Last week’s write-up about wine prices took an unusual, yet welcome, turn in the comment section on Snooth. While I was primarily discussing the cost of wine at retail, many who chimed in brought up the cost of wine in a restaurant. Having done my share of time in restaurants, I thought this would be a great follow-up, so away we go.
Wine pricing in restaurants is often mysterious, and sometimes insulting – so what’s a wine geek to do? Try BYOB, of course! Some restaurants allow you to bring wine at no cost, but many others charge what is known as corkage.
Corkage is sometimes a difficult game to play even though it seems to be pretty simple. The customer is granted the privilege, and it really is a privilege, to bring his or her own wine to be enjoyed at a restaurant and in return the restaurateur is paid a fee, essentially for the use of glassware, dishwashing, and lost income. Sounds simple right? Well, not always.First off, many people act like bringing their own wine to a restaurant is some inalienable right. This is the wrong foot to get off on. Restaurateurs are in the business of making money, and while that's usually done by keeping customers happy, some customers just demand too much. Instead of giving the restaurant staff a hard time, why not move on to an establishment that caters to your desires?
If you want to bring your own wine to a restaurant, follow these guidelines and make it easier for the restaurant of your choice to cater to you! Corkage is a courtesy that the restaurateur extends to allow you to enrich your dining experience with them. It should not be abused. If a restaurant has a wine list, it was created to enhance your experience with them. Don’t try and abuse corkage just to save a few dollars.
1. Always ask
Many restaurants do offer corkage to their customers, but sometimes there are limits. For example, if you want to bring a wine that is already on the restaurant’s list, this may be frowned upon, and rightly so -- since that list was created with you in mind. It may also be outright prohibited.
2. Find out the policy ahead of time
That includes knowing if there are any stipulations, like not bringing a wine on the list, having a limit on the number of bottles a group can bring in, and agreeing to the price charged. It’s the customer’s responsibility to find this information out before arriving at the restaurant, so make a call the day before if you are at all unsure.
3. Agree to the fee, or go elsewhere
The price charged should be one that you are comfortable with. I’ve seen corkage range from $2 per person to $100 a bottle. It’s a big range -- in both of those cases, the charge was commensurate with the level of service you could have expected from the respective establishments. I paid the $2, passed on the $100, and found another restaurant that charged what I was comfortable paying. And I didn’t get on the internet and rant like an entitled boor about it.
4. Don’t be afraid to negotiate in special circumstances
Note: This is true on certain rare occasions. I frequently try to negotiate a rate for my wine tastings, but not for a typical dinner. Many of the tastings I organize include many old bottles of wine, and, frequently, some bottles that are shot and end up not being consumed. I don’t want to pay for those bottles, so I always ask the restaurant if they would charge my group per person instead of per bottle. It’s usually the same fee, except now we don’t have to worry about those clunkers costing us even more money!
5. Offer your server a taste of some of the wines
Or better yet, send some back to the kitchen. This not only will get you in with the most important folks in the restaurant, should you wish to return, but may also help get some or all of the corkage charges waived. Don’t quote me on that, but I have seen it happen.
6. Tip generously
Even though you are paying corkage that money goes to the house, not your server. While you have been able to save money on the evening, your server may be coming out on the short end since they lost out on the sale of a bottle or three. Take some of the money saved and add it to the tip, it’s good karma.
What should you expect in exchange for paying corkage? Well, this obviously depends how much you are paying. I am pretty comfortable paying up to about $35 a bottle in corkage, which seems like a fair trade to me, but I do expect something for that $35. Check out our infographic to see what it takes to make me happy.