BYOB Guidelines

How to be a respectful BYOB patron


BYOB, bring your own bottle. You know what it means, but do you play by the rules? They are unwritten, but knowing and playing by them can get you a few bonus points at your favorite dining establishments.

Just keep in mind that BYOB is a privilege, not a right. Like all privileges, they are not created equally. Respect the BYOB and what might you get in return?

-Reduced or ”forgotten” corkage fees.

-Magically appearing better glassware.

-Discounts on or exclusive access to some hidden gems in the wine cellar.

They’ve all happened to me, but first I learned to respect the BYOB. Here are five tips to help you become a responsible BYOBer.

Photo courtesy superclops via Flickr/CC

Don’t Bring Crap

Remember that whole privilege thing? By bringing crap wine to a restaurant, you are basically letting the restaurant know that you don’t really think much of them, or their clientele for that matter.

Plopping down an opened jug of cheap wine might fly at some roadside BBQ joint (though then again, maybe not), but if you are dining in a decent restaurant, make an effort to ensure that the wine you bring is in line with the restaurant’s price level.

That doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money, but remember you are SAVING money by bringing your own wine. So, splurge a bit and at least get something that doesn’t advertise you as a cheapskate.

Photo courtesy Lindztrom via Flickr/CC

Offer Your Server a Taste

Not all servers are interested in wine, but I have found that most are. By offering them a taste of your wine, perhaps with a few points about why you brought it, why it pairs with the food and why it’s drinking well, you can establish a rapport with your server, and perhaps the manager or owner.

That rapport generally pays off with rich dividends in the form of reduced corkage rates or, in some cases, the outright elimination of them. By proving that you are an affable oenophile, anxious to share your great experience with the world instead of a simple cheap bastard, you can create the impression that you are actually bringing something to the restaurant with each visit. That might be staff education or it might be ambiance or it might be other well-heeled friends. The point is, the restaurant will begin to see you as an asset, not a liability.

Photo courtesy alee_04 via Flickr/CC

Don’t Be a Weekend Abuser

Your favorite restaurant is doing you a favor by allowing you to BYOB, so why don’t you repay them once in awhile. Restaurants are open on slow nights because they need the money to pay the bills and the staff. Why not plan a nice BYOB dinner out with friends during the slower nights of the week?

Look at it this way, you’ll have a more relaxing evening without the rush of a full restaurant. Your server will be more attentive to you, and you can reciprocate. Your generosity will stand out and be remembered by the staff, and they are more likely to “forget the corkage,” or maybe a few desserts, that should have been added to the bill.

My favorite night for BYOB is Sunday, when many restaurants are slow and the staff tends to be tired after the busy weekend nights. Coming with an easygoing group who won’t mind slowed service and will be generous regardless seems to ensure that we are always greeted warmly.

Photo courtesy flyzipper via Flickr/CC

Be Generous, You Cheapskate

I have a few favorite spots were I BYOB frequently. Some charge my corkage irregularly, others regularly do not charge me. What’s the difference? Mainly the frequency of my visits, but also the rules that I play with.

When I BYOB, a restaurant pretty much knows they’re giving up that table for the night, and so does the service staff. I’ve come in, saved money by bringing my own wine and taken potential tips off the table that staff. The only reasonable thing to do is to tip some of that cash back into the waiters’ pockets. Everybody is a winner in that case.

Waiters love me because they’ve made the money they expected to make with less effort than if they had to turn the table. Owners love me because their wait staff is happy to work on slower nights knowing the BYOB guy is coming in. And, I am happy because I’m getting great service!

Photo courtesy Manny Hernandez via Flickr/CC

What’s Missing From the picture?

I come from a restaurant background and mostly worked in the kitchen, yet I have not even mentioned the kitchen staff. We frequently forget about the folks working in 100 degree heat cooking our food for us, and that’s a bad thing.

I regularly bring multiple bottles of wine to my BYOB dinners, and often serve the wines in flights with a pair of whites to start. Once my group is done with those wines, I suggest to the restaurant that the kitchen staff might want to taste them.

It is a small gesture but it certainly can help with subsequent courses. Maybe my plate gets an extra shaving of truffle, for example. It can also pay real dividends if you ever need to sit down with the chef to plan out a food and wine pairing menu! Okay, that might not happen too often, but it’s also just the right thing to do.

Photo courtesy Wil Wright via Flickr/CC

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: jancro
    865777 45

    I pretty much have tried all of these tricks and haven't ever gotten corkage reduced or eliminated, but I did once get the sommelier to give us some awesome dessert wine in exchange for tasting my Sassicaia.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 1:29 PM

  • Let me add one more item that I think is critical (and have been burned by on occasion): Always know what the restaurant's BYOB policies are. Some charge more for champagne than still wine. Some will not let you bring a wine that is on their list (including their reserve list, which most folks never see). I agree with all of the author's tips and unlike the prior commenter, have had excellent results BYOBing.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 1:46 PM

  • Snooth User: srklaw7
    159202 1

    I have had similar success. I think the most important thing is simply establishing a relationship with the restaurant and consistantly coming in with wines that are of different styles and ages. I have found at some point the wine staff starts to get interested in what you will bring next, and the coakage disapeers and the wines service gets more attentive.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 2:22 PM

  • Snooth User: SoPunk
    204918 0

    I second the 2 previous comments, it is bad form to bring a bottle that the restaurant has on their list, for restaurants new to me I check their website first for wines and to know what will likely match their cuisine.
    My goal isn’t primarily to save money but to drink better and more mature wines for a reasonable price so I always bring something unique or old and special (I rarely bring a white).
    I have often had corkage waived using the etiquette mentioned in the article and I find ordering whites or champagne by glass for a starter or a bottle off their list often helps get the corkage reduced or waived.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 2:49 PM

  • Snooth User: Jerry250
    273279 0

    I currently live in the Philly area and there many great small chef owned 30/40 seat restaurants that do not offer any liquor or wine, no license. They are all BYOBs and there is no corkage. So I am very spoiled but will now will moving to an area that does not have BYOBs so the info is interesting. I have traveled to the area a few times and I am not thrilled with the food options but the few restaurants I have tried do not allow BYOBs or have any corkage as an option. I guess I have to keep trying. I will miss Philly very much.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 2:51 PM

  • Snooth User: mdenney
    815155 2

    I am a sommelier in a fine dining restaurant. My share of the tip is based solely on the wine sales that I make to each table and in addition I receive a commission from the restaurant based on my wine sales. When the customer brings in his or her own wine I still have to do the service, smile, and polish all the very nice glasses at the end of the night but I make no $ on those BYOB tables.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 3:43 PM

  • We've done all the recommendations, including involving the small kitchen staff, as a matter of courtesy. It's a good thing that we didn't expect anything as we're never received anything either. Not even a dessert. Here, in Phoenix area, I believe our restaurants are either/or, not a combination of serving and BYOB.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 3:54 PM

  • These suggestions are all great for folks who are loaded but, well, what about the rest of us? I BYOB to bring something a little more interesting than what I find on the wine list of the (mid-priced) restaurants I can afford, but also to save money: I can bring an interesting $12-$15 bottle, where I wouldn't have been able to find anything drinkable on the list for less than $35. Being a grad student, this is the only way I'm going to get to have wine with my dinner (otherwise, it's a beer or water for me.) If good BYOB manners means bringing a more expensive bottle, bringing multiple bottles to share with the staff, or tipping enough for two or three tables, there's no way I can BYOB at all. I support the principle behind the suggestions, but these just aren't practical for people who have minimal capital for dining.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 3:56 PM

  • BYOB needs to be all about what is in the "B". Why that bottle that night? If there is reason enough, you will be happy with whatever the establishment's policy is. I always call in advance, I speak ONLY to the manager or better yet the owner, I explain the event and the "specialness" of what I am bringing and ask that the wine steward have a few additional selections ready to suggest when we arrive. Even fine houses that do not permit BYOB have invited me to break their rule, just this once.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 4:07 PM

  • Snooth User: Lori Bean
    1011764 9

    I agree with many of those points...don't bring crap, offer your server a taste (don't offer it to the owner or manager, they get all the perks and they usually don't really appreciate it), and treat the servers well. Anyone who lets me taste the wine automatically gets corkage waived.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 4:37 PM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 156

    Here in Oakland-SF area, almost all restaurants waive corkage if you buy a bottle off their list. I have a few places that I frequent and bring my own all the time. Sharing wine, and especially respect, with a server pays off in dividends -- a new relationship opens up, and financial ones too. Sometimes I bring a bottle to the house to enjoy after hours, especially on a weekend, which in this area is the four nights from Wed to Sun, as they will not drink when busy.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 5:03 PM

  • Snooth User: rtheise
    503717 7

    Keep wine in 3 locations, Florida ,Georgia and California and set my dining preferences on the restaurants willingness to offer a corkage at a reasonable price. I have paid anywhere from nothing ( Bones and Chops in Atlanta, we are customers of many years) to 50 dollars ( Breakers in Palm Beach and Boulard in Sante Barbara) and would add some ideas to your list. The chef or sommelier is usually a better place to put your wine offering than your waiter but only if the bottle is something worthwhile. If you intend to be a return customer make sure your tip to the waiter reflects some value for the wine beyond the corkage fee. This should be a long term strategy for using your wine cellar investment properly and saving a lot of money when dining out so it's worth your while to be generous!

    Jan 04, 2012 at 7:23 PM

  • I have followed these comments with interest. I love the idea, where one can afford it, of hybridizing the byob and ordering starter drinks off the restaurant's menu, and opening your bottle for the mains. Also gives wine time to breathe!

    I bristle a little at the suggestion of sharing so something good comes back in return (i.e. reduced corkage fees). I am sure there was much more to this suggestion, but I think offering a taste is just, well, another way to share an experience and is a small act of generosity.

    Totally agree about adding to the tip --if you can afford it --when I BYOB to compensate for that loss of waiter's pay.

    Jan 04, 2012 at 7:54 PM

  • A great article that I hope reduces the abuse many of the service staff receive by customers in restaurants of all types.

    Jan 05, 2012 at 1:58 AM

  • Snooth User: binnotes
    1008903 4

    Great suggestions - appreciate the viewpoint 'from the kitchen staff."

    Jan 05, 2012 at 9:55 AM

  • Snooth User: ecowper
    152156 191

    The other thing that I make a point of is to cultivate the bartender, manager and waiter/waitress over time at restaurants I enjoy going to. I make sure when I am having business dinners to also take the group to my preferred restaurants. It gives them a big table (6-10, typically), that will drink a lot and tip well. This means that at my two favorite restaurants in Seattle I can always get a table, mostly always have my corkage fee waived and often get a round of drinks comp'ed as well.

    Jan 05, 2012 at 5:08 PM

  • I do agree with the measures... However you should not even think [nor plan] to get a lower corkage.
    You already spent much less...

    BYOB is somewhat a grey zone in the business and I think you should never do it, to save money, but only, if you have an interesting wine, which the restaurant doesn't have.

    Jan 05, 2012 at 8:49 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Wow, these comments are awesome! I love the dialog we've started here. BYOB for me is all about great wine, and I love to share it. I want everyone to be happy in the end though, so I try to spread the love.

    To Erika, these are suggestion for the rest of us too. Inexpensive wine does not necessarily imply that it's crap. Sharing a taste with servers or the kitchen staff really shouldn't be too much to ask knowing that you've already saved some money by BYOBing in the first place. Start slow with a taste for your server and then when you are a post grad student you can raise the bar as you see fit!

    Jan 06, 2012 at 11:15 AM

  • Snooth User: duncan 906
    Hand of Snooth
    425274 2,559

    BYOB restaurants must be an American phenomenon because they are rare or non-existent on this side of the pond.A couple of years ago my sister took me to a restaurant in the Great Glen which specialised in Scottish food.The food was absolutely beautiful;half the main courses were venison dishes,but he had only been open a couple of months and his alchol license had yet to come through so he was allowing customers to BYOB but he was not charging corkage.We took a bottle of claret with us.I hope he got his alchol license and that he now has a quality wine list to match his menu.

    Jan 09, 2012 at 2:46 PM

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