A Corkage Fee For BYO Diners

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - October 13, 2006
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So what is corkage?

No, it’s not when the wine smells funny or is tainted with a chemical known as TCA.

It’s when guests bring their own wine into a restaurant that already has a wine program and the restaurant charges you a fee for it. That fee is what we call “corkage.” I have had many discussions with restaurateurs and restaurant goers about this subject and here is my take on it all.

First of all, why take your own wine into a restaurant where you know they already have wine available? One reasonable explanation is that you have a very special bottle of wine that the restaurant does not have and you want to share it with your meal. Special here means that it’s old, has some emotional/sentimental significance, or is extremely rare.

Another reason would be that you have already previewed the wine list and not found anything to your liking that you can neither afford nor would care to drink. This requires some time and research that most people do not often spend before a meal, unless they are truly serious about what they drink and eat, i.e. bon vivant, connoisseur, fanatic.

I know that there are also people who like to bring their own wine with them to drink with dinner because they don’t believe in paying the higher mark up of wines that are on a wine list.

But I would like to think that there are not that many people out there that are that cheap and don’t understand that they are not truly supporting the restaurant by just having dinner in the establishment unless they are eating there twice a week or more. Most of the people I know who bring their own wines into restaurants fall into the first two categories. Quite often, these people are bringing in bottles of wines that cost or are worth five to 10 times the price of the dinner itself.

Now from the restaurant’s point of view, it is obvious that they are losing out on the opportunity for that same guest to purchase something from their own wine list. They lose out on revenue, are paying more in inventory costs and end up paying more on labor time because the servers still have to serve the wines. Serving the wine is not such a hard task, but for those of you who have never worked in a restaurant, a server has to get the glasses, polish them, set them, get a bucket (if the wine is white or sparkling) with ice, get some extra napkins or serviettes and pay special attention to the table if the wine runs low in the glass. This all takes special care and time and causes a little stress, especially if the restaurant is extremely busy.

Restaurants have a few options. Some restaurants forbid bringing in your own wine. Others allow it but with a corkage fee of anywhere between $10 to $100 per bottle. Some even charge per glass. As you can see, at the higher end it becomes cost prohibitive. Some waive one fee for every bottle of wine that is purchased off the wine list. In some extreme cases, because of special relationships or arrangements, the restaurant may waive it entirely. Every restaurant has its own policy for corkage.

As I see it, a fee is quite reasonable for all the effort that restaurateurs put into the business and into their wine programs. Some people see it as a glass rental fee. This is especially reasonable if the restaurant has exceptional glassware such as Riedel, etc. It also makes sense to me since it is a business and business doesn’t run without revenue. The restaurant should be able to charge for services rendered even if you didn’t buy the wine from them.

In the end, having a great relationship between restaurateurs and their guests is the most important thing because that is what drives business and revenue.

But, please, if you take wine into a restaurant, don’t be surprised when it comes time to pay the bill if you see a corkage fee on it. And if I were you, I would tip the servers accordingly as if you had purchased the bottle from their wine list. Then maybe, they will let you do it again.

Two wines for which I would-n’t mind paying a reasonable corkage fee:

* 1999 Leroy Bourgogne Rouge ($32) - drinking beautifully now, spiced cherries, and oh, so smooth!

* 2003 Ornellaia ($140) - reminds me of the 2003 Chateau Margaux, at less than half the price.

Stunningly good!

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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