Once upon a time, my husband and I published a wine newsletter called Swirl Wine News. (We plan to resurrect it as a blog someday… more on that another time.)
This afternoon on Twitter, a lively discussion broke out among several of us about corkage policies at restaurants. It brought to mind a piece we published in our July/August 2003 issue, reproduced below. (Keep in mind that the restaurants and prices cited are from seven years ago!) I’d love your thoughts about corkage (really); please add them in the comments.
The ABCs of BYO
Many restaurants will let customers bring their own wine with them to dinner, usually charging a “corkage” fee to offset the costs of the server opening and serving your wine, the use and cleaning of the stemware, etc. However, bringing your own is definitely not as simple as grabbing the closest bottle and heading out the door. Here’s how it should be done (and what you should definitely NOT do).
1. Bring your own wine for the right reason. Good reasons to BYO are:
- You’re celebrating a special occasion for which youve saved (or bought) a bottle.
- It’s not a special occasion, but you’ve got a rare, unusual or favorite wine that’s not available at the restaurant to which you’re headed.
2. Call ahead to find out the restaurant’s corkage policies and fees. Some simply don’t allow it. Among those that do, fees vary widely. Typical charges are $5-15 per bottle, but that’s not always the case. Some places set high corkage fees to discourage the pracrtice; Aureole, in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel, charges $35 per bottle. Calling ahead is respectful, and will prevent you from being embarrassed when you arrive or shocked when you leave.
3. Share. Offer a taste of your wine to the sommelier and/or your server. They’ll appreciate the gesture, particularly if your bottle is uncommon. Your generosity will help pave the way the next time you want to BYO.
4. Be a good customer. Regular customers are the lifeblood of restaurants, as they are for any business. If a restaurant knows you dine there often and introduce others to the place, they’ll ooften waive your corkage fee.
5. Tip fairly. Many servers depend on tips for their income, and most tips are based on a dinner bill that includes wine. When you bring you r own, the server has to do just as much work as if you were buying off the restaurant’s list. Take that into consideration when deciding how much of a tip to leave.
6. Be a good sport. If you’re drinking more than a bottle, buy the second one off the restaurant’s list. Some restaurants, like Rockenwagner in Santa Monica, will waive the corkage fee if you do so.
7. Go out of your own way. If you want to drink your wine chilled or have it decanted, ask the restaurant if you can bring it in ahead of time. They can arrange for the sommelier to serve your wine at the desired temperature, or decant your bottle the requisite 30 to 60 minutes before you expect to drink it. Again, remember to tip appropriately.
1. Never bring a wine on the restaurant’s list. As the front of the award winning list at Thee Bungalow in Ocean Beach, CA admonishes: “If it’s on our list, put it back in your car.” If you’re not sure, a simple phone call ahead of time (or a check of the restaurant’s web site, if they publish their list on it) can answer the question.
2. Think twice, if not thrice, about bringing your own wine to a restaurant renowned for its wine list. It can be an affront to the restaurauteur who’s spent six figures (or more!) assembling a stellar cellar if you bring your own bottle. Unless you’ve got a darned good reason (or wine), leave yours at home and take advantage of the restaurant’s bounty.
3. Corkage isn’t a way to avoid paying ‘restaurant prices.’ Bringing your own isn’t a license to whip out something cheap or readily available. A good rule is that the wine you bring with you should cost at least as much as the corkage fee.
4. Limit your BYO wine to a bottle or two. Some restaurants simply place a limit on the number of bottles you can bring. Others don’t, but a restaurateur we know recoiled with horror while recounting tales of one customer who lugged in a grocery bag full of bottles, and another who actually brought a full case. That’s simply abusing the privilege.
5. Don’t act entitled. Corkage isn’t a right; it’s a courtesy extended by those restaurateurs who choose to do so. In some places, local regulations forbid the practice altogether and impose stiff penalties on establishments that break the rules. If your favorite bistro doesn’t allow it, go with the flow and enjoy a glass or bottle off their list.
That’s an excellent suggestion. Thank you for reading and commenting.
all good advice. i often purchase a round from the restaurant (e.g., round of sparkling wine as an apertif) as a good will gesture, if i plan to bring a bottle of my own.
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