How Much Should You Pay for a Corkage Fee?

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CorkscrewHow important is a corkage fee to you?

If you're not sure what a corkage fee is, then it probably doesn't matter much at all. Corkage fees are what a restaurant charges a guest who wishes to bring his or her own bottle of wine rather than order one off of the restaurant's wine list. Why would someone want to do that? Usually it's because the guest has a special bottle of wine he'd like to enjoy for, presumably, a special occasion. Sometimes, less frequently, a guest wants to bring a bottle from his own cellar as a way of saving costs.

The better question is why would a restaurant, which is in the business of selling food and drink, allow this?

Some don't. Many years ago I was on the phone with Paul Bocuse and I asked him what he says when guests ask if they can bring their own wines to his famous restaurant near Lyon, France. "I tell them, 'Fine, why don't you bring your own chairs, too,'" he replied through an interpreter.

Many restaurants grudgingly allow guests to bring a bottle of wine from home. And most that do will impose a corkage fee for the service of the wine, the use of the glassware and the cleaning. The fee may run anywhere from $15 to $20 typically, although as this article, which is curiously titled "The Etiquette of Navigating a Corkage Fee," states, some restaurants, such as Thomas Keller's French Laundry and Per Se, charge $150 for each bottle. That's presumably to discourage the practice, but given the price point of those two restaurants a guest might come out ahead with the corkage and a bottle brought from home.

It's possible that a restaurant would charge nothing for guests who bring a bottle with them, but those will usually be establishments without a license to sell alcohol.

If you'd like to take a bottle of wine to a restaurant, be sure to call ahead and ask about the restaurant's corkage policy. Never take a bottle that can be found on the restaurant's own wine list, and it's also bad form to take an inexpensive vintage (or nonvintage) just to save a few bucks.

What do you think? Have you ever taken a bottle of wine to a restaurant? What's the most you've paid for a corkage fee? And restaurateurs: What is your policy about outside wine? Or dining room chairs, for that matter? Leave a comment below.