I am sure a number of wine folks have heard the term “corkage fees,” especially the ones who have traveled to major metropolitan markets.
What is a corkage fee?
It is the fee a restaurant charges its customers for bringing their own wines (BYOB) when dining, rather than ordering from the restaurant’s own wine list. Restaurants charge the fees to recoup some of the profits they forgo from not selling their own wines. Generally, the fee covers some of the cost of the server that is waiting on you.
What is included in corkage fees?
What’s included in the corkage fees varies from one restaurant to another. All restaurants should include the correct wine glasses in the fee, as well as pour service, which includes opening the wine, perhaps bringing the wine to the correct temperature, and refilling glasses as needed.
At this point I need to mention that not all states allow customers to bring their own wine into a restaurant. My state of Indiana is one that doesn’t allow BYOB. Illinois does allow BYOB if the restaurant has a liquor license. Since I spend a fair amount of time in Chicago, I am familiar with the corkage fees in many of the restaurants in the city.
How much are corkage fees?
Corkage fees typically depend on what city you are in. Generally, they run from $20 to $40, however the fee can be much more. It’s always best to ask what the fee is. In Michelin 3-Star restaurants the corkage fees are always higher. For example, at Thomas Keller’s restaurants, The French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York City, the fee is $150 for each bottle a customer brings.
Several years ago, Mrs. Tiedemann and I were dining at Smith and Wollensky’s steakhouse in Chicago. A customer brought in a bottle of 1998 Harlan Estate red wine and the restaurant charged them a $125 fee. If the bottle had been on their wine list it would have cost around $2,000 to $2,500 for the bottle. At the famous Meadowood Restaurant in Napa Valley (also a Michelin 3-Star restaurant) the corkage fee is $100 per bottle with a two-bottle limit.
The Customers Side of Corkage Fees
There are several reasons for taking your own wine to a restaurant and paying a corkage fee.
- Some restaurants, especially the higher-end and more prestigious restaurants, often mark their wines up as much as 300 percent to 400 percent! Bringing your own wine helps save money on the evening’s wine.
- The restaurant’s wine list might not be too appealing.
- The customer may be celebrating a special occasion, such as a birthday, anniversary or business event and wants to bring a wine of his or her choice and again it may not be on the restaurant’s wine list.
Call before you show up, bottle-in-hand
As I mentioned earlier, not all restaurants have a corkage policy and allow customers to bring their own alcohol in. Before you make a reservation, remember to ask the following questions of the restaurant:
- What is their corkage policy?
- If they have a policy, what is their fee?
- Is the wine you plan to bring on the restaurant’s wine list?
- Can you bring a wine that is on their wine list?
- If you have a large party or plan on bringing more than one bottle, is there a limit to the number of bottles you can bring?
- Some restaurants will waive their corkage fee if you purchase an additional bottle from the restaurant. It is always good to ask about that as well.
- If you have a high-end or special bottle of wine, consider offering your server or the restaurant’s sommelier a taste of the wine.
- Don’t be the person who buys a $3.00 bottle of wine at the grocery store (we know who you are) and bring it to the restaurant to avoid the mark-up.
- If you have a bottle of wine that requires chilling before it is served, please chill the bottle before hand and once you arrive ask the staff for an ice bucket. Don’t dampen your wine experience by drinking your wine at the wrong temperature.
There are obviously pros and cons to corkage fee arrangements. I certainly think there are more positive points than negative. Personally, I like taking my own wine to restaurants….especially if it is one of my Glenwood Cellars wines or a wine from my wine collection. I hope you will consider taking your favorite wine to dinner if you are in a market that allows you to do so.
If you can speak to your state representatives, I strongly suggest you recommend they support a change in the state law and allow people to bring wine into restaurants. Most people will continue to support their favorite restaurants and purchase from the wine lists. I certainly do that. But there are special occasions where I would like to bring my own wine selection to the restaurant for a dinner, be it with friends or business associates.
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Look Forward To These Happy Things:
Upcoming LEX 530 Events!
Mother’s Day Brunch – Sunday, May 10, 2020 — CANCELLED
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Wednesday, May 20, 2020 — CANCELLED
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Friday, June 26, 2020
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Wednesday, July 22, 2020
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Friday, August 21, 2020
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Friday, September 25, 2020
Oktoberfest Dinner – Tuesday, October 27, 2020 — with Elkhart’s Iechyd Da Brewing Company
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Friday, November 20, 2020
Important Wine Holidays
May 9 – World Moscato Day (This Saturday!)
May 21 – International Chardonnay Day
May 25 – National Wine Day
June 26 – International Rosé Day
June 21 – Lambrusco Day
August 1-5 – International Albariño Days
August 4 – National White Wine Day
August 18 – International Pinot Noir Day
September 3 – International Cabernet Day