Corkage refers to a restaurant’s policy of letting customers bring in a bottle of wine. A “corkage” fee is charged by the restaurant for serving the bottle and using the restaurant’s stemware. Put another way, a corkage policy allows you to BYOW – Bring Your Own Wine.
So why BYOW?
Let’s start by putting the money aside for a second. I encourage you to think of corkage as an invitation from the restaurant to bring a wine special to you into their business to make your experience extra special and personalized. With this in mind, the wine you bring should have meaning to you and not be what you grabbed at the store on the way to the restaurant. You can define special or meaningful, the restaurant won’t ask. We tend to bring bottles from our children’s birth years to anniversary dinners. Or maybe you have a bottle from a trip that takes you back to great memories. Just don’t make it all about the economics.
I encourage you not to spend your time spread sheeting your potential savings by taking advantage of a corkage policy. Sure restaurant mark-ups on wine can be significant at around two times the retail price or three times wholesale. But it is important to understand that the profit margins from beer, wine and spirts are essential to the long-term success of the great, hard working and well-run restaurants we all enjoy. If a particular restaurant is charging three times retail for a bottle, simply don’t be a regular.
A BYOW policy might surprise some, but it is a common practice and we encourage you to use it. Follow the corkage etiquette we share here and know you’re not being cheap and you’re not acting like a wine-zilla snob when you carry that bottle into a restaurant.
- Call the restaurant and make sure they have a corkage policy. You simply ask if they have a corkage policy and the amount of the fee. Fees vary widely depending where you are on the planet. The fee is often between $10-$30. More expensive and high-profile restaurants tend to charge more and sometimes much more. In all but the best restaurants in the world, I personally take a fee of $35+ to be a sign they don’t really want me bringing a bottle. Checkout www.corkagefee.com for their app that provides details on the restaurants with corkage policies in your area.
- Don’t bring a bottle that is on the restaurant’s wine list. How do you know if it’s on the list? You will either need to ask when you call or review the restaurant’s wine list online, if available.
- Bring a nice bottle. I understand the term nice is subjective, but let’s make sure the retail price of the bottle you bring is at least $25- $30. You don’t want to pay a $20 fee to drink a $12 bottle, do you?
- Skip the paper bag. It is fine to simply carry the bottle in-hand and place it on the table when you are seated. The server will usually see the bottle and acknowledge it (“I see we’ve brought a bottle, shall I open it now or would you prefer to start with something else and have the wine with your entree?”). From here, your server will run the show so just relax.
- It is nice to offer the server the opportunity to taste the wine. If it is a unique or special bottle they may well accept your invitation.
- Try to buy another bottle from the restaurant’s list or at least a glass per person. Again, we want to make sure the restaurants we love profit and stay in business. The profit margin on alcohol is important to them. Let your server know if you end the dinner with wine left and he/she will most likely provide you with a bag to take it home in, just don’t forget to keep the cork.
- Unless the service was poor, tip at least 20% to make sure you are thanking your server for opening and serving a bottle that only added the corkage fee to the bill their tip is based on.