Management | Industry News & Trends
Enjoying a fine wine along with a delicious meal is one of life’s great pleasures. Enjoying a fine wine pulled from the cellar of your rare-vintage-collecting great uncle is another altogether.
Sometimes, special occasions call for bringing your own special wine when dining out. And when the occasion strikes, it’s wise to be familiar with corkage fees.
Restaurants that permit diners to bring their own bottle almost always charge a corkage fee.
Why would a restaurant ask you to fork over a fee for your own bottle, you ask? Here are a few reasons:
The first is probably the most obvious. Although you are supplying the wine, the restaurant is supplying the service.
Former beverage director Sean Park says, “Diners may whine and groan about the upcharge, but the reality of proper wine service is that there’s so much more to it than simply pouring a glass from a bottle.”
Your servers will open the bottle, bring it to temperature, serve in the appropriate stemware, and refill as necessary. For an exceptional bottle, you want these rituals done right so the service is worth paying for.
Recouping on beverage costs is reason number two. It may sound trivial, but in the low-margin restaurant game, every dollar counts.
On average, turn times for tables that order wine are longer than turn times for tables that don’t. For that reason, corkage fees encourage diners to only bring a bottle if it’s truly special. No diner wants to spend $35 to serve a $15 bottle, after all.
The third reason for a corkage fee is that many restaurants are trying to help mitigate investments they’ve made in their wine program. Curating an impressive wine list, keeping a sommelier on staff, and training staff on your wine selection are pillars of a reputable program, critical to attracting wine enthusiasts, and expensive.
A.J. Bruno, a sommelier with 10 years experience, explains, “[Guests] often don’t understand that sommeliers painstakingly search for wine that will pair with the food presented by the chef and that it is priced in a way to keep the lights on, rent paid, and hopefully make a small profit as well.”
Charging a corkage fee allows restaurants to give wine enthusiasts the option to bring their own bottle without undercutting the expenses they’re incurring.
Fine dining establishments are most likely to have corkage fee policies, though you may also encounter them at some casual full-service restaurants.
While there is no science to the amount a restaurant charges in corkage fees, you can expect the fee to be commensurate with the level of service. You may find fees anywhere between $10 to $100, or even more. The current fee at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s acclaimed Napa restaurant, is a hefty $150 per bottle.
Although perhaps counterintuitive, BYOB establishments tend to have smaller corkage fees or none at all. That’s because the costs and services described earlier are less likely to be present for BYOB operations.
Matt Kaplan, former General Manager at Sweet Basil in Needham, Massachusetts explained some of the perks of their BYOB policies: “We charged $5 a bottle for corkage. Guests love BYOB. It’s more fun, casual, and cheaper, and it helped speed up table turn times.”
It's not legal in every state to allow guests to bring their own beer or wine. States like Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, and Massachusetts have laws that make it illegal to bring an alcoholic beverage into a restaurant. In some cases, like Colorado, it's illegal no matter what, and restaurants could lose their liquor licenses as a result. In others, it's only illegal if the restaurant doesn't have an alcohol license. With no alcohol license, there is no alcohol allowed on the premises at all, even if guests are bringing it.
In Chicago, for example, the law is clear: “There should not be any direct or indirect fees charged for the allowance of BYOB unless the business location has a liquor license.”
Always check your state's laws before offering or asking about a corkage fee. If you're a diner, keep an eye out for restaurants offering a corkage fee; you could save them a hefty fine by warning them about the law!
What’s Your Restaurant’s Policy?
We asked Toast restaurants to share how they structure their corkage policy to meet both the needs of their guests and their business.
“We charge a $20 corking fee,” shares Paul Meckler, Operations Manager at Oakfire in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. “We want to appreciate that we might not be able to accommodate every individual's particular taste for wine, but want our guests to feel they can still enjoy our restaurant!”
What is your restaurant's corkage fee policy? Share in the comments below!
Management | Industry News & Trends