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Toronto Restaurants - Has BYOW influenced your choice? [moved from Toronto]

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As my login name proclaims, I like wine and have a fair number of bottles at home. For my wife and me, BYOW has definitely influenced our selection of restaurants. At the very high end, most restaurants now allow BYOW, although the silly corkage fees at some (Perigee = $70 and Susur = $60) makes me wonder why they bother. For more moderately priced restaurants, the practice is much more variable. Some of our favourites don’t allow BYOW. We still go to these places, especially if they have good wine lists (interesting bottles reasonably priced), but probably less than we would if we could bring our own wine. On the other hand, we have definitely tried new places primarily because they allow BYOW. Has BYOW influenced your restaurant selection or the frequency of your visits to certain places?

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  1. For me it has not made any difference but unlike you I do not have a large selection of "good wines" at home - if I did it could well make a difference. I would be far more influenced to know that a restaurant was prepared to participate in tne THTR (Take Home The Rest) program. They need not need a special licence to do this (as they do for BYOW) but must ensure the cork is driven flush when it leaves the restaurant. I would probably buy more wine - either a second bottle or a red and a white if I knew I could walk out with what is left over. I remain totally perplexed why restaurants are not doing this.

    1. I don't have an extensive cellar, but I have friends that do. They are making a birthday party this month and chose the restaurant (an old favourite) partly because they could bring the wine. I know it will be great, as we were discussing it last night. My mouth is already watering for the Cote de Rotie or Margeaux and the celebratory Chateau d' Y with the cheese. Be still my heart.

      1. It doesn't now, but it could. Specifically, places where I would like to dine that have a beer & wine license. There are plenty that offer 1 or 2 red's & 1 or 2 white's. I would eat at these places if I could bring my own. Good food without good wine isn't worth having.

        1. Most Toronto restaurants seem to participate in BYOW only grudgingly, and then with a BYOW fee that makes it pointless to actually bring your own. When the fee is $15-$20, why bother bringing your own wine? There's no saving of consequence. Though there are exceptions. Paese, a pleasant Italian joint on north Bathurst St., charges no fee whatever to bring your own (despite its own extensive wine list), and Fat Cat (at Eglinton and Avenue Rd.) on Tuesdays charges just $5 (its slowest day, obviously). The Granite Brewery charges nothing on Sundays and Mondays and the Senator Diner, last time I was there, was asking just $5. I try to get to such places more often than if they didn't have such a liberal policy.
          How much better it would be if Ontario emulated Quebec's BYOW policy. In Quebec, restaurants can opt for either a regular liquor licence or a BYOW licence. Most of those with a BYOW licence are friendly neighborhood boites - some remarkably good - whose owners can't afford to stock a wine cellar and are therefore content to make their profit from their food alone. Most important, they rarely charge a BYOW fee, making it possible for young couples to enjoy a good dinner out without dropping $100-$200.

          1 Reply
          1. re: juno

            While it is always great to find a place with a low corkage fee, I want to offer an alternative to your view of the economics of BYOW and disagree with the generalization that most places allow BYOW reluctantly. On the economics, lets say I have a bottle that I bought for $30. If that bottle were to appear on a restaurant's wine list, it would sell for a minimum of $60 (more likely $70-80). If I pay a $20 corkage fee, my total cost is $50 so I am ahead by at least $10 and maybe by $30. I use some of this savings to increase the tip I leave to recognize the fact that I would have spent more than the $20 corkage on wine for my wife and me. More important than the savings, however, is the fact that I get to drink the wine from my cellar that I picked for dinner that night.

            I also think that the comfort with BYOW is growing. Many restaurants provide very good wine service when I bring my own bottle. They offer appropriate glasses and decanting when necessary or desired. If I sense that the server is interested in the wine, I will often offer a taste. Most servers appreciate the offer and usually are happy to taste a different kind of wine or an older vintage. If you combine this with an increase in your normal percentage tip to recognize that BYOW has reduced the total of the bill, places will be even more gracious about BYOW when you return.

          2. Mammina's on 6 Wellesley St W has an interesting policy - $5 corkage or FREE for VQA wines.....haven't ever been to the restaurant - is it good? I think there are a few other restaurants in TO with the free VQA policy (maybe on certain nights).

            1. It's a good question, but I don't go out to restaurants expecting to eat or drink something that I can eat or drink at home. I go to restaurants for the full experience - the food, the wine, the service. Some restaurants that I go to would, typically, enjoy access to wines that I can't get nor could I afford. Why drink something that I can drink at home when I can experience something new, different.

              I think it's a great added service and know the reasons (both as a guest and as a restaurant manager) why it's here and being more accepted. But for me, no thanks - can I just see your wine list, please?

              1 Reply
              1. re: DAB

                I think the point where we differ is that, unlike the food, the restaurant didn't make the wine. They bought it, just like I did. The question then comes down to allowing me the option of consuming the wine that I have selected rather than that selected by someone else, who may have different taste and may not purchase the type and variety of wine that I can access.

              2. I've tried 'dozens' of places. To be honest, the food at most was deplorable so I haven't been back! And also, the best food places have generally had the highest corkage!!!!
                Incidentally Susur was $40 last time I was there (used to be $60). And Fat Cat has been $25 or $30 - it's varied - but I didn't know about the Tuesday $5 deal.
                Mammina's - pity about the food! Won't go back.
                Tried the Granite Brewery - zero corkage. Haven't been back!!!

                And I TOTALLY disagree that the Quebec system is better. I want decent glassware if I have a decent wine and the finer places (like Splendido and Susur) also have better glasses. In fact both Susur and Splendido have adjusted the food preparation when I've taken a premium wine (I always ask first) - that doesn't seem like reluctance to me. And since the current system has been in place I've not been to Eigensinn (which formerly was the only place that offered BYOW quasi-legally), so I've obviously adjusted my dining habits.

                But on the flip side (although this was already happening anyway) I'm distressed at the number of restaurants that seem to have wines not available at the LCBO, but which are supplied almost entirely by 1 (or 2) agents. This strikes me as often an attempt to charge high markups without the consumer realizing what the base cost was. In the worst example, a wine costing less than $15 was on a wine list at over $70.

                2 Replies
                1. re: estufarian

                  Expensive places tend to have higher corkage - whether the food is great or "deplorable." Some places where I have eaten recently with very good food and relatively less expensive corkage fees are:
                  Boba - $25
                  Bloom - $20
                  Mildred Pierce - $25
                  These places all provided appropriate wine service with nice glasses and decanters as needed.
                  I am glad to hear the Susur has lowered his corkage, it was definitely $60 about a year ago, when I visited last.

                  1. re: vinojoe

                    Thanks for the recommendations. It seems like $20-25 is about right for the non-prestige places, and $40 for the really upscale. And if the food's good I'm probably ahead at those prices. In fact, I seem to eat out more often now - which I'm sure is what the restaurateurs hoped for.
                    Boba I'll never go back to (long story). Bloom is on my list to try and I enjoy Mildred Pierce, but haven't (yet) taken my own.

                2. I would like to raise a point a poster above made; that is the affordability for young couples.

                  We love to dine out once in a while for some alone time and we are (me more so) food fanatics.

                  Having a low corkage fee would cerainly be appreciated by many younger people. I realize that liquour sales are heavily relied on by restaurants to bulk up the more paltry profit margin that food alone brings in since I spent many years as a waitress.

                  In addition to any of the day-specific freebees mentioned above, are there any others that are cheap?

                  Also, is there a published list of participating restos with the corkage fees listed that any one could share?

                  Jenna

                  1. The website I've generally seen referred to is:

                    http://www.bringmywine.ca

                    It has the BYOB listings for Toronto, Ottawa, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and a miscellaneous category of other cities. Hope this helps.

                    1. As a waiter in Toronto I RARELY get asked about the BYOB system, and then only by people who completely confuse it with the system in Quebec. They tell me that you can bring wine to any restaurant in Montreal (which of course is not the case) and they want to know why we don't allow it. Even when I explain the difference in the Quebec law and our optional law they rarely seem to "get it". What they really want is to bring in an $18 bottle of wine to save money. Thankfully 99.9% of customers are not seeking this same "bargain". Our restaurant has invested a huge amount of money over the years in building up a wine cellar and felt it was not a good idea to get the optional licence. Be aware that most LCBO licenced restaurants make their profit(if any) from alcohol sales as the mark-up on food is very low (considering labour costs). If you take away that profit margin from wine sales then the meal prices must rise. You don't get anything for free in this world, and restauranteurs are entitled to make a profit on their investment.
                      British tourists always complain about the markup on wine in Canada and I have to point out that the cost of the menu items here is half that of restaurants in London. Then they understand.