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BYOB to a resto that has a good selection


Jfood is not trying to be a flame but is trying to understand the "WHY?" question.

If a resto has a nice selection of wines, why is it OK to bring a bottle. Jfood was eating in one of his favorite local resto and another 4-top brought a couple of bottles of what looked like regular wine, nothing special.

Why is it OK to bring regular wine to a resto? Should one be able to bring their favorite sides, or maybe one of the people are on the Zone diet and want to bring their entree?

Why is wine a carveout to eating the food and beverages at a resto.

Just trying to understand.


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  1. It _ought_ to be the case that one brings a special or a hard to get bottle to a restaurant only after making certain it is not offered on the wine list. This is a perfectly acceptable practice and one that restaurants don't in my experience mind in the least. In my mind, if you know you're going to have more than one bottle of wine, you should approach it as a bring one special bottle, buy one from the list situation.

    These days, though, many people see brining wine as a way to save money. Those folks wil tell you, I think, that restaurants are gouging on wine prices with markups of, sometimes, a few hundred percent. As wine has become more widely available and the restaurant going population has learned what wines cost retail, it can indeed be insulting at times to see a wine you know you can get at the wine shop two miles away for $18 listed at $65 on a restaurant list. The math is fairly easy, $18 retail, say $20 corkage....

    This is the sort of example that makes this a difficult thing for me to decide about. I virtually never bring a bottle of wine to a restaurant (honestly, a lot of that has to do with being fairly able in the kitchen and so when it comes time to open a special bottle, its almost always at home) but I have on occasion. A bottle of Dom Perignon for my wife's 30th birthday, for example. We did buy another bottle to have with most of our meal though and shared the bottle with the manager and the chef (they were the only two working the restaurant at the time we ate).

    To your specific question about why wine is carved out....I believe because its far easier to know the price a wine (or similar wine) sells for retail and to see just how high the markup is. Its much more difficult to do with food and labor, etc. Further, the wine service at many restaurants is simply not what it used to be, begging the question "why the high markup?" Decanting seems, by and large, to be a thing of the past except at a handful of places and far more often than is reasonable, I or my wife ends up with a pile of sedament poured into our glass. So, from both a price and service perspective, its easier to see the problems with wine than with the food.

    Lastly, restaurants allow patrons to bring wine. That's the biggest reason. They have a policy, charge a fee and that opens the door. Not all restaurants do, of course, but most in my experience.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ccbweb

      I agree. A bottle that is brought to the restaurant may not be particularly expensive or hard to find, but perhaps the diner thinks it will be a great match with the meal. Or maybe it has sentimental value.

      Crucial steps, however include:
      -Looking into the selection before arriving to make sure the bottle is not on the list
      -If possible buy a bottle from the restaurant - seems to be a 'keep everyone happy' type move
      -Offer the manager/chef/sommelier a glass or at least a taste. Even if they say know it's a huge gesture. And in conversation maybe say why you're bringing it - e.g. "we went to Napa on our honeymoon 5 yrs ago and bought this bottle, thought it would be special since it can't be found outside the area".

      That's my personal observation through my years of knowing my wine-connoisseur husband & father-in-law!!

    2. It's funny you bring this up. I love wine with my meal, but am not particularly a wine snob. With that said, nothing burns my patoot more than to be expected to pay $46 for a $12 bottle that I drink at home! I realize restos have to make money and was ok in the days of the 200% or maybe even 250% markup. But this is ridiculous. DH and I have a child and don't get to eat out as much as we'd like. When we go out for a nice occasion, I don't mind spending a little on wine. However, if I'm going to pay $70 for a bottle, I'd rather spend it on a $40 bottle plus corkage instead of on a $22 bottle.

      I know it's perhaps not proper wine etiquette. However, I, for one, am sick of being gouged.

      1. I really think this issue is a function of the familiarity people have with the retail price of wine. I've seen a $32 price tag at a resto on a bottle I know I can easily buy for $9 (that likely cost the shop $6) and that just seems unfair. I then asssume they are making the same huge % on the rest of the list as well. I have NO idea, however, whether that plate of Pork Chops (with the $30 price tag) cost the rest $5 or $10 or what. People just don't have familiarity with the cost prices of wholesale food, but they know that wine is a low markup item at most retailers.

        Beyond the special occasion, special significance wine that is brought to a resto, I have to believe that most of it is a price thing. It often is for me.

        1. FYI there's a really interesting article about this with relation to wine price in this month's food and wine magazine- worth a read.

          1. Thanks everyone and jfood thinks, once again, that communicationis the key to the process. He also really likes the "give a taste" to the resto staff as not only a gesture of good will but also to help the staff learn about a wine that it currently does not have on the list. Buying another bottle from the resto seems like a fair middle ground as well.

            What jfood has a hard time buying into is the "gouging" concept. Almost everything in a resto is "marked up" significantly, yet the success rate at restos still is low. But if the positive gestures above are not utilized, it just seems a little unfair to decide that wine should be "smuggled" (as anoter thread discusses) into a resto because the custo does not like the price. Jfood will never order salmon in a resto when other fish, poultry and the like are offered near the same price point. Four ounces of salmon wholesale is probably a buck or two, so $26 for a salmon entree does not feel right in the belly for jfood, so onto another dish.

            So while jfood fully agrees that for a special bottle, a buy another or a share a taste wine-bringers, if the resto knows and says yes, sounds like a major win-win. For the people who frown on the mark-ups, it's not fun to look at a $40 bottle knowing the same is in the cabinet at home at $7 but eating out is waaay more expensive than home in every aspect, so still having a brain cramp with that byob reason

            9 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              The "need the markup to survive" theory for restaurants doesn't explain why many with more reasonable markups are very successful. On the CH Wine Board, there was a quote from a study suggesting that restaurants with reasonable wine markups sold more wine and netted more profit. Thanks to the internet, I always compare wine lists when selecting a restaurant, which has kept me from patronizing some even though the menu looked interesting and the food prices were reasonable. The question, why some restaurants have such outrageous wine markups, intrigues me.

              1. re: BN1

                Yes, I read this study and the restos actually made more money in wine sales when markups were less. Patrons ordered so many more bottles of wine that the profit was greater than when fewer wines were sold at a higher mark-up. That sounds like win-win. More profits and happy customers. Yippee.

                Bringing a wine into a resto and paying corkage is also win-win. But I must admit to a regional bias: I live in the San Fran Bay Area where there are many folks with fairly good cellars stocked with wines purchased from nearby wineries. Bringing a bottle of wine to a resto and paying corkage is, with very few exceptions, not only accepted but standard operating procedure.

                This policy allows diners to eat out more often. A resto, over a year’s time, makes more profit from me because I return again and again, each time paying corkage, than it would if I ate there infrequently because I didn't want to overpay for a bottle of wine.

                I make sure the wine is something special or unusual every time. I do this as a gift to the others I'm dining with (of course I enjoy it too) and am happy to pay corkage, tip extra for the service, and offer tastes to the server and manager. So it's win-win: a happy table of diners who have good feelings about the resto, and more profit for the resto.

                Some restos around here are real smart. They charge no corkage. Yep, more and more common, and very common if you're a regular, so again the resto gets a regular coming back often. Other restos keep customers coming back by having an exceptionally well-priced wine list with most wines under $30, or no wine priced more than $15 above retail. Again, win-win for everybody: happy diners and regular resto profits.

              2. re: jfood

                Hmm, I get your argument Jfood on the fact that the food is marked up too. I'm still trying to figure out why the 300% or more markup on wine burns me up so badly. I think because, with food, you have to come up with a recipe, pay someone to prepare it, incurring costs in the process, etc etc. I'm paying for the chef's creative product which should cost more than the price of the food. With wine, I'm paying for the vinter's creative product, which costs more than the grapes. While I expect a reasonable "handling fee" both for procurement of the wine and handling of it within the resto, it seems to me that 200% is a reasonable handling fee, esp when I know they're not paying retail.

                1. re: amyvc

                  Ok jfood likes where this is going. the food for dinner is purchased within the last 48 hours hopefully, prepared and served. the wine is purchased, stored and cared for for a greater period of time. shouldn;t the resto earn a higher margin since it is "carrying" the cost of the wine for a longer period of time?

                  1. re: jfood

                    This is a key element of what restaurants will say plays into the price of their wine. The idea being that the prices on wine are supporting an entire "wine program" consisting of sommelier(s), training for wait staff, proper stem ware, decanters, proper storage for wines and the necessary long term storage of some wine.

                    When I encounter a restaurant with a wine program that hits all of the above points, I almost never worry about the price or the markup amount. The reality, unfortunately, is that the vast majority of restaurants I have gone to in the last few years (many of them "good" and fairly high end) aren't doing all of the things that go into a good wine program. Many have the same glasses for all wine. Virtually none decant at all. Almost every single restaurant isn't cellaring anymore (ie, not many bottles more than 4 or 5 years old based on the vintage, which means they're buying the wine and turning it over quickly) and, worse, many places store wine where ever its out of the way...near the kitchen, near a draft, etc...all of these places are less than ideal because of the temperature extremes and swings.

                    The real issues for me come up in the places where entrees cost $18-25 and apart from any alcholic beverages, the total for me and my wife is likely to be $70-80 (we tend to each get an appetizer, each get an entree and split a dessert). When the wine on offer is (on average) a bottle I can get across the street at the wine shop for $12 but is listed at $48 (and, the wine is stored by the kitchen, the glasses are the same for each and none of the wait staff really know whats going on with the wine) I feel like its unreasonable because the restaurant isn't putting effort or time or money into the wine, they're simply taking a product that they can get for $8 or so a bottle wholesale and marking it up for, basically, no reason other than trying to make money. Now, I have no problem with trying to make money, and businesses are free to charge what they will. But charging that price for this sort of wine is more likely to result in my not buying wine at the restaurant. If the wine was priced at, say $29 we'd probably buy a bottle every time we went. The place I'm thinking of is one we go to about 6 times a year. And, if we knew we'd have wine with dinner (which we prefer) we'd probably go more often. So, instead of not selling us any wine (or maybe selling us a bottle once a year) they'd sell us 6 or 8 bottles.

                    1. re: ccbweb

                      Gets back to jfood hypothesis that you can't eat yield. Dollars pay the rent. Same discussion jfood has had with tips as a percentage or tips as a dollar amount.

                      So the resto would rather earn a higher percentage than more money. Sell one bottle and make 300% or two bottles and make 200% each. Buy for $10. Scenarion 1 sell one for $40 make $30. Scenario 2 sell 2 for $300, make $40 on the 2 bottles.

                      1. re: jfood

                        Pretty much. I think those percentages hit break points for customers and I think, on average, that break point has been hit in many restaurants when it comes to wine in the last few years. I also think there will likely be a "correction" in the wine prices and fairly soon we'll be reading and talking about a renaissance of wine in restaurants. Chefs can do things with food that most customers would agree they themselves could not do and, thus, high prices are ok in some cases because you simply cannot get that food that way anywhere else. With wine, there used to be many wines you could only get at a top restaurant...that's no longer the case. So, I think when you couple that with the high percentage markups...the customer says to themselves "why should I pay for this wine at the restaurant when I can get it cheaper myself elsewhere?"

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          jfood agrees that the probablility is greater than 50% that there will be a downward correction in wine prices.

                          But to the question of what if the resto decides to place an embargo on the byob. do you not bring the wine, go to a different resto or suck it up and pay the freight?

                          1. re: jfood

                            Oh, I personally virtually never bring wine to a restaurant. Only a few times and only very special bottles for a very special occasion. My choice is either to pay what the restaurant charges or skip the wine entirely. We will, at times, make a choice between restaurants based on the wine list (not only prices, but all elements of the list) but normally we're after the food. What's more likely is (as happened last week) we go to a new restaurant, the food is good to very good but the wine list is not only highly marked up, but also almost exclusively 3 digit bottles...after an experience like that, we won't go back.

              3. It's also important to note that the amount markup varies bottle to bottle. My hubbie & I will look at winelists and see huge variation within the restaurant and between restaurants for common wines on the list. There are some that we say "hey, that's a pretty good deal" (for a restaurant), "we should get that".
                Use the opportunity at a restaurant to try something (bottle or glass) that you might not normally try or that you can't regularly get otherwise. It's not worth paying some crazy price for Chateau St Michelle that you can get at the grocery store for $10, that's true.

                10 Replies
                1. re: laurendlewis

                  As Mr. Jfood knows, the topic of gouging is pushing my buttons right now...:) I like the 4oz salmon = 2 bucks max statement...exactly...same argument with sub-prime cuts of beef suddenly appearing on menus at 4-5x the wholesale price no matter how "local" or "pure" the source is...

                  It's even worse on the wine front...yeah, write 4 or 5 lines about wonderful balance, exquisite nose, tremendous finish yada yada before charging 100-200% mark-up on a wine that joe public could pick up at shoprite for under 15 bucks...then sit back and laugh all the way to bank...

                  1. re: Scotty100

                    And that's a whole other aspect. The chef never has to touch the wine. With food, you are paying for the expertise of the chef and the preparation of the food. With wine, the same bottle is the same in a chain as it is in a 4 star restaurant.

                    1. re: Sisyphus

                      Fair point S.

                      Here's another thought to consider. The wine "snobs" have created this mess themselves. Because of the "gotta have" mentality of many of jfood's colleague on this vintage and that year and how great this bottle tastes with that food, the resto owner canplayinto this "gotta have" mentality by charging more. How often do people stand in line for "limited availability" signs or "one in stock".

                      So what do you think of the idea that because the wine drinkers themsleves have created this buzz, the resto are just capitalizing on this mentality?

                      Just a thought.

                      1. re: jfood

                        Correct me if I'm wrong, jfood. What you seem to be saying is "A fool and his money are soon partying".

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Not exactly.

                          What jfood is saying is that the wine-people have created this aura and now that the restos are playing into this aura, they are holding up their hands and saying "Whoa Baby".

                          Same thing happens when anything gets "hot" and stupid money chases limited supply. Do you say "Internet Bubble?" Oh yeah that may be the genesis of the beginning of the wine at any cost syndrome. Free thought is a wonderful thing.

                      2. re: Sisyphus

                        Jfood, this is a good point by Sissyphus. Since most wines are not aged by a resto (rather consumed within 60 days of a resto's purchase), most restos do not carry the cost of the wine. No prep similar to food is necessary for wine, so I don't think it accurate to equate bringing a bottle of wine to bringing food into a resto.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          OK. if resto do not take the long term riskof wines then jfood retracts that reason.

                          now the one on the table is "because they can get it".

                          But jfood still believes that bringing any form of consumable, except for dietary restrictions, to a resto is the same. Wine, steak, mashed potatoes, scotch, grits is the same and should be avoided. Why should wine get a free pass.

                          Yes jfood understand the "but the resto says its OK" so why does jfood care. But this is a forum of opinions. If the resto says OK, that's cool, but does not mean jfood needs to agree.

                          1. re: jfood

                            Jfood, always delighted by your point of view, writing style, and opinion, even if it is divergent from my own, which isn't all that often. Agree that Chowhound is a forum that tolerates, insists, glories in, plurality of opinion. Particularly enjoy your grace in dealing with dining conflict situations. I don't agree with your finding wine and food similar in the "bring in your own" category, as the diner isn't asking the kitchen to prepare her lima beans, but that's OK. I'm still a jfood fan.

                            Any thoughts on the win-win, diners happy/restos happy with profit, regional difference -- mentioned above?

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              SF has always been different in the way it treats everything in life. with all the great wines in the region jfood would expect the restos would bend over backwards for people bringing these "special" purchases with them. Still think that if the resto has the wine on the list it's a little obnoxous to bring the same.

                              Out here in CT the vineyards are a little sparse, in fact non-existent, so all the wine is bought at retail stores. bringing a bottle to a resto is less the "look what I brought back from Napa". jfood has seen some pretty basic lables at tables and the only explanation is not wanting to pay the mark-up.

                              Yes jfood understands that bringing mashed potatoes and chateau de special '68 are totally different and was using as a push the envelope example, but jfood thinks people understand the point (hope so).

                              To your point of regulars. Regulars are family. Special rules apply. Jfood would expect that the regular does not abuse the system and likewise the resto should not as well, another win-win. the custo should be careful in not overstepping the "regular" extras (i.e. bring a basic bottle to save money) and should offer the owner/MD/server a taste of the special bottle. likewise if the regular is a "whale" (sorry but jfood is sitting in Vegas as he writes) then eventually the corkage should disappear at some point.

                              Win-win is what jfood does for a living so having a micro-example with wine and a resto is fantastic.

                              1. re: jfood

                                BYOBers, the ones who know what is appropriate and proper, are a given restauranter's dream, IMO. They tend to eat out more often. They tend to also order at least some wine off the list from time to time if not every time. They tend to bring unusual or hard to find bottles. Or even well aged rare bottles. They generally generously share what they have brought and offer up tastes to the waiter, the maitre d and the chef (if given the chance). and of course, the wine brought is never on the given restaurant's list. Hell, the producer is likely to not even be on the list.

                                I agree with jfood in that bringing a bottle that is widely available, if not on the restaurant's list, and generally less expensive (say a sub-$30 bottle), it can be deduced that it's likely the given BYOBer is doing it to just save some bucks.


                  2. in response to the original question...

                    in ontario, a restaurant must get an endorsement on it's liquor license to participate in the BYOW program. so once the resto has decided to allow it- and decides it's policy (corkage fee) the custos may bring whatever wine they want. as i see it- if the custo brings in a wine that the resto carries- too bad for the resto- they made the decision to allow it.

                    i also don't like paying $50 for a wine i can get in the store for $15, so when i dine i tend to order wines that aren't available in ontario retail stores.

                    i work in a resto that allows BYOW- and the custos who bring their own seem to be wine collectors who simply want to drink something from their cellar with our chef's food. we charge a corkage that would make it silly (as in not worth it) to bring something "regular".

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: excuse me miss

                      just out of curiosity what is the corkage price that makes the regular bottle silly to bring? Thx

                      1. re: jfood

                        $40 or $45 (don't shoot the messenger ;))

                        1. re: excuse me miss

                          actually you should be hearing jfood clapping.

                          jfood thinks that the resto deserves to earn the profit if it bends over to allow the custo to bring a bottle. now the question to you, the server is, do you feel slighted by not receiving your tip (in cash not percentages :-))) for the full price of the bottle.

                          1. re: jfood

                            well. if i don't know the wine i wouldn't know the price and so wouldn't "know what i was missing." and i don't know how long ago the custo purchased the wine and how much they paid back then and how much the value has increased.

                            custos don't bring wine very often, but those who do are generally savvy diners who are good tippers- and they are aware the fee is all for the restaurant and they still tip me for wine service. (if they didn't, yes i would feel slighted). and one of the two times i had byow custos was a company champagne tasting and they opened all the bottles themselves, and brought their own glasses, and helped me set the table. etc.

                            i guess it just has to be a comprimise all around. corkage fees- now that i think about it- seem to match the cost of one of the cheapest wines on a list.

                            besides- if it's some thousand dollar bottle of nineteen-eighty-something chateaux whomever bordeaux my mind is more occupied on how i can win them over enough for them to offer me a taste ;)

                    2. In NYC restaurants who do not have a liquor license, and are thus not permitted to sell liquor or wine, allow BYO.

                      Bringing wine to a restaurant that serves wine is, IMO, extremely tacky.

                      It is probably illegal, in NY anyway.

                      That is why one cannot bring outside food. The restaurant can only be responsible for food and wine it prepares and serves on the premises.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Fleur

                        that seems odd- i know canada and the usa are different but to me it's logical that for liquor to be consumed on a premises they need a liquor license.

                        so is the us just freer with some of those rules? i've heard stories about how it's legal to walk around the street in the states with a drink in your hand. is that just someone filing my head with fantasies? interesting, isn't it. i haven't found anything in canada that says it's illegal to bring outside food into restaurants.

                        1. re: Fleur

                          While it is technically true that restaurants without a liquor license can't have BYO, it is also true that nearly all restaurants in NYC without liquor licenses allow, or even encourage patrons to BYO. It may be illegal, but it's certainly common practice.

                          It's also illegal to walk around the streets with a drink in your hand. This tends to be a little more strictly enforced, but I've seen plenty of people discreetly brown-bagging a cold frosty get away with it, particularly at parades and on major holidays. I may have even engaged in this behavior myself as a teenager...

                          It's definitely NOT illegal to BYO to restaurants with liquor licenses in NYC. Some places won't allow it, but many will accommodate you, particularly if it's a special wine. I suppose it could be considered tacky if you're bringing a bottle of YellowTail to Per Se, but I can't imagine anyone would object if you brought some DRC.

                          As for why anyone would BYO, well, BYO is a good idea if you love wine and want to share it, but can't cook, or have an apartment too small to entertain. I have a friend like this -- awesome wine collection, terrible cook.

                          1. re: oolah

                            Just a legal clarification: restaurants without a liquor license are prohibited from SELLING alcoholic beverages.

                            IMO BYOB is appropriate only in restaurants that don't sell liquor. What's next? Bringing your own vegetables or dessert?

                            1. re: oolah

                              Open container laws are actually local and some (many?) places do allow you to walk around with drinks in your hand.

                              1. re: lgphil

                                Yep, sorry! I only meant that it's illegal in NYC.

                          2. When dining in DC, which is where I dine most often, I am glad that many/most of the restaurants allow BYOW while charging a reasonable corkage fee. I love wine and I crave bringing nice bottles to dinner that I think will match up best with the food. I also like to bring special bottles. Or unusual bottles. Or even sentimental bottles. I generally do not bring a cheap, average run of the mill kind of wine, but for some people, what I consider as average or run of the mill is great wine to them, and what I drink is crap. Who's to argue?

                            I always make sure it is OK to BYOW. I always ask what the corkage is and if there is a limit to the number of bottles you can bring. I also check out their wine list (online or have them fax/email it to me) so that I do not bring something on their list. I am usually a lightweight and my wife and I share a single bottle, so ordering an extra bottle is overkill. But I always make sure I tip well, too.

                            I am sure some folks do it to save money. I guess, in a way, that is what I am doing too. But the bottles I bring tend to not be cheap, are harder to come by, and often have several years of age on them. Most restaurants do not have deep enough cellars in my opinion, so this is also where BYOW can help.


                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Pool Boy

                              I might also add that in DC, only restaurants that have a liquor license are permitted to offer the BYOBW option, and as far as I know, only wine is permitted. (I may be wrong since I never thought of bringing beer or liquor to a restaurant) The reasoning is that the restaurant will have a trained alcohol manager on site.