Updated for 2022! This article was written pre-pandemic, but we’ve revised our original post to keep up with the times and inflation. Enjoy!
I cannot count the number of times I have been asked “Do you tip while wine tasting in Napa Valley?”. To be honest, it is a bit complicated. To find out the best solution, I emailed 20 of my closest friends who have worked in the wine industry. I asked them to help me come up with the most accurate response to this common question. Here’s what I found.
The Napa Valley Tipping Guide
Let’s start with a disclaimer. Since I’m based out of Napa that’s where I’ve researched and focused on; however much of these tipping rules work for the majority of wine regions in the US.
Scenario 1: Walk-in Tastings not Buying Wine
This is when you walk into a tasting room without a reservation and simply taste at the bar. In Napa, these tastings will range from $25 – $50 per person. If you’re paying full price for the tasting and you don’t buy wine, a tip isn’t expected but sure is appreciated. This is especially the case if your server goes above and beyond. Amount-wise $10-$15 per couple is a nice range. If you’re getting a discounted bar tasting, the same philosophy applies. Personally, whenever I get a complimentary tasting I leave no less than $10 for myself and a guest.
Scenario 2: Walk-in Tastings when you Buy Wine or Join the Wine Club
The above scenario changes a bit when you make a big purchase. The servers sometimes make money if you buy wine and they definitely make a commission if you join the wine club. With that said, if you buy 1-2 bottles. It’s still nice to tip $5-$10 per couple. If you join the wine club, no tip is needed, unless you really loved your server!
Scenario 3: Seated or Private Tasting and/or Tour with Prior Reservation
This scenario applies to group wine tours and/or private seated tastings with a reservation. In Napa the cost will range from $75 – $250 per person. Wineries that have reservations are one of three things.
- Restricted to a limited number of guests because of their permit, and thus require reservations by the county to track the numbers.
- They have to prepare for the tasting so it’s catered to your specific needs
- They are a winery in high demand and this helps the winery from being inundated with people
If you’re paying full price I would still tip around 10%. If you’re getting a discount %20(depending on the level of experience and quality of the server). If you’re receiving it at no charge I would definitely charge 20%+.
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Scenario 4: Seated or Private Tasting and/or Tour with Prior Reservation if you purchase wine
If you’re buying 1-2 bottles that doesn’t really count as the server doesn’t get anything from this. If I were you, I would still tip as mentioned above. If you buy a case or join the club no need to tip for yourself and one guest. If there are more than two of you. I would then tip as suggested above in scenario 3. And again if you loved your server and joined the wine club, it’s likely you will see them again so leaving them with a nice tip will mean better service in the future for you.
Scenario 5: Food and Wine Experience
This scenario is almost identical to that listed in scenario 3 & 4. Whenever there is a food component its etiquette to tip at least a 10% minimum. If you’re not buying anything and you’re receiving the experience at a discount I would move that minimum up to 15%. If you’re buying a case or joining the wine club then I would even go as far to saying, tip the server if you think they were exceptional. But that is entirely up to you as it is etiquette.
Scenario 6: Group Tasting of 8+ people
Every single person I reached out to said it was etiquette to TIP on any group over 8 people! They have a lot more work to do and they’re getting paid the same. They would be very pleased with a $10 per person tip but if it is $5 per person or more that is fair game.
So as you have seen, the real question should be “how much do I tip in Napa?” rather than “Do I tip when wine tasting in Napa Valley?”. This is an overlooked expense many slip up on. Even though wine tasting is costly we’ve included some additional facts that contribute to these findings.
Fun Facts on why it is nice to tip:
How much do servers make in Napa?
On average $18-$25 per hour
How much do servers make when they sell a wine club?
On average a $20-$25 bonus per wine club they sign on
How much does a studio apartment in Napa cost?
You’re looking at around $1600 per month for a decent studio
How much is a standard restaurant meal in Napa (not fine dining)?
For a decent place at say the Oxbow $20-$30 per meal
Bar Tasting/paying full price/no wine purchases: Not expected but happy to receive if they put in extra effort
Bar Tasting with discount/no purchases: Not expected but I would personally tip $10-$20 per couple
Bar Tasting with 1-3 bottle purchase and full tasting paid for: Not expected but happy to receive if they put in extra effort
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