It’s 2016 — everyone knows what DIY and IMO stand for. What’s more American than self-reliance and opinion-spewing? A BYO restaurant offers an opportunity for the former — it supplies the food, and you bring your wine. And for anyone lucky enough to live near such an earthly paradise but not clear on the finer points of BYO’ing, allow me to weigh in with these seven suggestions. Please don’t stop buying wine in restaurants, but when you choose to BYO, do it like you mean it.
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.
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.
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…
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”?
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.