Corkage Service: BYOB The Right Way

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Wine bagBYOB - Bring Your Own Bottle – for both restaurants and patrons is a great concept that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Most restaurants allowing such a practice usually charge a corkage fee, normally ranging anywhere from $10 to $25, but may reach as high as $75 to $150 in some venues. Traditionally, the corkage fee is for the service given by the restaurant, to open, chill, decant, provide glassware, and serve the wine to its guests who brought a special bottle not available on the restaurant’s menu. However the higher corkage fees ($75 - $150) are often seen as a charge beyond service and a way to discourage guests from the BYOB idea because for the same money I’m sure you can find a very nice bottle of wine on the restaurant’s list. Some restaurants are more direct and will simply inform you that BYOB is not an option, while others won’t even know the meaning of “corkage.” BYOB has great potential to benefit both restaurants and consumers if both parties play a fair game, especially if you follow these industry manners:

Don’t Try To Get a Deal. The number one etiquette in BYOB is to not bring a bottle the restaurant is also offering on their wine list. Remember the idea is that you are bringing something the restaurant is unable to offer or does not stock, and that the restaurant is accommodating a special request. A good rule of thumb is to check out the restaurant’s wine list online to have an idea of their selections, before your visit.

Check Your Numbers. Adding additional $10 - $25 corkage to the retail price you paid for your BYOB wine can be worth the extra investment, especially if it is a coveted bottling or one that holds sentimental value to you. Even the higher corkage fees may be worth a very special or rare wine for your particular occasion.

Treat Your Server. In many restaurant settings your servers may be learning about wine or be wine followers who will appreciate your bottle as much as you. As a courtesy, feel free to offer your server a taste of your BYOB wine, and you will find most of them will be excited to taste your special bottle and eager to “compare tasting notes” with you.

When There Is No Corkage. At the end of your meal, your server or restaurant manager may choose to waive the corkage fee on your bill, regardless if you offered a taste of your BYOB wine or not. 

How to tip then? Although this is not set in stone, if the corkage is not charged you can either tip a higher percentage or add the value of the corkage to your tip, provided your server made the effort to deliver great wine service. For large parties and multiple bottles of wine opened with or without a corkage fee, “combat pay” tips are, if not a must, very well deserved.

The above are key ingredients for establishing a great restaurant/guest harmony for BYOB opportunities. If you are planning to bring your own wine definitely call the restaurant for information about their corkage policy and if possible check their wine list to make sure you are taking something not offered on their menu. Most importantly, take an extra bottle as back up just in case your first one is corked.

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