Wine Talk

Snooth User: napagirl68

Can we talk about corkage and wine mark-up in restaurants???

Posted by napagirl68, Sep 9, 2010.

I loved GDP's article on corkage fees, guidance, and what to expect.  I did, however, feel there were some regional/establishment level variabilities though. 

I will start by saying that here in the suburbs of SF bay area (CA, USA), corkage fees can be ridiculous for what you get (cheap glasses, lack of service) AND corresponding wine lists can be so awful that if you want to eat there, you just HAVE to bring your own wine. With so much produce year round, and so many restaurants here, I think this is a different phenomenon than is seen in the East, just based on the comments I read to the article.  Out here, it seems that restaurants are a dime a dozen, and pride in the wine list is not necessarily the driving force for a restaurant.  There are places where I LOVE the food, hate the wine list (cheap swill).  But then you bring in a bottle of say, $40 wine, and they want to charge you $15-20????   I understand if an establishment has a DECENT list, but if not....

I have also seen this in the City (SF).  I often wonder if it is to take advantage of tourists- especially at the popular hotel bars.  The PREMIUM wines are often easily available grocery store wines, marked up to 200-400%.  There ARE good wine lists at many locations, but most(not all) mark it up so highly that it almost makes you feel guilty spending the money unless you are a.) on a first date or b.) trying to impress inlaws. 

Wine bars seem to fare a bit better... I have noticed better lists, and lesser mark up in general. But if you want REAL dinner?

So what to do, what to do??? 

Lately, I have noticed the corkage going UP at some of my suburban places I frequent.   A few yrs ago, when economy was at its worst here, they would have "corkage free nites".  Guess this is a good sign for the economy that those are going by the wayside. 


I find myself staying home more, cooking more, getting take out, whatever.. but drinking what I have at home, to avoid paying 30-50% of my wine's price, just for the "experience" of drinking it out of tiny, cheap glasses, at a restaurant whose food I enjoy.

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Replies

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Reply by Andrew46, Sep 9, 2010.

I agree.  Bottom line, restaurants take advantage of people on what they charge for drinks, wine probably being the area where we can notice it most easily. 

On the cork fee side, consider that the place is trying to make a bit less than they might on an average bottle they sell.  So, if they average $45 on a bottle on what they sell, the profit on that might be around $30.  Assume that wine sat around for a while, so the time value of $ eats into the profit some.  If they get $15 as a cork fee, that seems totally normal. 

What bugs me is the mark-up on the wine in the first place.  Being from a winery, I think they'd sell a lot more wine if the just doubled wholesale, rather than 2.5-4x as some places do.

Take home message?  Bring expensive wine out and then you won't feel bad paying $20 to have it opened.  Or, drink your good wine at home before you go out and then just order a glass.

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 9, 2010.

OK.. I will get tipsy first and then eat :-)  Joking.. actually have done that.. had wine at the house first, sat around and had lots of laughs, then ventured onto dinner.  But the group I am with typically wants another bottle (vs a glass) due to the price (another subject), and so I get stuck drinking some awful kendall jackson catchall that is hideous. 

Still having some upset issues about this!!

I do have to say, on the positive side, there was a GREAT upscale asian restaurant in SF that closed last year due to increasing rents... they were NOT cheap, and had a WONDERFUL sommelier.  He would suggest great wines that I was unfamiliar with, that were wonderful, and on the lower price point of the list (which was still quite pricey).  But we didn't MIND the end price of our eve,because we had GREAT food, GREAT wine, did not feel pressured to purchase a pricier bottle, and live jazz/blues entertainment...  Too bad they closed...

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 9, 2010.

And yes, Andrew, the mark up is the worst.  (Second only to an atrocious list).  If the wine list was at least decent AND somewhat reasonable, I'd have NO, NONE, WHATSOEVER, problem ordering a bottle from it to enjoy my evening...

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Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Sep 9, 2010.

This is a weird phenomonon to me.  This doesn't seem to be the case back East (and I live in a smallish, industrial city NOT known for its restaurant scene).  Any place with, say, $20+ entrees usually has a respectable wine program.  I can't even think of one place that doesn't.

Corkage is illegal in my state if you have a liquor license, and markups vary from reasonable to ridiculous.  Guess which places I frequent?

As someone who purchases and prices on a large scale, I've found that keeping my markup fairly low has certainly increased volume.  Some of our wines are marked up only 25% above wholesale (of course, these are the ultra premium, $300 bottles), but good values can be found all over the list.  Any owner using a 400% markup should be shot.

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Reply by Brad Borneaux, Sep 9, 2010.

Ordering wine at a restaurant is certainly justification enough to have at least some wine knowledge no matter who you are... Someone who simply enjoys wine as a beverage now and again, or a wine enthusiast/collector/etc.  Without proper knowledge, it can feel like a scam.

Markup - Provided you pay attention to bottles of wine on retail shelves, you can at least tell when something is priced too high in a restaurant.  Though things can go the other way.  I've come across a couple local restaurants that don't seem to maintain their wine lists too well, and you can find some very 'fair' pricing on certain bottles.  A bottle of Caymus Zin goes for ~ $45 (CAD) on retail shelves here, and I know of a local restaurant that sells it for $55.  Seems like an error on their part, as all other bottles of wine are 100% markup or higher.  It's nice when you can spot those.

Corkage - This irks me overall, as most restaurants either over-charge, or do not allow outside alcohol at all.  One of my favourite restaurants charges $20 corkage on the first bottle, and all others afterwards are free.  Then again, that is not for a large dinner party.  The restaurants around here that do not allow you do bring in your own wine are those typically who think highly of their wine lists.  Although they may have a great list, they may not have what I'd want to drink.  At first I thought it would be in their interest to spend all of a few minutes opening a bottle and charging $15-20, though I do see how they might make more profit on one of their own bottles.

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Reply by Brad Borneaux, Sep 9, 2010.

Another thing to add, is that it is nice when ordering wine at a restaurant to find older vintages than what are available on typical retail shelves. 

I was at a dinner theatre with some friends recently and we had ordered the same wine three times. Each time they brought the wine out the vintage changed... '07 ... '06 ... '05.  Some may see this as a bad thing, but I did enjoy the un-intended 'flight' of vintages

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Reply by chadrich, Sep 9, 2010.

Both of these (mark-ups and corkage) are hot-button topics for me. 

The mark-up norm in restaurants here (Atlanta) seems to be about 3x retail, which is ridiculous; especially when you know the restaurant paid wholesale.  Unless they have really interesting bottles, or a "hidden gem" that isn't so marked-up, I almost always avoid ordering off restaurant lists.  (Secondary rant here is restaurants who tout their wine program but either don't provide a wine list on their web site, or else provide one so dated that it's useless.  If you want me to consider ordering off your list, then make it available to me in advance so I can make an informed decision.)

So that leaves corkage.  I agree with comments above that it really grinds me to pay $20 (or more) for corkage on a $20 bottle.  So I always take higher-end bottles when we go out.  It's still $20, but somehow doesn't feel as punative.  My motto, which I'd call on others to adopt (unless corkage is illegal where you are) is "Boycott Restaurants That Don't Allow Corkage".  And when possible, tell them so.  I've canceled more than one reservation made thru OpenTable or other apps when I later called the restaurant and found they wouldn't allow corkage.  While I suspect it often doesn't get there, I always tell the reservationist to please let the owner/manager know that I've just canceled my reservation due to their corkage policy.  Feels good even if it doesn't get through.

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 9, 2010.

GDD makes a very good point that the percent markup on higher end wine is lower, and so therefore sometimes a better deal.  It's also a chance to try things that you might not try at home, and just make it a special night.  We had exactly that experience at Farallon in SF, which is an excellent restaurant (oh, sure, we can be snobs because it's been around a long time, but it's still capable of great food and the raw bar is supremely fresh) that also gets a lot of tourist trade.  Food tourists who go to places they have heard of in big newspapers and magazines aren't always hip to the wine, and Farallon, which gets those and business travelers, has a less than stellar list at the lower end, but gets interesting at $75 and up.  Also, you don't have to worry about cellaring it properly, and if it isn't good, they run the risk, not you.  The staff matched it up perfectly.

NapaGirl, I share your frustration, but I think your location is part of the problem.  I am in Oakland, and I can walk to half a dozen restaurants (Oliveto, A Cote, BayWolf, Pizzaolo, Barlata, Commis) with interesting wine lists.  (Oops, left out Adesso.) I can get to half a dozen more--make that a dozen-- by driving a few miles. The prices at some of them are more or less inflated, although in a great number of them I can get things that I haven't had before, or from regions I am unfamiliar with, guided by knowledgable staff.  (At A Cote, my wife and I always seem to wind up with a few free drinks on top of it!) Of course, this is unusual, but I think the City has a lot of restaurants that do take advantage of tourists and business travelers, and the outer burbs are just generally... well, kind of aiming at the middle, if that.  I do stay in more, mostly because, with wine tastes like ours and good retailers, we are going to be disappointed and it's a lot less expensive to drink at home, but a good competitive restaurant scene where the places get that they will sell a bottle if they don't abuse their customers too much is possible. 

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Reply by Andrew46, Sep 9, 2010.
From chadrich,"My motto, which I'd call on others to adopt (unless corkage is illegal where you are) is "Boycott Restaurants That Don't Allow Corkage". " I agree.
I am pretty sure that in CA, they are required to allow you to bring wine, as long as they don't carry it.  However, they can charge whatever they want.  Some charge an increasing amount for bottles after the first.
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Reply by dmcker, Sep 9, 2010.

However, many others I've encountered waive the corkage fee if you also buy a bottle or bottles from their list. That's often what I do. Buy some sparkling from them to start the meal, then bust out my, for example, Bordeaux classified growth that, depending on the vintage, I may even have delivered earlier to the restaurant so it could rest. And I generally get to know the ownership and staff wherever I want to eat more than once, and almost always try to turn key members onto what I've brought. It very quickly grows into a more enjoyable dining experience for all involved.

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 9, 2010.

@ GDD- we agree!  It's amazing!  I'll drink to that. AND, next time you are in California, you better "pack heat" LOL!

@foxall- you are EXACTLY right about location.  That was a bit of my point.  I have been to many of the places you mention (love A Cote) because my sis is out there, and have no problem finding something I like :-)  But even in a city like SF, if you happen to be at one of the hotel bars, (like a certain one the FiDi), the mark up is atrocious!  Sometimes you have to be in those places... like for conference or something.  I recently paid (OMG) $19.00 for a GLASS of grocery store level Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.  That was the CHEAPEST thing on the list, and I don't drink beer or hard liquor.  I would have forgone the wine altogether, but I had been walking/talking all day, sat down with my group, and just needed a glass!  KWIM?

In your area of Oakland, there is a plethora of places to go.  And I can say that I agree that in most of those cases, there is not much reason to bring your own bottle, unless it is a special reason.

That said, start to pay attention to the markup.  I have seen fair, and I have seen larcenous.  There's a fair number of East bay and SF bay restaurants that may have an interesting list, but the markup is far too much.

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Reply by dmcker, Sep 10, 2010.

Let me reiterate: get to know the people who own, run and work at the restaurant. It will pay off in a number of ways. Makes sense to revisit places where the experience is a good, and getting-better, one, anyway, doesn't it?  I have *never* paid corkage in Tokyo, over a wining and dining career spanning decades, even though several of the restaurants where I've BYOB'd ostensibly charge for it.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 10, 2010.

NG: agree that the markup is more than occasionally larcenous.  In a funny way, I don't mind if I buy a glass of something that is interesting and I don't often see, like the Joel Gott SB at SeaSalt, and find out I can get a bottle for a little more than what a glass cost me.  I've just discovered something I thought was worth more than what I am paying at home.  Here's a rule of thumb:  If the wine list has KJ or Clos du Bois and you are in a FiDi hotel, you're going to get scalped. Of course, you could walk over to the wine bar in the Embarcadero next time, or go to the overpriced but high quality Press Club in the walkway that runs from Market to Mission next to the "jukebox" Marriott. I think there are a few other options, too.  But the SF markup is going to be more because the real estate is expensive.  That's why Commis is in Oakland.

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Reply by dmcker, Sep 10, 2010.

Leaving aside Financial District issues, why wouldn't you just walk out when you saw Kendall Jackson on the list in the first place?  ;-)

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 10, 2010.

KJ is a good whipping boy, although my number one wine buddy and I like to trash anyplace that carries Clos du Bois.  They have become, in my mind, everything wrong with commercial wine.  One thing I do give them credit for:  They lowered their prices and no longer pretend to be anything special.  And they stopped running radio ads featuring "The Giver." Whew.

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 10, 2010.

Great responses!

I was with a group of professionals and couldn't just walk out, cause that was where they were staying (from the East coast).  At that point in the eve, I didn't give a hoot.  I could've even drank Clos de Bois after the day I had!!!  But that is my point.. I think in that case, and a lot of the bars in that area, the mark up is horrible, and they can get away with it, especially if someone doesn't know the area.  Even the Redwood room is pretty atrocious.  BTW- read this article about Morton's in SF-  I was just giggling with agreement.  I slammed the morton's down in Anaheim (yes, a disney trip) for just about the same reasons:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/09/09/DDFU1EULHM.DTL&type=food

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Reply by Lucha Vino, Sep 11, 2010.

Here is what I am experiencing in Seattle.

10+ dollar corkage fees and only if the wine is not on the restaurant's wine list.

Most wines seem to be marked up 4x retail.  The worst I have seen is a wine available at World Market for 8.99 being sold for 40 dollars! 

I am sure I could find a bottle of wine for $10 retail that would totally out perform the wine in question.  Adding on the 10 dollar corkage fee I would pay half as much and be way more satisfied...

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 11, 2010.

Sorry to hear that, vellovino.  That sucks.  In your case, earlier suggestions of drinking and appetizers at home with friends before going out is attractive.  Then maybe a glass with dinner, then onto a wine bar?  I have personally found wine bars to be much more reasonable in their mark up, and much better lists...  

Or just stay home.  Cook your fave food.. Drink your fave wine.. That is what I am doing lately... and I used to love to go out more so. 

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Sep 11, 2010.

BYO is a hotly discussed topic here, I challenged one restauranteur who I know quite well and patronise reasonably regularly for  business lunches [3-5 times a year].  They have a sister restaurant run by a cousin with very similar cuisine who openly accept BYO and see no issues.  Their argument for no BYO was they had a great list, which they do have a very good list and they think it that they are missing out if people byo.  But as I said so you would ask a table of 6 to leave because they were non-drinkers and only consumed water with their meal.  Therefore if I bring a table of 6 and BYO 4 bottles of wine @$20 corkage you would be $80 better off. [Not to mention beers, wine bought off the list, fortified to end the evening etc etc] They could see my point and conceded that if I rang them in advance they would be happy to allow BYO - probably so I would go there and not to their cousins place - funny what a bit of competition [particularly family] does!!!!

I do agree with DMcKer  that getting to know the restaurant works in your favour.  When I organise wine dinners most chef's/proprietors actually take it as a significant compliment if you are willing to match world class wine with their food and the waiting staff who are often very passionate about their wine see it as very rewarding to serve great wines and talk about them with you.

I often will take the wines to the restaurant early and discuss the menu with the people there and on most occasions they help make the theatre of the night because you involve them in the process.

 

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Reply by drinkersdigest, Sep 11, 2010.

Wow 4 to 5x Retail? I guess these restaurants aren't owned or managed by wine lovers.

Amongst the restaurants and hoteliers I frequent the accepted formula seems to be a glass off the list is 1/2 the wholesale price and the bottle list price is 5x the cost of said per glass price.

eg $10 wholesale.= $5 per glass and $25 per bottle.

Each operator has there own pricing for corkage, though I accept the price per bottle presented should be about the cost of a glass off the list. As Stephen rightly points out, the restaurant is still earning more than tee-totallers would provide. Further to that a good sommelier will heed the wines his clients like to drink and endeavour to mirror these lines in their lists.

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