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Wine,Wine Country,Wine Etiquette,Winery

Tipping Point for a Tipping Point

Here’s what’s going on, and this was requested of me from a friend who is working very hard in a tasting room…

For those of you who travel to wine country, and enjoy the wine education that comes from the people who pour wine for you in tasting rooms, a secret that the wine industry holds is that these people – as educated about wine as they are – are not making more than $12 to $14 an hour.

In California, that’s not much more than the $8.00 minimum wage. They have to dress really well, be really well groomed, keep up on all things wine… many of them taking wine enrichment classes, and yet they do not make very much money.

Imagine trying to live on that… Also, most of them are hired part time, so their employers don’t have to pay them any benefits.

Occasionally, a visitor will think, “This person was so special, and provided such great service, perhaps I should show my appreciation” and offer a gratuity to the person. I remember the very few times, in my combined five years of being a wine educator, that I received gratuities. My day was made… it really was.

All of the people in the service industry…  like cab drivers, waiters/waitresses, doorman, room service, concierge, etc. all provide great service, and we unthinkingly acknowledge the benefit that they bring to our lives with some form of gratuity.

I can’t help but wonder, what will be the tipping point for this tipping point?

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8 Responses to “Tipping Point for a Tipping Point”

  1. Great point. It’s another example of how poorly paid so many people in the wine industry are. Don’t forget the field workers!!

  2. Jo says:

    I honestly don’t think anyone, except the people who work in tasting rooms, knows how poorly people in this business are paid… starting in the vineyards, some vineyard owners for their crops (if they’re not in a primo location), etc.

    It is what it is, and now it’s out there.

    Let’s see where this point goes.

  3. Mark says:

    Most of the people I know who work in tasting rooms get commission on wines sold, above and beyond their hourly wage. I thought this was their incentive to offer good service and education.

  4. Jo says:

    Mark,

    I believe that commissions happen in the larger wineries. I know that many of the smaller wineries – which make up about 80 percent of this business – don’t offer commissions.

    Then there’s the “Please join my wine club,” which greatly benefits the winery; but again, the tasting room person might get $5 or $10 for that. What does the winery get? Guaranteed sales for the life of the membership, a monthly profit that’s guaranteed from month to month, and no commission is ever attributed back to the original sales person. It’s just not a commissioned sale from that point forward.

    Oh, to have had a commission when I was working the tasting rooms, because I always sold a lot of wine by the end of the day, but the wine club sales for me went to hell in a hand basket. I just didn’t care. It didn’t benefit me, and took me away from my groove – education.

    When I worked in tasting rooms at Belvedere, Mondavi, and Kendall-Jackson, I was educating. For me, it was enough to get them to enjoy the wine and want them to perhaps enjoy it enough to buy it.

  5. Diane says:

    Thanks for putting this “out there”! I didn’t really ever think about tipping the tasting room “host or hostess” until recently…and now I feel bad for all the tasting rooms that I visited and didn’t tip!! I never really thought about it in that way. But…it is somewhat of a “food industry” catagory, and you would of course tip your waiter or waitress if in a restaurant. These folks take a very big interest in their jobs, and to especially educate “us”. I know I felt much better about a purchase of a particular wine due to the help of the tasting room host. So from now on….I will tip!
    And hope you will too!

  6. Natalie says:

    Thank you for posting this. I actually work at a winery, where my former manager told us never to accept tips. I give hour long tours, provide much information about our wines and wines in general, open the tasting room, clean the tasting room, and close up for the day off $12/hour, which makes almost a total of a $70 day. It really does make my day when someone on a tour tips me…even if it’s $5. It shows that they had a good time and appreciated my hard work.

  7. Jo says:

    Natalie,

    Good for you for speaking up.

    I also worked at a wine company that told us we couldn’t accept tips. And, at first I didn’t… being a good girl. Then, I found out everyone else was, because $12 an hour is just not enough to pay the rent in California… So, I became part of the ranks… because, come on…

    Wine companies can’t afford to pay tasting room people much more than they are, but the level of competency of tasting room people is huge. Wine companies that can’t afford to pay an educator need to lighten up on what they dictate to their employees.

    If someone is totally impressed, they have a right to take care of their wine educator, and tip their person for great service… Period.

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