Category Archives: Corkage Fees

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…


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.


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]

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.