Michael Perlis: Corkage Revisited

Eve’s recent survey of local restaurants’ corkage policies, along with some incidents that I have witnessed, have caused me to revisit a topic I wrote about some time ago.

Why do you like to bring your own wine to restaurants? I know why I do: Over the years, I have put a lot of time and effort into accumulating wines that I really want to drink, wines that I have selected based on my own palate and preferences. Truth be told, if I couldn’t bring my own wine to restaurants, I would just eat out less often.

Contributing Editor Michael Perlis

But, BYOB [bring your own bottle] is a privilege, not a right. And it is something I have learned to appreciate even more after our visit to Boston, as BYOB is apparently not generally allowed in Massachusetts. Please remember that a restaurant, like any other business, needs to be profitable to survive. Restaurant owners have to constantly look at their costs and develop prices and policies accordingly, always having to walk a fine line to keep customers coming back.

Corkage charges can vary. Sometimes there is no charge, but a typical fee can run in a range from $5 to $25 per bottle. [The last time I checked, the French Laundry in Yountville charges a whopping $75!] Restaurant owners need to recover at least some of their costs for glassware, service, cleanup, and possibly lost profits on wine not purchased at the restaurant.

Venues that provide entertainment face an additional dilemma. Patrons often tend to “camp out”,  sometimes for several hours, so table turnover is very low. Rather than being able to serve multiple meals at one table, only one dinner service ends up happening, with a concomitant loss in revenue, while the entertainment continues through the evening, usually at no cost to the customer but at significant cost to the restaurant owner. Many places that provide entertainment don’t allow outside alcohol, so special appreciation should be shown to those that do.

Some BYOB etiquette:

Call in advance to determine the restaurant’s corkage policy.

Try to bring a bottle that is not on the wine list. In fact, some restaurants will refuse to open an outside bottle that they already carry, or they might charge an extra fee on top of their normal corkage.

Offer a taste of the wine to the restaurant owner. After all, supposedly you are bringing in a bottle that the restaurant does not carry, so the proprietor may not have had an opportunity to try the particular wine. We have offered samples to our servers also, but you should check with the owner first, as the restaurant policy might prohibit this.

And, if the restaurant has a limited wine program, it might not have stemware that you feel does your wine justice. I see nothing wrong with bringing your own glasses, and we have often done just that – wine-geeky as it seems.

Finally, take care of your server. It is not the fault of the waitstaff that you brought in your own bottle, so don’t punish them when it is time to calculate the tip – add in an appropriate amount for the wine service being provided.

Michael Perlis provides outsourced controller services to businesses that do not need a full-time controller. He balances this with his interest in wine: reading and writing about it and, of course, drinking it. He is still trying to figure out how to combine these two pursuits. Feel free to contact him about either at mcpfinancial@aol.com or michaelthezinfan@aol.com.


  1. Cathy says

    I agree with you to a certain point. Most corp. restaurants are purchasing their wine in bulk and selling it to the public at such an inflated price, that bringing your own wine makes sense. I’m amazed at the price of J Lohr Cab. for example… The price ranges anywhere from $12. to $15 a bottle @ a retail store. The store is making a profit when they sell it to you, right? Then you go to your local restaurant and that same bottle is on the wine menu for a whopping $48., that’s not right. If you apply your theory of the server has to pour your wine…what if you order a glass of ice tea? They are constantly poring more tea into your glass with out a charge. My point is if the corp. restaurants didn’t gouge you on the per bottle price, more people would buy their bottled wine. And there won’t have to be corkage fees.

    • Michael Perlis says

      Thanks for your comments, Cathy. Don’t even get me started on restaurant wine pricing. This article wasn’t intended to address that issue, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that, when a restaurant charges 3 or 4 times retail on wines of average quality, it has an influence on me bringing my own bottles. Although, my primary reasons have to do with wanting to drink what I want from my cellar and if I didn’t have the opportunity to bring my own, I would probably just stay home more often. That being said, I didn’t really understand your iced tea comparison. Wine is unique in that it is pretty much the only acceptable item to bring to a restaurant for consumption. And the server performs the same level of service for your bottle as if you had ordered it from the restaurant. So, he/she shouldn’t be punished by the fact you brought your own.

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