How to Bring Your Own Wine Into a Restaurant
The idea of bringing your own wine to a restaurant is always something that people have a lot of questions about. And I get it, it’s not something you see every day and there’s not a clear set of rules to follow that works at every establishment. But here’s the thing, bringing your own wine to a restaurant is perfectly acceptable in many places, particularly if you do it with a little tact. So here are some guidelines to follow.
Corkage Fee. You should always call in advance to make sure the restaurant allows you to bring your own wine (many do) but also to inquire about the corkage fee.
The corkage fee is what the restaurant will add to your bill for opening and serving the wine for you, and in essence this makes up for part of the loss they will see from your lack of wine purchase. It’s typically a nominal fee of around $15-$20 and is simply added to your bill as Corkage Fee.
The Wine You Bring. Bringing a special bottle because it has meaning, or is something that is rather unique is one thing. Bringing a bottle to avoid paying the higher price from the restaurant wine list is all together different. The rule here is to look at the wine list ahead of time or call the restaurant, and make sure the bottle you’re planning to bring isn’t already on their list. Sure, you probably get some savings from bringing in your own wine, but it should be more about bringing in a wine they don’t have that you really want to enjoy, versus cheapening out on buying a bottle from them. Many restaurants will not even allow you to bring in a bottle that is already on their list.
Carrying the Wine. When you are bringing wine into the restaurant you should be somewhat discreet and respectful, perhaps even carrying them in a small wine bag or other means of not drawing too much attention to the wine. It’s not a big deal, just a gesture of respect. You don’t want to advertise that you aren’t drinking wine off of the restaurant’s list so as to influence other patrons.
Your Server. You will want to be very respectful of your server, and I’ll tell you why. First, your server is losing out on the 20% tip that you would have likely provided on that expensive bottle of wine you would have ordered if you hadn’t brought your own. That could easily be $20-$30 out of their pocket which the Corkage Fee isn’t going to put back. Remember that.
Also, your server will likely still be bringing the glasses, opening the wine, pouring it throughout the meal and clearing the glasses. It’s essentially the same amount of work for them as when you order wine from the list. One very nice thing to do, and I do it every time, is to offer your server a sample of the wine. If it’s a special bottle then they will be very appreciative. After they open the wine, just subtly tell them to grab a glass and a taste when they come back. You can also tell them to bring an extra glass before they open it so that they can taste it. Most of them will take you up on it.
Bad Bottle. This probably goes without saying but if the wine you bring is bad (spoiled), then don’t hesitate to buy a bottle from the restaurant. I will often times bring a bottle of red for the main dish but start with a white or bubbly from the menu.
Another tip is that if you’re in the area before the meal, you might be able to drop off the wine in advance. I just did this recently with three bottles for a small group dinner and it worked perfectly.
And that’s it. It’s really that easy and following these guidelines will help you look like a pro.
-Editor, Andrew; Erin, Contributor
Do you bring your own wine to restaurants? If so, any pointers we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.