Have you ever brought a bottle of wine to a restaurant with the intention of consuming it with your meal? If not, have you ever wanted to? If so, how was your experience? Did you pay a corkage fee? Were you treated any differently? I tend to over-analyze pretty much everything I do, and these are just a few of the thoughts / worries that come to my mind when I plan on bringing a special bottle to dinner in a restaurant. Assuming I’m not the only one with these thoughts (I’m not, right??) I would like to provide some simple explanations and guidelines to follow if you ever find yourself in my shoes!
First of all, what is a “corkage fee”? Basically, it is the price you pay to bring in your own wine to drink with your meal at a restaurant. Individual restaurant policies vary widely. From nothing, to $x / bottle with a bottle maximum, to not allowed! In some states, it is against the law to bring your own alcohol to a dining establishment. In California, you are allowed to as long as the restaurant will let you.
I understand the premise behind having a corkage fee. Restaurants rely on sales of alcohol to make money. Servers rely on tips from alcohol sales. Charging a corkage fee covers the “service” aspect of serving wine in a restaurant. Someone has to wash and shine those glasses! Most of the time, servers and sommeliers treat a bottle you bring in as one you would chose from the list: chill it upon your request, open, decant, pour, etc. I feel a nominal fee for this service is deserved.
Keeping this in mind, here are a few guidelines I try to follow when bringing wine to a restaurant:
– I will try to find a wine list on the website of the restaurant we will be dining at. Don’t take a bottle with you that is on their list. Most restaurants will not let you open something that they already carry.
– I call ahead to find out what the corkage policy is if it is not listed on their website. It would be embarrassing (to me at least) if I show up with a bottle and find out that it is frowned upon, or not allowed.
– I do not bring wine to save money on dining out. I make sure it is a special bottle that has some meaning to the group that is dining. If there are more than two of us (or if the two of us are taking a cab home!) , I will usually order a cocktail, wine by the glass, or an additional bottle off of the list.
– I always ask the server / sommelier if they would like to have a taste of what we brought. I know from conducting many staff trainings that most servers are really into wine and love an opportunity to taste something that is not on the list and that they may not have had a chance to try before.
– When tipping, I take into account that I brought my own wine. If the service was good, add on a few bucks to make up for the fact that you did not purchase wine from the list.
So, next time you want to dine out AND enjoy a special wine from your collection, keep these tips in mind to have a comfortable and fun experience!
Is there anything you keep in mind that I should add to my list when brining wine to a restaurant?