Can't Finish That Bottle of Wine at the Restaurant? Take It Home with You

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This week on WMFE-FM, Scott chats with 90.7's Nicole Creston about a little known law that allows restaurant patrons to take unfinished bottles of wine home with them. You can hear the segment at 5:45 p.m. Friday; it's repeated Saturday mornings at 9:35. Or, click to listen to the podcast anytime.

Wine Doggy BagsIt’s been seven years since the Florida legislature enacted a law that allows patrons to take an unfinished bottle of wine home with them if they are unable to finish it at the restaurant. The law went into effect on July 1, 2005, and when I first wrote about it for the Orlando Sentinel, in September of that year, few people knew about it.

Few people know about it today.

But it’s a terrific little way to free yourself from the confines of the list of wines by the glass.

Here’s some of what I wrote back then that explained the law:

You can thank the Florida legislature – words you probably never thought you’d say – for enacting a new statute that states: “…a restaurant licensed to sell wine on the premises may permit a patron to remove one unsealed bottle of wine for consumption off the premises if the patron has purchased a full-course meal and consumes a portion of the bottle of wine with such meal on the restaurant premises.”

Wordy, wordy. And it goes on: “A partially consumed bottle of wine that is to be removed from the premises must be securely resealed by the licensee or its employees before removal from the premises. The partially consumed bottle of wine shall be placed in a bag or other container that is secured in such a manner that it is visibly apparent if the container has been subsequently opened or tampered with, and a dated receipt for the bottle of wine and full-course meal shall be provided by the licensee and attached to the container.”

In other words, if you order a bottle of wine in a restaurant, but cannot or do not want to finish it, you can take it with you. Florida is one of several sates with such a provision, which wags have dubbed the merlot-to-go law. Among the reasons behind the bill is the notion that if people realize they can take the undrunken portion of wine with them, they will be less likely to swill the last drops and more likely to leave the restaurant undrunk.

When I was doing research for the article, I visited a restaurant in Lake County to test out the new law. The restaurateur, who did not know he was speaking to a reporter, showed that he was ignorant of the guidelines. The cork of my half-full bottle of wine was barely tapped back in, and the bottle was placed in an open shopping bag. When I asked if that was OK -- and knowing that it was not -- the owner said that was all that was necessary. “The law’s changed,” he said as he followed me outside to light a cigarette. “Nobody gives a hoot anymore,” although he did not use the word hoot.

Law enforcement officers still give a hoot.

Florida law still prohibits an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. And once a cork is removed from a bottle of wine, even if you shove the cork back in, it becomes an open container of alcohol.

So that’s where the rest of the law’s wording becomes important. It states that the restaurant must replace the cork and then place the bottle in a bag and seal the bag. It could be stapled or taped, but it can’t be sealed in such a way as to allow you to open and close it without someone being able to tell.

It doesn’t have to be a special bag but special bags do exist. They’re called Wine Doggy Bags, sold by winedoggybags.com.

But wait – you’re not home free yet. You cannot just hop in the car and toss the bottle into the back seat or place it in the cup holder. You must put it into the trunk or if you don’t have a trunk, lock it in the glove box. If you’re stopped by a police officer on the way home, you don’t want to be caught with an open container in the passenger compartment. And don’t even think about lying if the officer asks if you’ve had anything to drink – it’s right there on your receipt. But you might also want to carry a copy of the new statute with you. 

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