Category Archives: Food – Dining

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



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.