Friday, January 02, 2009

To Cork or Not to Cork

Ah, yes...time for a quick discussion on corkage fees, i.e. the fee charged by a restaurant for bringing a bottle of wine to the meal.

In these uncertain economic times, the idea of bringing your own wine to circumvent paying high restaurant prices might seem like a good plan; however, a few points of etiquette should be followed.

Corkage fees can range anywhere from $10-50 per bottle and most restaurants have a maximum bottle limit of 2-750ml bottles per table (A magnum size bottle is normally considered 2 bottles). The fee is charged to cover wine service (not gratuity), wine glass breakage, glass washing and some of the lost revenue from not selling a bottle off the restaurant's wine list. Remember that restaurants are in the business to turn a profit and beverage sales are a major component of the equation.

Note that BYOB is not always available in some states due to varying liquor laws.

Chiefwino's Corkage Tips:

1. Always call the restaurant in advance and inquire about corkage. Also, check the restaurant's website to see if the wine you would like to bring is available on the list. NEVER bring a wine that is already on the list as many restaurants will not serve it.

2. Do not bring an inexpensive bottle of wine or bottles that are very common on grocery store shelves. The idea behind corkage is to allow you to bring a special bottle, perhaps an old vintage wine you have been saving for a special occasion or something very unusual. If you do bring an old vintage, you are absolutely entitled to having the wine decanted and the use of the restaurant's finest stemware.

Note: If you are dining in a more casual establishment, the "special" rule need not necessarily apply as many casual spots have dismal wine programs with a majority of the selections not being overly food friendly (think over-oaked and fruit bomb wines). But do stay away from common brands and grocery store items so as not to appear "cheap" to the restaurant's staff. A nice non-descript Italian white or Southern French wine should do just fine.

3. Make sure to REMOVE price tags from the bottle being brought to the restaurant (see actual photo above). Nothing is worse than showing exactly what you paid for a bottle you have brought. Also, bring the wine in something other than a brown bag (think wine gift bag) for fear of being pegged as "cheap" from the get-go.

4. ALWAYS tip as if you had purchased the bottle from the restaurant as the server still had to perform wine service without a higher check total. Use your best guess as to what the wine might have cost.

5. Offer the Sommelier or Wine Steward a small sample, especially if you have brought a very special wine. This is common courtesy and will you help earn points with the service staff.

6. Lastly, if you can consume more wine after finishing your own bottle, consider purchasing a bottle from the restaurant's wine list. Some restaurants may even waive the corkage fee with the purchase of a bottle.

When in doubt, call the restaurant in advance and speak to a manager or the Sommelier to inquire on their specific corkage policy if you have questions.



Anonymous said...

Really good job laying that all out there Andrew!

Phil P.

Anonymous said...

"But do stay away from common brands and grocery store items so as not to appear "cheap" to the restaurant's staff."

Why would I care about appearing cheap to the restaurant's staff? I'm not the one waiting on tables for a living.

ChiefWino said...

Because if you roll in with your bottle of Gallo of Sonoma, not only will you get an evil eye from me, but you will likely get poor service. Someone like you should stay home and drink in the comfort of your living room.

If you want poor service from the restaurant staff, then go ahead.

But don't say I didnt warn you!