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The question

What’s the correct way to tip a sommelier?

The answer

With money! Bazinga! But seriously, borscht-belt humour aside, the standard way is simply to tack on a little extra to the regular tip you leave for the food server. At fine restaurants, tips tend to be pooled. What you leave for the main waitress or waiter gets shared with everyone on the floor, including bartenders and, hopefully, the maître d’ and sommelier. That group can be quite large. A friend of mine who manages the wine program at a top Toronto restaurant tells me that tips in high-end establishments are increasingly being shared even among kitchen staff, not just the servers in the dining room, which I think is cause for applause.

So, even though I’m not a high roller with a Lamborghini-sized credit-card limit, I tend to think of 18-per-cent as a standard tip at a fine restaurant. If service was mediocre, I might take off a couple of points, and if the sommelier was gracious, insightful and made me feel like a Hollywood star, I’d be inclined to go higher. That’s just me, and I know that tipping is a custom loaded with anxiety and sharp points of view. Sometimes the server is great and the sommelier less so, and vice versa. It’s a hard-working, high-stress business.

If you want to show your love directly to the sommelier, that’s entirely appropriate, too. The way to do it is the way you would do it with the person behind the coat check or, say, with the maître d’ who magically snags you a table for eight on a night when the restaurant is “fully booked” – with cash. If you can’t find the sommelier on your way out, leave the tip at the door in the somm’s name. Also, fold the bill in half for discretion’s sake (or in half twice if you’re trying to hide a small denomination). Or leave it unfolded and wave it in the air if you want to come across like Donald Trump.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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