through tasting flights and provide basic information about the winery and its wines. Tipping for good service is customary, especially when the host shares a splash from premium bottles not on the tasting menu that day. Note: adding a tasting of an expensive wine that is not on the menu is also a way to sell expensive wine when it is not on the menu – many tasting hosts receive a commission on product sales.

4. Winery Tour Guides: Tour guides in wineries walk you through the facility and provide background information on the winery and its products. Some guides deposit you in the tasting room at the end of the tour so you may taste and purchase wine, others close the tour with a tasting flight of the winery’s current releases and help complete your purchase. In either scenario, tipping is customary.

5. Wine or Cooking Instructor: One way to kick your wine country visit up a notch is to attend a class that features local wines, foods, or a pairing of both. Wineries and restaurants often provide interesting wine education and cooking classes and tailor them for beginners and professionals. Tipping the instructor is customary.

How Much Should We Tip?

How much should you tip for these experiences? It’s safe to apply the same criteria you normally use when calculating the tip at a bar, restaurant, or when enjoying similar services at home. Go with your usual percentage or add/subject based on your opinion of the service provided. We don’t include product sales when basing the tip on the total amount spent. For example, let’s say we visit a winery tasting room and the tasting fee was $100. We bought $250 worth of wine at the conclusion of the tasting. Calculate the tip based on the $100 tasting fee only.

How Tips Are Distributed To Employees

As mentioned in the beginning of this article, we usually expect that our tip will go to the people who provided the excellent service we enjoyed. Sometimes that happens, sometimes not.

Since Wine Adventure Journal basecamp is in Northern California, we’ll focus on typical house policies and the state’s regulatory environment and how they affect tipping – which may vary from where you live or the wine country you visit. If you come to California’s Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Suisun Valley, or any of the other California wine producing regions, some unique variations to how tipping is handled may apply.

A quick survey of wine country service providers local to us (Napa/Sonoma/Solano Counties) revealed three of the most common house policies regarding how tips are distributed to workers. These don’t represent all the possible methods of tip distribution, just those we found most common.

1. Individual: 100% of the tip stays in the pocket of the person you hand it to.

2. Pooling: All tips are pooled and split fairly among workers who are involved in the “chain of service,” which typically means servers, busboys, bartenders, and even the host who seats you. Pooled tips may be split equally, but it’s common to give servers a larger slice of the pie since they have the most contact with customers. Under California labor law, managers and supervisors are not eligible to be included in tip pools since they are considered agents of the owners. Pooling is also a policy for hosts in some tasting rooms.

3. Server pooling: Some establishments have a tip pool that includes only servers and expeditors who bring food and beverages to the table. Since it is common for servers to assist each other as the workload shifts from moment to moment, this form of pooling rewards cooperation among the team.

Another important thing to note is that California does not allow “tip credit” toward wages. In some states, employees who routinely receive tips may be paid less than the statutory minimum wage with the expectation that tips counted at the end of a shift will be applied toward meeting the minimum hourly wage requirement. Employers in California are required to pay at least the minimum hourly wage not including tips.

Don’t Confuse Charges With Tips

Finally, you may find a “service charge” on your restaurant or private wine tasting bill when the number of people in your party is considered a large group. Service charges are not tips because they are not voluntary and the amount paid may go only to the business, not the employees. Some establishments share a portion of the service charge with their servers, some don’t. But keep in mind – services charges are not tips.

And So…

We hope you will visit wine country soon and enjoy all the great tastes and experiences to be discovered. Cheers!

Note: Regulatory oversight of labor compensation is subject to change and this article does not contain legal advice for businesses or consumers.