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A Great Idea… Corkage for Charity!

Restaurants implementing corkage fees donate big bucks to charities.


A corkage fee can put a damper on a wine and dine evening. But if a portion of that fee goes to a charity, then your favorite wine tastes even better. At least that’s the mentality of restaurant owners across the county, who’ve implemented a corkage-to-charity program.

Napa’s beloved Pearl Restaurant has had this concept in place for six years. They have a $12 corkage fee, half of which goes directly to Napa Humane, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping improve the standard of animal care in Napa County. “Corkage can be tricky and sometimes problematic when your restaurant is located in the Napa Valley, but at Pearl, we’re very grateful for the support we get from the local community, so we came up with our corkage donation program,” says Nickie Zeller, co-owner (with husband Pete Zeller) of the restaurant.

Pearl has donated roughly $20,000 to Napa Humane since the program launched. “Nickie and Pete Zeller of Pearl are such good friends to Napa Humane and the animals and their people that we serve,” says Executive Director Jane Albert.

Here are other restaurants with similar programs:

Farmstead Restaurant, St. Helena CA: Another Napa restaurant that has taken on corkage protocol, Farmstead collects a $2 fee for each guest’s bottle and donates all of the proceeds to a different community-based not-for-profit each month. Since starting the “Corkage for Community” program in March, they’ve donated approximately $1,000 per month.

“Our corkage program is a way we can promote Farmstead as a community meeting place and support our neighboring community at the same time,” says Chris Hall, one of Farmstead’s proprietors. “We want to encourage vintners, growers and wine enthusiasts to come to Farmstead to show off their wines while at the same time contributing to the community.”

Marssa, Loews Lake Las Vegas, Henderson NV: As part of Loews Hotels’ “Good Neighbor Policy,” Marssa’s $20 corkage fee goes directly to, a non-profit Web site where public school teachers describe specific educational projects for their students and donors can choose the projects they want to support. Any corkage fees as part of the hotel’s banquet services are also donated.

New Leaf Restaurant & Bar, New York NY: Opened in 2001 and with all net proceeds going to support Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project, corkage at New Leaf literally turns into new leaves in New York. “The corkage fee at the New Leaf is $25, but like all of our net proceeds, these funds support New York Restoration Project’s cleaning and greening of New York City,” says John Burbank, New Leaf’s general manager. “By raising their glasses and cleaning their plates, patrons are truly helping clean up the community and our city.”

The King’s Kitchen, Charlotte NC: With the theme of “Feast to Feed Somebody,” Charlotte’s new King’s Kitchen is the brainchild of North Carolina restaurateur Jim Noble. He donates $5 of the $20 corkage fee “to feed the poor.”

The Mint, Raleigh Every Monday, The Mint now waives their $20 corkage fee and accepts the corks as donations to give to synthetic cork manufacturer Nomacorc, which then contributes 2 cents per cork to the Frankie Lemon Foundation (they work to ensure specialized education for children ages three to six who have developmental delays, language impairments, learning disabilities or mental retardation). Those who bring in additional corks for donation are entered in a drawing for a $200 gift certificate at The Mint.


Dine at a BYOB restaurant

6 ways to dine out for less

By Kaitlyn Wells

If you frequently purchase a bottle of wine or two while dining out, then a BYOB — bring your own bottle — restaurant may be for you. Just stop by a liquor store on your way to dinner and enjoy the meal with the wine (or booze) pairing of your choice. A quick search on Yelp YELP +0.21%  can help you find BYOB restaurants in your area. But make sure you call to confirm the restaurant’s policy, and ask if there is a corkage fee.   More…



Outrageous Corkage Fees ($1400?): Your Turn…

Ramsay de Give For The Wall Street Journal

By Lettie Teague

One reader who wrote to express enjoyment on reading my recent conversation with violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, and asked if I could share the name of the restaurant that dared to charge Mr. Perlman a $1,400 corkage fee.

“What New York restaurant was dumb enough to charge Mr. Perlman that much?” Flora wrote.

I told Flora I was pledged to secrecy, but she shared her most outrageous corkage experience with me anyway.

Here’s Flora’s story:

“That story reminded me that we won’t return to a certain restaurant here in San Diego because we were charged different corkage fees for two different bottles on the same occasion. A lower fee for a not-so-expensive wine and a higher fee for a Lafite Rothschild! We knew the owner very well who opened the bottle and even gave him a glass, but we’ve never gotten over the higher charge. Our son who tells us to get over it, but we can’t. I would love to know if Mr. Perlman “got over it”?

Alas, I failed to ask Mr. Perlman that question. And I’ve certainly never heard of a corkage fee varying according to the value of the bottle.

Has anyone else had a corkage experience they’ve yet to “get over”?

Interesting comments…



A Chinese Bill of Restaurant Rights: BYOB, No Corkage Fees

Customers eat at a restaurant in Shanghai in January 2014.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

A new law that went into effect earlier this month has given frequenters of hot pot restaurants, karaoke joints and other entertainment venues something to cheer about.

Food and beverage establishments were banned earlier this month from charging customers corkage fees or requiring minimum levels of consumption as part of a broader Consumer Rights Law. The new measure also offers consumers the ability to more easily return online purchases and aims to better protect buyers’ personal information.

Not all businesses are yet complying, but meanwhile dissatisfied customers are already finding traction in the courts. Last week, a diner in Chengdu won a case against a hotpot restaurant for charging her a 30 yuan ($4.84) corkage fee for bringing her own drinks to accompany her meal. The restaurant also charged 50 yuan fee to use a private room. The court ordered the restaurant to refund both of the fees.

“Consumers need to enhance their awareness of their rights, they need to take them seriously and fight for their interests,” Cao Yi, the lawyer who defended the customer, said in an interview.

But some business owners say they’re being unfairly punished for others’ actions—after all, no one wants to use their resources to serve diners who perpetually BYOB and order little more than peanuts.

Chen Haoyang, owner of a café in the southern city of Shantou, says the new law was passed in order to crack down on “establishments that are deliberately cheating customers,” even though most restaurants, including his own, don’t behave in such a manner.

“Although consumers are now protected, now we law-abiding vendors have lost protection,” Mr. Chen said.

In a posting last week on the café’s Weibo account, Mr. Chen wrote, “Please don’t bring any outside food or beverage into our café. It’s not that we are stingy, but we have to respect each other.”

Still others are finding new ways to strike back. One restaurant in Chengdu evidently irked by BYOB customers posted a sign reading, “If you bring your own beverage, please bring your own cups.”

That sign, circulated hundreds of times on social media sites this week, prompted outraged reactions from diners.

But some took a more nonchalant attitude. “No problem,” wrote one user on Sina Weibo. “We drink straight from the bottles anyway.”

Li Jie



To BYOB, or Not to BYOB

BYOB or BYO is an initialism meant to stand for “bring your own bottle”, “bring your own beer”, “bring your own beverage”, or “bring your own booze.”

BYOB is often placed on an invitation to indicate that the host will not be providing alcohol and that guests are welcome to bring their own. Some business establishments allow patrons to bring their own bottle, sometimes subject to fees or membership conditions, or because the establishment itself does not have license to sell alcohol.   More…



Wine 101: Corkage


Wine pricing in restaurants is often mysterious, and sometimes insulting – so what’s a wine geek to do? Try BYOB, of course! Some restaurants allow you to bring wine at no cost, but many others charge what is known as corkage.

Corkage is sometimes a difficult game to play even though it seems to be pretty simple. The customer is granted the privilege, and it really is a privilege, to bring his or her own wine to be enjoyed at a restaurant and in return the restaurateur is paid a fee, essentially for the use of glassware, dishwashing, and lost income. Sounds simple right?  Well, not always.First off, many people act like bringing their own wine to a restaurant is some inalienable right. This is the wrong foot to get off on. Restaurateurs are in the business of making money, and while that’s usually done by keeping customers happy, some customers just demand too much. Instead of giving the restaurant staff a hard time, why not move on to an establishment that caters to your desires?

If you want to bring your own wine to a restaurant, follow these guidelines and make it easier for the restaurant of your choice to cater to you! Corkage is a courtesy that the restaurateur extends to allow you to enrich your dining experience with them. It should not be abused. If a restaurant has a wine list, it was created to enhance your experience with them. Don’t try and abuse corkage just to save a few dollars.

1. Always ask

Many restaurants do offer corkage to their customers, but sometimes there are limits. For example, if you want to bring a wine that is already on the restaurant’s list, this may be frowned upon, and rightly so — since that list was created with you in mind. It may also be outright prohibited.

2. Find out the policy ahead of time

That includes knowing if there are any stipulations, like not bringing a wine on the list, having a limit on the number of bottles a group can bring in, and agreeing to the price charged. It’s the customer’s responsibility to find this information out before arriving at the restaurant, so make a call the day before if you are at all unsure.

3. Agree to the fee, or go elsewhere

The price charged should be one that you are comfortable with. I’ve seen corkage range from $2 per person to $100 a bottle. It’s a big range — in both of those cases, the charge was commensurate with the level of service you could have expected from the respective establishments. I paid the $2, passed on the $100, and found another restaurant that charged what I was comfortable paying. And I didn’t get on the internet and rant like an entitled boor about it.

4. Don’t be afraid to negotiate in special circumstances

Note: This is true on certain rare occasions. I frequently try to negotiate a rate for my wine tastings, but not for a typical dinner. Many of the tastings I organize include many old bottles of wine, and, frequently, some bottles that are shot and end up not being consumed. I don’t want to pay for those bottles, so I always ask the restaurant if they would charge my group per person instead of per bottle. It’s usually the same fee, except now we don’t have to worry about those clunkers costing us even more money!

5. Offer your server a taste of some of the wines

Or better yet, send some back to the kitchen. This not only will get you in with the most important folks in the restaurant, should you wish to return, but may also help get some or all of the corkage charges waived. Don’t quote me on that, but I have seen it happen.

6. Tip generously

Even though you are paying corkage that money goes to the house, not your server. While you have been able to save money on the evening, your server may be coming out on the short end since they lost out on the sale of a bottle or three. Take some of the money saved and add it to the tip, it’s good karma.

What should you expect in exchange for paying corkage? Well, this obviously depends how much you are paying. I am pretty comfortable paying up to about $35 a bottle in corkage, which seems like a fair trade to me, but I do expect something for that $35. Check out our infographic to see what it takes to make me happy.


Wine 101: Corkage [Infographic]
Wine 101: Corkage [Infographic]

Corkage for Dummies

By Lettie Teague

RULE #1: Call the restaurant.
I’d never just show up with my bottle, unannounced. Although this sounds obvious, it’s often ignored. Rajat Parr, the sommelier at San Francisco’s Fifth Floor, has had customers arrive with as many as eight bottles. (Think of all that glassware!)

RULE #2: Inquire about the fee.
Make it known you’re not looking to get something for free. In Manhattan corkage averages $15 to $20 a bottle, more at posh places like Union Pacific ($30) and Jean Georges ($85, a bargain compared to its wine prices). In any case, corkage doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll come away cheaply; a few friends of mine brought several great Burgundies to New York’s Chanterelle and ended up spending over $400 in corkage alone. But everyone was happy; the restaurant let them drink their wines and they got to enjoy them with some pretty spectacular food.

Outside New York, corkage is more accepted, though not always cheaper. In Napa Valley, it can range from $15 a bottle (Meadowood Resort) to $50 (The French Laundry). Fees seem lowest in San Francisco and Los Angeles… on average, $10 to $12. Some restaurants even hold corkage-free days. On Sundays, La Cachette in Los Angeles allows customers to bring in as many wines as they want. While this has proven incredibly popular, La Cachette’s proprietor, Jean-François Meteigner, says it hasn’t hurt his wine sales the rest of the week. However, he admits to being baffled by the idea: “As a Frenchman, I really don’t understand why you would bring your own wine to a restaurant in the first place.”

RULE #3: Never bring a cheap wine.
Or at least not one that costs less than the least expensive bottle on the list. My favorite (sommelier-less) Indian restaurant, the Bengal Tiger in White Plains, New York, has a corkage policy that addresses this nicely: It charges $15… the same as its least expensive wine. Some restaurants request that customers only bring wines that aren’t on their lists. However, as Joseph Miglione, the sommelier at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle, has discovered, this directive can backfire. He’s had diners arrive with screw-top magnums and bottles with grocery-store tags still stuck to the sides. Yet, as Miglione was forced to admit, not one of these was on his list.

Miglione, however, is adamant about how much he loves people who bring great wines… a sentiment echoed by every sommelier I spoke to. Fred Price of Union Pacific agrees, noting, “It’s an honor.”

RULE #4: Always offer the sommelier a taste.
He or she may or may not accept (they always do when I’m with The Collector) but it’s a sign of respect and a show of camaraderie. Since you’ve shunned the sommelier’s selections in favor of your own, it’s the least you can do. Rajat Parr ruefully recalls the time when “Someone brought in a La Tâche and didn’t offer me a taste.”

RULE #5: Buy at least one bottle, preferably one for every bottle you bring.
Granted, in some places it’s impossible (my favorite Chinese restaurant does its beverage business exclusively in Budweiser), but at places that do have a list you like (or where you want to be welcomed again) you should do so. You’ll look like a sport and you might even find the corkage waived, as Cole’s Chop House in Napa does.


Ever Wonder About BYOB Etiquette?

Plan ahead. Check with the restaurant about BYOB policies and corkage fees. Corkage fees. They’re typically $2-$5 per person, or $10-$25 a bottle. Corkage fees go to the house, so remember to tip your server for bottle service.

What to bring.  Some high-end restaurants with a liquor license offer a BYOB night. If you partake, bring a special bottle and be sure it’s not already on the wine list.

Open containers. In conjunction with a meal, a resealed, unfinished portion of a bottle can be taken home. With spirits, try to use a flask. Always bring a tote or bottle carrier for beer and wine, along with an appropriate reusable cap.

Designate a driver. Never drink and drive.