CA Alcoholic Beverage Control does not regulate the imposition of corkage fees


The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (California) does not regulate the imposition of corkage fees. It is not mandatory to do so although it is a common practice with licensed restaurants. Licensees who decide to impose a corkage fee may set the amount of that fee. “BYOB” is the decision of the individual licensee and, in many cases, licensees do not permit patrons to bring in personal alcoholic beverages. Nothing in the ABC Act nor our business regulations require licensees to post their corkage fee policy or the amount of their fees.

David K. Wright
CA ABC Trade Enforcement Unit

Corkage and Tipping a.k.a. Gratuitage

Wine_bagWe went to a trendy restaurant for dinner one evening in the Dog-patch district of San Francisco a few years back and I brought a couple bottles of really nice wine along, based on some menu items I noticed while having a business lunch there a few weeks prior. I didn’t think to call ahead to inquire about the  corkage fee and I more or less thought the fees should be at least reasonable and or something could be worked out, like a one-for-one or something mutually agreeable.

When the server came to the table, I mentioned we had brought a couple of choice bottles and were willing to share them with all of the staff (really), if any of them were interested and that I had carefully considered the selections based on some of their very interesting entrees. The server promptly told me the corkage fee was $35 a bottle and there was a two bottle limit. At the time, $35 a bottle was the most I had ever heard of paying for corkage. I was flabbergasted and completely caught off-guard.

I remember being pretty darn hungry and even feeling rather tired (low blood sugar?) after very long day at work but, I also found myself getting kind of perturbed and even somewhat indignant. I tried to do my best to remain calm and pleasant. I asked about the possibility of doing a one-for-one, to which I received a very solid, no-way-Jose in return.

The restaurant is (was?) a very popular place but, on this particular evening, I remember quite well, it was a little late and the place was half full (or half empty, depending on your take on things). I ended up telling the server that I was kind of taken aback and that I would keep my wine for another evening and decided very intentionally, I would keep my order to a bare minimum, which I indeed did. I had an entree, a side dish and a glass of water.

I told my dining companion, that after thinking about it a bit, I could have easily agreed to the corkage fees and then taken a portion (or all of it) of it out of the gratuity. We talked about that approach as evenhandedly as we could. We carried on in ‘friendly debate‘ fashion, as I recall, not unlike the satire versions of 60 minutes Point/Counter-point that Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin did on Saturday Night Live in the 1970’s (dating myself here a bit).

The result of our lively ‘discussion’ was that it was definitely not going to be fair to the server, although their attitude was a little less than cooperative, to stiff them on the gratuity, to make a point to the ownership.

As it turned out, our restraint in ordering any starters or cocktails, soups, salads, desserts or anything other than the core basics, was our two person attempt to let those at the top know that people that like good wines and good food, know what they like and should not feel as though they being penalized for bringing in some interesting vino to complement their dining experience. So, there and harrumph!

My recollection was that meal was excellent but, sadly lacking in the pairing of some amazing vintages that would have made an excellent meal an unforgettable culinary experience. Alas, the only real reason the meal was made so unforgettable was the iron-fisted, hard-nosed, attitude of the wait staff caring out the high dictum of their greedy overlords. Ultimately, we never went back to this establishment ever again…. Oh well!

So, the question then becomes… Who ultimately lost out in the long run? With hundreds, if not thousands of dining options in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and no shortage of great venues charging reasonable or in some case no corkage fees, did we feel burned or somehow shorted? Not so much. Maybe just ever so slightly fleeced.

It would be interesting to take a shot at trying to roughly calculate just how much revenue this establishment has lost over the years since our encounter there in terms of goodwill, recommendations we did not make to our friends, co-workers, fellow wine club members, positive ratings left on dining reviews sites and so forth and so on… I think it is fair to say, the restaurateurs ended up losing out on a lot more than we ever did and this could easily be multiplied by scores of other fellow members of the BYOB set who had the same experience there.

There is an interesting Blog posting by W. Blake Gray along with some very spirited comments following it, on the topic of Tipping on Corkage. Well worth a look, while sipping a glass of your favorite varietal!

Cheers, Mike @ NCF

Is Thomas Keller Charging the US’s Highest Corkage Fees?

persecorkagefee500RS.jpg by Erin DeJesus

Thomas Keller‘s celebrated restaurants Per Se (in New York City) andthe French Laundry (in Yountville, CA) may now be charging America’shighest corkage feesEater’s data lead Ryan Sutton reports that corkage fees at both restaurants were recently upped to $150 per bottle, representing a price hikes of $60 (at Per Se) and $75 (at the French Laundry). The $150 fee is a solid $50 more than the next two priciest on the list — Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas and the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare — which both hover around $100.

A quick look at other top restaurants’ corkage fees — from Jean Georges to Atelier Crenn to Saison — reveal fees ranging from $30-85, but at least wine snobs are still allowed to BYO to a Thomas Keller joint. As Sutton notes, “certain high-profile venues, like Le Bernardin and Daniel in New York, or Grace in Chicago, do not permit outside wines.”



Readers Respond to Per Se’s $150 BYO Fee, by Ryan Sutton


New Michigan law lets diners take their own wine to some restaurants

By Sylvia Rector / Gannett Michigan

The Novi News reached out to a variety of Novi restaurants about the new wine corkage law, but received responses only from Diamond Jim Brady’s…

Michigan diners can now legally take their own bottles of wine to restaurants that have liquor licenses, but they will likely have to pay a corkage fee to have it served to them and the restaurant must be willing to allow it.

Previously, wine purchased outside a restaurant could not be served there, but a new state law that took effect March 14 changes that.

Restaurants still have the option to prohibit outside wines, said Justin Winslow, the Michigan Restaurant Association’s vice president of governmental affairs. And they can charge whatever they wish as a corkage fee — the charge for providing glassware and serving the wine.  More…


How Do I Avoid a Corkage Fee?

By wiseGEEK

April 15th, 2014

To avoid paying a restaurant’s corkage fee, you need to first do your research. Determine ahead of time whether a restaurant even has a “bring your own bottle” (BYOB) policy. Next, contact the restaurant and ask if they have a corkage fee. It is also a good idea to pay attention to special events and meals at restaurants that may feature a “no corkage fee” policy for the evening. Keep in mind that some restaurants, in order to drum up weekday business, may have a “no corkage” policy on the less busy days of the week.

If you bring your own wine or beer to a restaurant, the restaurant may add a a corkage fee service charge to your bill. This fee ostensibly covers the cost of your using a restaurant’s glasses as well as the extra work that a waiter must perform in opening and serving your wine. In some cases, a corkage fee is insignificant, but there are some restaurants that charge an exorbitant corkage fee.

The corkage fee at a BYOB establishment covers the cost of being able to use their glasses and settings.
The corkage fee at a BYOB establishment covers the cost of being able to use their glasses and settings.

In many cases, restaurants that have a liquor license and sell beer, wine and spirits from their own bar or wine cellar often charge the highest corkage fees, while restaurants that do not sell alcoholic beverages may have very low or no corkage fees. The fee may be indicated on the restaurant’s menu. If you don’t see a fee listed, you should still ask your server before handing over your bottle or bottles if a fee will be charged in order to avoid an unpleasant surprise or confrontation at the end of your meal.

If you live near or in a large city, you will probably have an easy time locating local guides to BYOB restaurants available in print and online. If you live in a less populated area, you may still find that local guides and review sites can point you to good BYOB restaurants. It is always a good idea to call the restaurant ahead of time to confirm that it is still BYOB and to find out whether it charges a corkage fee. In many cases, you may find that the restaurant does not charge a fee: if it does, ask if there are any nights of the week that it does not charge the fee. Another option is to ask if they will waive the corkage fee if you bring your own glasses and corkscrew.


Corkage Facts & Figures – Uproot

Corkage Facts & Figures

The idea of taking your own wine to a restaurant is a growing trend. Many people choose to pay a corkage fee allowing them to bring their own chose of wine to restaurants, perfect if you’ve found a great bottle you want to share with friends.But what are the rules of corkage and how much does it usually cost? The team over at Drink Up Root have asked and answered the same questions with this infographic that looks at corkage in San Francisco, Chicago and Manhattan.They have then places the average costs across the spectrum and also included a look at some of the most expensive and cheapest countries for corkage.

by uproot.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Bring Your Own Bottle