As more and more of us learn to appreciate just how much a great meal can be enhanced by a great bottle of wine, it’s natural to want to drink the best wine with our food at the best price we can find. Unfortunately, many restaurants may not offer any of your favorite wines at a price you can swallow. A possible way around this dilemma involves what’s known in the restaurant industry as the "corkage policy." If a restaurant has such a provision, you’re essentially allowed to BYOB-to bring your own bottle of wine with you-and pay a fee for that privilege. This fee varies, depending on the establishment, but usually is between $5 and $25.
You may wonder why you have to pay a fee if it’s your own bottle. The reality is restaurants have to buy and wash glassware, and breakage is a real issue. They also have to buy a license to serve wine, as well as pay rent, insurance, labor, and carry an inventory. "We think people should feel comfortable bringing their wine to dinner," noted one restaurant owner, "but they should expect to pay for us to serve the wine."
Therefore, your motivations for bringing your own bottle should stem from the fact that you already know you don’t like any of the wines on the list at this establishment. Or, perhaps the occasion being celebrated over the meal is a very special one for which you’ve saved just the right bottle.
There are some very quick and easy steps you can take when attempting to BYOB into a restaurant that will ensure your success for doing so not just the first time, but for many happy visits after. In setting the stage for a warm welcome, it’s mandatory to:
Call first and ask permission. Showing up with your own bottle of wine, unannounced, is akin to bringing an uninvited friend along to a dinner party unannounced. Calling in advance gives you the up-front advantage because it allows you to identify yourself as a patron with enough class to even know what a corkage policy is, and it demonstrates you’re considerate enough to seek their approval. A simple: "Do you have a corkage policy, and if so, what is the fee, please?" is perfect once you’ve introduced yourself on the phone.
- Not duplicate. If you’ve never eaten at this establishment, tell them exactly what bottle of wine you’re preparing to bring along. Rule number one in almost every case is that you may not bring a wine that’s already on their list. That’s just terribly inappropriate. Appearing cheap isn’t the way to go. Likewise, bringing in a low-dollar, mediocre, or widely available and easy-to-find wine will win you no friends.
- Share the love. As soon as you’re seated and greeted, make sure your wait person notices you’ve brought your own bottle along. You have every right to expect they’ll offer to chill it for you, if appropriate, and to open and pour it for you throughout your meal. To ensure they’ll keep an eye on your wine glass levels and tend to this bottle of yours as if it had come from their own list, invite your server to bring an extra glass to the table so they may taste your selection with you. If the manager, owner, or sommelier is lurking looking interested, by all means extend a tasting invitation to them as well. You have no idea how much this simple gesture will mean to them.
- Tip well. Not only have you cut into the restaurant’s profit margin by bringing your own wine, you’ve also taken a chunk of change out of your server’s pocket since they expect to be tipped on the total bill. Assuming you paid $10 in corkage fees and a comparable bottle of wine on their list is marked $60, and assuming a 20 percent tip, you’ve taken $10 out of your server’s tip. Don’t do that. Further demonstrate your class and bump up the tip to an amount on par with what you would’ve tipped them had you ordered from the list.
These simple but not-so-common-sense tips should maximize your dining out experience and allow you to have the best of all worlds: the restaurant’s great food paired with your great wine. AA!