Navigating the Corkage Fee Conundrum

The Wine Corkage Fee Conundrum

The Wine Corkage Fee Conundrum

The subject of corkage fees in restaurants has been a topic of great debate, for both restaurateurs and patrons alike, for many, many years. In fact the circumstance of navigating the corkage topic has been the source of some of my most uncomfortable moments – from both sides of the negotiating table.

In truth, I rarely bring wine to a restaurant other than those establishments that do not have a liquor license and openly encourage their patrons to BYO. I steer away from bringing my wine to a restaurant for much the same reason that I don’t bring my own cheese – it would be gaudy.

Further, I have an infinite respect for those who own and operate restaurants. It’s hard work, it requires in credible commitment, and the opportunities to actually make a few dollars are often found in their alcohol sales. Also, unless you know the establishment and the waitstaff well you are creating a cloud of tension around your table, which is the last thing that I want to do when dining out.

Another factor is that my philosophy (more on this later) dictates that if I am bringing a bottle to a restaurant it will be a special, older bottle of wine and opening and serving such a wine takes a steady and experienced hand. Luckily, I am at home in the kitchen so I am well prepared to make a meal to match my treasure.

As I have revealed, some of my most uncomfortable restaurant moments have involved a bottle of brought-in wine. I’ve also confessed to rarely bringing in a bottle so my usual involvement in the wine corkage dance is most often as an unwitting, and quite annoyed, associate.

Rules for Restaurant Patrons Bringing Wine – Corkage Fees

  1. Don’t be an ass. Sounds simple but this is the most common source of friction.
  2. It’s not your “right” to bring wine into someone’s restaurant. (see rule #1)
  3. If granted the right to bring in your own wine, expect to pay for the privilege.
  4. Corkage fees are not a clever way to save money on wine. If you think that buying a $10 bottle of wine and then paying the $20 corkage fee is better than buying a $35 bottle on the list you are probably someone better suited to ordering your dinner through a clown’s face at the drive-thru. (see rule #1)
  5. Sharing a small portion of the wine with the sommelier, owner, or both is the proper thing to do and is not to be considered as your corkage fee. (see rule #1)
  6. When bringing a wine to a restaurant with a wine list make sure that it’s old, rare, and special. The wine should not be available on the wine list or even for sale at retail in your town.
  7. If possible phone in advance to discover the restaurant’s corkage policy. It’s your prerogative to decline to bring wine or to skip that restaurant altogether.
  8. If you are permitted to have your wine served at the table be sure to order something from their wine list. If you have brought in an old red then perhaps a bottle of bubbly or white appropriate as an aperitif or the first course would be a good choice.
  9. Tip. You need not tip on the entire value of the wine but you do need to tip like it was a bottle in the upper-tier of the wine list.

Rules for Restaurateurs – Corkage Fees

  1. Don’t be an ass. Sounds simple but this is the most common source of friction.
  2. You should absolutely have an established policy regarding patrons bringing in wine. Your staff should be well-acquainted with this policy. Most difficult situations arise in the absence of a well-understood policy. The policy may include many factors beyond the simple fee including setting a standard for the caliber of wine.
  3. Don’t treat your wine customers as an ATM. If your wine markup scheme is from another era get with the times. (Your customers have also heard of Google…)
  4. If you have a regular parade of customers bringing their own wine they may be telling you that your food is great and that your wine program is a mess. Listen.
  5. Don’t be shy about having a fee. You are losing revenue by forgoing the sale so it’s only right that you are compensated.
  6. It’s the prerogative of the owner/manager to make exceptions to the policy. As always tread carefully as while this is between you and a customer, someone is usually listening in.
  7. Regular customers in good standing are to be given as much “wiggle-room” as possible.

I would love to hear your take on the subject.

2 Comments

  1. People bring wine to restaurants cause the prices are often very high.

    Reply
    • I rarely visit a restaurant that does not provide corkage. Corkage has changed the way people dine out. I know longer have to cook dinner to have great wines from my cellar. I know dine out 2 or three times more now then before. Be Generous with your tipping and tasting. You will find yourself seated more frequently at a favourable table.

      Reply

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