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Polo Lounge: the non-plus-ultra of corkage idiocy.

From today's L.A.Times article:

http://www.calendarlive.com/dining/cl...

"Corkage fee $50 if the bottle you bring is not on their wine list; if it is, you pay the same price it would cost to buy the bottle to drink your own wine."

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  1. Bringing a bottle of wine that is on a restaurant's wine list is very bad form. I bring my own wine for many, if not most (90%+) of my meals, and take great pains never to open a bottle that is on the resto's list.

    $50 is also on the very high end of corkage fees. Not great, but not the worst I've seen.

    BTW, when I say "same bottle", I mean identical... producer, cuvee AND vintage.

    9 Replies
    1. re: woojink

      Why is bringing a bottle on the list bad form? What am I supposed to do...research the restaurant's wine list every time I dine out? The restaurant gets their corkage either way, no?

      Manku

      1. re: manku

        There are a couple of posts regarding why this is so below. And yes, I do research the wine list of any restaurant that I plan on bringing wine to, or bring mulitple bottles to make sure. I bring lots of wine to lots of places all the time, and still do this.

        1. re: manku

          First of all, many restaurants have their list online, so "researching" isn't that difficult.

          Secondly, when bringing my own wine to a restaurant, I *always* bring wine from my cellar -- not from the store. In other words, I am bringing (for example) a bottle of 1985 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, NOT a bottle of 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape; or a bottle of 1994 Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, not the 2005 vintage of the same wine. The ODDS that the restaurant has those bottles is considerably less when I bring in a mature, ready-to-drink vintage than if I brougt the vintage that is curently available in the marketplace. (As woojink rightly points out above, the corkage policy appries to the IDENTICAL bottle. Bringing in the 1997 vintage of Joseph Phelps "Insignia" Napa Valley Red Table Wine is NOT the same as bringin in the 2004 vintage of the Joseph Phelps "Insignia" Napa Valley Red Table Wine.)

          Finally, whenever I bring wine to a restaurant, the first thing I do is ask for the wine list -- for several reasons, but one is to make sure what I brought is not on their list; if it is, I don't open it. It's that simple. Indeed, I often (though admittedly not always) bring two different bottles with me -- the second botttle is there a) in case the first bottle is already on the list, and b) in case the first bottle is corked.

          Cheers,
          Jason

          1. re: zin1953

            Not all lists are online. Most actually aren't. Some places don't even have websites.

            Isn't wine from your cellar from the store anyhow? how else did you buy it to put in your cellar? I guess it could have come from the winery itself, in which case, the bottle costs even less, usually.

            Good Idea to scan the list first, though.

            But seriously, if I have a bottle of La Tour in my Cellar, and they have the same bottle, I would still want to bring mine. Why pay more than I paid originally? Also, as the flavors and nuances can differ from bottle to bottle, I would want mine.

            1. re: Diana

              Diana, you're an excellent contrarian.

              1. re: Diana

                Diana,

                1) At least in the U.S., the most expensive places to buy wines is generally at the winery.

                2) The difference between bringing a bottle "from the store" versus "from [one's personal] cellar" is availability. Many restaurants offer only the current vintage of "Château Cache Phloe," and do not have older vintages available -- and yet "Château Cache Phloe" needs 10-15 years (generally, in a good vintage) to reach its maturity. So why drink the 2005 vintage, if I have the 1994 in my cellar?

                3) If you have a bottle of Château Latour in your cellar and it's a mature bottle that you've cellared for some time, AND if the restaurant not only has Château Latour BUT the very same vintage -- then, and only then, is it the very same wine. And -- depending upon your cellar conditions -- the restaurabt *may* have better storage conditions than you do. ;^)

                1. re: zin1953

                  So, Jason, how did you like the 1994 Cache Phloe ?

                  1. re: RicRios

                    Serious answer: the last bottle of Cache Phloe -- yes, it's a REAL label -- I ever had was the 1981 Chardonnay.

                    Cache Phloe was the private label for a retail wine store in Marin County, California -- Mill Valley, IIRC. The artwork featured gold coins in the formation of a grape cluster, with dollar bills acting as the grape leaves. The store is long defunct, I "added" the word "Château" for the nice way it sounded all together, and I've long used that in these sorts of discussions when I don't want to name a specific producer.

                    The other is "Domaine Jean Deaux," a take off on a great producer of Burgundies, the late Jean Gros.

                    Cheers,
                    Jason

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Jason,

                      this humble wino REALLY enjoys your expertise.

                      Chapeau!

        2. If you can afford to eat at the Polo Lounge, you can afford the $50 corkage.

          1. i guess what they are saying is:
            "we really don't want you to bring your own bottle, but we will try to temper that with a touch of flexibity."

            13 Replies
            1. re: westsidegal

              Well said. It's easy to forget that many, if not most restaurants outside of LA and SF (e.g. NYC) do not allow ANY corkage. Bringing wine isn't a right, and it is something that is up to the discretion of the restaurant... I wish it were more prevalent everywhere, but just because it's not, doesn't always mean I won't go someplace.

              I think the real issue is that many places have seen large numbers of customers take unfair advantage of corkage policies and that tends to spoil a good thing for the rest of us.

              BTW... My FAVORITE part of this review is the fact that the restaurant LOST IRENE'S RESERVATION!!!! How amazing is that? Talk about an "oh S**T" moment... IF they knew who she was.... ROTFLMAO!

              1. re: woojink

                "I think the real issue is that many places have seen large numbers of customers take unfair advantage of corkage policies and that tends to spoil a good thing for the rest of us." Please be so kind as to elaborate on this because I cannot imagine how it is possible to "take unfair advantage of corkage policies." Seems to me it's nothing more than a routine service with a standard fee.

                Obviously, The Polo Lounge can charge whatever it wants for its services. If the management was so inclined, it could also charge $150 to valet your car, whether it be a Bentley or a Kia. But who wouldn't be outraged by that?

                My point is that there are norms and tolerated limits. If a restaurant doesn't want to provide this simple service and allow for outside wines to be brought in, that is perfectly its right. But that's not the case here. And as someone who has dined there several times, I feel that absolutely nothing about the overall Polo Lounge experience warrants such an offensively disproportionate surcharge above the norm.

                1. re: Arthur

                  Many restaurants offer fairly low corkage fees in order to allow people to bring a "special bottle", maybe one they've been saving up -- the corkage fee in this case is really just a recovery of the cost to provide the wine service (glasses, service, decanting if necessary).

                  The "taking advantage" part comes in when you realise what a profit centre wine sales are for a restaurant. Think of how much it costs to buy a bottle of, say, Veuve Clicquot at a restaurant against how much it costs at a liquor store -- most of that huge difference is profit. If you bring in wine that the restaurant sells, you are denying them the opportunity to make that profit. Now, many people wouldn't give a damn, but if you do, then that constitutes "taking advantage".

                  I don't know too many restaurants that WOULD do corkage on a bottle they themselves sell, since the restaurants' view is that corkage is wine service for bottles they don't sell.

                  I was amused the night I was at La Luna Negra and a huge party had a couple of cases of wine, but had a huge argument when it came time to settle up, because they thought corkage was per "kind" of wine, not per bottle... ah, it's fun and painful to watch the clueless dine.

                  1. re: Arthur

                    Das Ubergeek and 2chezmike are both correct. "Taking advantage" comes in several forms, as they both mentioned.

                    Historically, before corkage was fairly widespread (primarily in the west), it was fairly unheard of. It was pretty much only available at restaurants where someone had a personal relationship... usually the patron being someone that was heavily "in to" wine as a collector or some such. A wine collector might make a special arrangement to bring in a bottle or two of really great "special" wine that the restaurant didn't carry and that was very special and high end. The restaurant would make an accomodation to the customer in this case as this customer was someone who would order well, perhaps buy a bottle or two from the house and follow the other rules of wine/corkage etiquette.

                    Since it's become widespread, the spirit of this original arrangement has changed drastically... more and more people are bringing in wine that is very low end, not special in any way, just to save a buck... additionally they are bringing in wines that the restaurant carries. This behavior falls into the category of "taking advantage" in the minds of most restauranteurs. I can see why.

                    The flip side of the coin is that wine has gotten considerably more expensive. Mark ups are an issue in some places, but again, that is the restaurants right to charge what they wish... our right as customers is to vote with our wallets. Also when you think about it, wine markups (from a percentage point of view) aren't nearly as bad as what restaurants charge for single drinks for hard liquor, beer or other spirits.

                    $50 is on the high end of corkage, and I think it is high. But there are others that are higher. Also, a wine that I would normally bring to (or drink in) a restaurant would usually cost me $300 to $1000 at a restaurant, so if you look at it from that perspective, $50 isn't so bad.

                    Just got back from SF and brought wine to both big dinners I had there... GREAT bottles... I also bought some VERY nice bottles from each place.

                    1. re: woojink

                      And let's not forget the bit of etiquette that says that if you bring fancy wine, it's considered polite to offer the sommelier a taste of the wine -- this goes back to the idea that corkage is for a "special bottle".

                      It cuts both ways, though -- a restaurant with corkage fees that has too high of a markup will see people bringing their own run-of-the-mill wine. The restaurant can either realise their wine markups are too high and lower the prices, or increase prices for (or eliminate) the corkage program. Both have their risks.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        I agree with the offering a sip to the sommalier. It's just good manners!

                        Still, nowadays, even thought the policy was for a "special bottle" you can call many places and find they will have no problem with whatever you want.

                        "Special" could be expensive wine. "Special" can be a hard to find bottle. "SPecial" can be a bottle that has been laid down for years. "Special" can mean grammy maime's favorite white zin to have on hir 90th birthday. "Special" can mean "it's my birthday and I like this winne, dammit."

                        "Special" depends upon the individual.

                        It would, of course, be easier to figure out what's on a wine list if EVERY place posted their wine lists online or in public. Otherwise, it would be silly bringing a duplicate (of course, I feel like a chump paying $30 for a bottle I could buy myself for $15- $20.)

                        The trick? Whatever you spend, whatever you bring, make it special to you, and try to find something unique or interesting.

                        A true Sommalier appreciates a bottle with a story behind it, no matter what it is.

                        1. re: Diana

                          My habit is to always offer a taste to the Sommelier or chef or whomever appropriate. I also always bring a very serious wine (usually means high end or very rare... generally NOT inexpensive, almost always at least 3 digits), I also almost always buy a nice bottle of white or Champagne from the house. That coupled with never bringing something already on the list nets a very favorable welcome towards bringing wine in the future.

                          To avoid the potential problem of bringing something that is already on the list, I usually bring several options... also let's us select the best pairing for what we decide on eating. On many occasions, my insulated 'wine bag' is full to its complement of 6 bottles. Rarely have I found a wine list that has more than one (max two - VERY RARE) of the bottles that I bring on it. If I'm travelling or it is not practical to bring several bottles, I speak to the Sommelier ahead of time and talk about what I can/should/will bring.

                          1. re: woojink

                            Forgive me for being a complete rube, but what are the mechanics of offering a taste? After the sommelier opens do you just say, would you care for a taste, or after he pours to everyone else, or before he opens, or what? We don't take our own wine to restaurants, but recently we've gotten some really nice bottles on our trips to the wine country and have been thinking about it. Thanks!

                            1. re: writergirl

                              When I bring a great bottle of wine or champagne to a restaurant, I always ask the captain, waiter, sommalier, or whoever's opening, to bring an extra glass for themself.

                              1. re: 2chez mike

                                What 2chez mike said. I always tell the sommelier to bring a glass for him/herself. I remember a wine dinner where 9 of us each brought a bottle of wine. The sommelier (who we had contacted earlier in the week to set up the dinner) said that it looks like we will need 81 glasses. Everyone chimed in, "Nope, 90." BTW, it was a great dinner and the restaurant waived half the corkage fees. Nothing like steaks and older California Cabs.

                                I can think of several restaurants here in DC where the owner is "into" wine in a big way and they encourage us to bring wine because they know they will get to taste some wines that they don't have.

                                On the other hand, most sommeliers don't want more than a small amount since it they drank a half a glass for every bottle offered, they would be flying.

                              2. re: writergirl

                                They'll ask how many glasses you require. Tell them, and say, "Please bring one for yourself if you'd like, we would welcome your opinion."

                                1. re: writergirl

                                  At some point, I simply tell the sommelier (or the waiter) to bring an extra glass for themselves.

                                2. re: woojink

                                  "If I'm travelling or it is not practical to bring several bottles, I speak to the Sommelier ahead of time and talk about what I can/should/will bring."

                                  You know, I do the same thing....it makes sense, really.

                    2. Maybe they just don't want anyone taking advantage of the system by coming in and sharing a seventeen dollar appetizer and bringing in their own bottle of Two Buck Chuck. ;)

                      1. the good news Ric is that the Polo Lounge will never be one of your dining options, so you really do not have to worry about their idiotic policies. Truly meant for the crowd they attract, not anyone else. It could be $100, and that crowd still would not be overlyl concerned. They probably would not even know what wine to bring, nor to even bring a good wine at all.
                        Time to move on!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: carter

                          Amen. Long live to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah.

                          1. re: RicRios

                            It's great that some of you can afford $100+ retail bottles of wine. There are those of us out here that want wine with dinner but don't want to pay $45 for a $15 bottle of wine that doesn't even taste good or then pay $75 for a $30 bottle that is at the current intersection of my taste vs. budget graphs. So we'll either pay a corkage or skip the wine altogether. A high corkage fee means that the restaurant will not make money from a corkage fee or their own wine.

                        2. When I went to Geoffrey's in Malibu years ago, they had the same "pay the price on the wine list" for corkage policy. Silly.

                          3 Replies
                            1. re: Dave and Stuff

                              Why is it silly? You wouldn't bring your own paté to a restaurant to avoid paying the price on the menu; you wouldn't bring your own tiramisu to a restaurant that sold it to avoid paying a per-piece charge... so why is it silly to charge the same amount for the wine as if they'd sold it, since it's available on the list?

                              1. re: Dave and Stuff

                                For those who pay corkage on their own bottle equal to the price of the restaurant's identical bottle, there should be a special sort of Darwin award.

                              2. The reality is, the costs of running a high end restaruarnt like the Polo Lounge are staggering and one of the easiest ways to profit is thruough significant wine markups and corkage.

                                Many more plebian eateries already charge $15-20 corkage, so $50 at the Polo Lounge isn't all that much of an eye-opener.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: 2chez mike

                                  Well, paint me purple and call me Plebian, 'cause I think $50 is too much, no matter what the overhead is

                                  My eyes are open and my pocketbook is shut.

                                  1. re: Diana

                                    Amen, Diana. $50 (not to mention tax and tip) to take about one minute to pop a cork and pour? Nice work if you can get it.

                                    Furthermore, I also think the expectation that one should always offer the sommelier a glass - i.e., as much as a quarter of a bottle - of one's own wine is, with all due respect, little more than grandstanding. I appreciate the appearance of generosity that lays gleaming at its surface, but please understand that in the grand scheme of things it just makes things so much harder for the rest of us. What's next - always setting aside some of the food on your plate for your server? Letting the valet take your car for a spin? Really, enough is enough.

                                    1. re: Arthur

                                      Rarely is a pour/taste for the Sommelier or anyone at the restaurant more than a two ounce pour. Certainly nowhere near a quarter bottle. That is more than overstating it. If you don't want to offer a taste, then don't. It is, however, considered by many as the polite thing to do.

                                      $50 is on the very high end for corkage, but having it available for $50 vs. not having any corkage, or ability to bring wine... which is the case in most other geographies... is far preferable.

                                      There is more to corkage than just opening the bottle. Usually, I have my reds decanted and in most higher end places (don't have any specific info re:Polo Lounge), good varietal specific stems (Reidel or Speigelau) are used. Does that justify a $50 corkage? Totally up to the individual point of view. For some (like me), it's not that big a deal... bringing my wine is more important... for others (like you and others) it is a huge deal. Some will, some won't. Such is life.

                                      1. re: Arthur

                                        Your analogy is not accurate.

                                        No, you don't leave food for the waiter on your plate, because you're not bringing your own food. If you DID bring, say, a special confection for someone's birthday, yes, I would absolutely offer a small bit to the pastry chef if he or she so desired.

                                        And when I say a taste, I mean a taste, not a glass. Like when they pour an ounce or two into the glass for you to inspect (make sure it's not corked, etc.), that kind of amount. Enough to give the sommelier a taste of a wine that he or she may never have got to try otherwise.

                                        That "politeness" that you consider "grandstanding" also can pay off -- when my uncle, who is a huge oenophile, brings a special bottle (the last time was an old Clos Vougeot grand cru) out of his cellar to his favourite restaurant in New York, he gives the sommelier a taste -- and thus they have struck up quite a relationship, and now the sommelier returns the favour by letting him know when they've got something new and exciting in the cellar.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          I always offer a pour to the sommelier or wine steward or server. I don't expect anything in return, but I've been surprised on more than a few occasions when the corkage has been waived altogether (even without the purchase of another bottle off of the resto's list). Sure, it certainly helps that the wines I bring are very nice bottles, but I think the gesture is invariably the reason.

                                        2. re: Arthur

                                          I have NEVER has a sommelier pour themselves "a quarter of a bottle" - EVER! That is 6.35 ounces (187.5ml). Most of the time, it's one-to-two ounces, and whenever I pour the glass, the sommelier usually says I'm pouring too much . . .

                                          Don't forget he/she is working, and you (me) aren't the only one giving the sommelier a taste that night . . .

                                          1. re: Arthur

                                            It is nice to offer a taste, but a real professional would not even allow you to give away much more than an ounce to taste... I work in a restaraunt and love to expand my wine knowledge. But, a taste is all that is needed, more than that is someone trying to take advantage of you. I'd consider not going back to a place that demanded a quarter of my bottle of wine. Personally, I waive the corkage fee to anyone who is nice enough to gesture a small taste.

                                      2. I believe the corkage at the French Laundry is $50 as well.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: joshekg

                                          It is $50 at The French Laundry, but comparing The Polo Lounge to The French Laundry is like comparing Paris Hilton to Angelina Jolie.

                                          1. re: Husky

                                            Now THAT'S one of the most cogent points in the entire thread! ;^)

                                            1. re: Husky

                                              I agree!

                                              Frankly, though, if I went to the French Laundry, I'd have their wine. And I have no clue why I feel that way.

                                              1. re: Diana

                                                I haven't seen the wine list at the Polo Lounge, but I doubt there are any bargains there. Then again, there aren't really any at the French Laundry, either. You're better off paying the corkage! ;^)

                                          2. In my 35 years in the trade, I know that most high-end, top-quality restaurants with a "serious" wine list/wine program have a corkge policy like this, i.e.: "you can't bring in a bottle of wine that's on our list, and if you insist, we will charge our list price as corkage."

                                            This is not unusual in the least.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              Speaking as someone without a large and/or unique cellar, this thread is somewhat bizarre. Seems to me one of the main reasons for choosing a restaurant--especially at the high end--is its wine list, and the enjoyment of finding something new, of discovering a great wine I don't have, never had, and are not likely to have. If I had some rare speciality in my cellar I really wanted to try because it matched a great restaurant's food: another story. However, regularly bringing a bottle (to say nothing of a back up!) is in poor taste and maybe just a bit obsessive. Why not bring your own baguettes? Or
                                              coffee beans? Or that special bottle of water? Sorry, I just don't get the fussing.

                                              1. re: obob96

                                                do you keep a variety of different bottles of water in your house that you find better than the evian that they serve at the restaurant?

                                                1. re: clayfu

                                                  Responding to clayfu and jason: I drink tap water only, and everywhere, unless absolutely necessary. I appreciate gerat bread and great coffee and an disappointed by the lack of either, especially at a place that should know better. But that's the gamble, it seems, in a world where nothing's perfect, and where fussing about getting everything right drains the life out of the day.

                                                2. re: obob96

                                                  First of all, it is LEGAL in certain juridictions within the United States for one to bring their own wine into an on-sale establishment. In other jurisdictions, that practice is ILLEGAL. (What is meant here by jurisdiction varies: sometimes it's a nation, or a state/province; in some states/provinces, it may vary by county or even by city.) Furthermore, just because one resides in a jurisdiction where it is legal doesn't mean that all restaurants within that jurisdiction will permit it. Clearly this entire discussion is completely moot if one resides in an area of the planet where it is legal to BYOB.

                                                  The practice of bringing in one's own wine varies with geography. For instance, it is a regularly accepted practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, in LA and in the Napa Valley (especially among locals). It is less common in places like, for instance, Boston or Richmond, Virginia.

                                                  As far as the main reason for selecting a restaurant is concerned, you write:

                                                  >>> . . . one of the main reasons for choosing a restaurant--especially at the high end--is its wine list, and the enjoyment of finding something new, of discovering a great wine I don't have, never had, and are not likely to have. <<<

                                                  For me, the ONLY reason to select a restaurant -- especially on the high-end -- is its food! In other words, I dine out in high-end restaurants because EITHER I like the food that Chef ________________ prepares (i.e.: I have enjoyed his/her cooking before, either at this or another restaurant, and am looking forward to trying it again), OR there is a brand-new place (or a brand-new-to-me place) that I have heard good things about and am looking forward to trying.

                                                  In other words, for me, it's all about the food. Period. Too many high-end restaurants have disappointing (not to mention over-priced) wine lists.

                                                  * * * * *
                                                  FWIW, I must admit that I have gone to restaurants just for the wine. The last time I went to a restaurant because of the wine list was in 1975, when Perino's was having a huge sale of dessert wines off their amazing list, and you could buy German Auslesen and Sauternes literally for pennies on the dollar! I think we went 2-3 times a week for a solid month . . .

                                                  * * * * *

                                                  I do not ALWAYS bring wine with me to restaurants. Far from it. But when I do, it's usually becasue I am a) going to dinner with friends who -- like me -- are or were also in the wine trade; b) we all have cellars full of special wines; and c) we want to share them with one another while enjoying to food of Chef _________________ (who, despite the considerable talents in the kitchen possessed by many of my friends, can cook far better than any of us!). (BTW, the reason for bringing in a second bottle of something else is in case the wine we open is corked or otherwise flawed.)

                                                  Again, FWIW, we always share glasses with the waitstaff/sommelier/chef of everything we bring. (This is but one reason why I have said that they always look forward to our coming in!) Another reason is that we tip very well, and tip as if we bought [not brought] the wine.

                                                  As far as bringing in our own baguettes, this is hardly necessary in the San Francisco Bay Area . . . but I have seen people bring in their own cake for dessert -- something I've never understood. As for coffee, despite the wide variety of excellent coffee available from a variety of small roasters . . . have you tried the coffee in most restaurants?!?!?! I sometimes wish I *could* bring coffee beans into restaurants, but no, I don't. (But few are the restaurants or coffee houses that make an espresso or cappuccino as well as I do at home.) As far as water is concerned, I usually drink tap water in the SF Bay Area or in New York, so . . . .

                                                  Cheers,
                                                  Jason

                                                  1. re: obob96

                                                    Obviously, corkage is a topic that is of interest to a wide variety of folks, for different reasons. If you read some of the threads on the wine centric boards, you will find that it is a major topic there too.

                                                    Why do people "regularly bring" a bottle of wine to dinner, there are many reasons. However, the most common are 1) that they can enjoy a much better bottle of wine than is available on the restaurant's wine list, 2) The ability to drink a wine that has been aged to maturity and, 3) it allows them to eat out at "fancy" restaurants more often since they don't have to factor in the cost of a bottle of wine and thus can spend more on the meal.

                                                    There are all sorts of ancilary discussions around corkage, how much to tip, whether to offer a taste to the server or chef, etc. We could go round and round forever on these too. Just suffice to say, if the restaurant permits corkage, and you are comfortable with it, and willing to pay the corkage fee, there is no reason you shouldn't avail yourself of the privilage. But the restaurant gets to make the rules, and you should not have any problem abiding by them. If they say that you can't bring in a wine that is on their list, don't try to do so. If they limit the number of bottles per table that is permitted, honor that limit (I won't even go into the major brew ha ha that this kind of limit caused last year on the boards.) If you think the corkage fee is too high, then don't bring a bottle. But if you are willing to play by the rules the restaurant sets forth, you can have a very nice meal, with a very nice bottle of wine, and everyone should be happy.

                                                3. There is an obviously deep divide on this page between those who believe they "get it" and those who supposedly don't. Or, sad to say, perhaps it may be a tension between the haves and the have-nots.

                                                  From my perspective, as I've stated above, corkage is nothing more than a service and convenience offered by a restaurant, one that is not substantively different from valet parking or coat-checking. It's perfectly fine if a restaurant chooses not to offer any such services to its patrons. But once it does, I believe that certain pricing limits based on common sense, common expectations, common courtesy and common decency need to set in. Whatever the corkage traditions may be, highway robbery is still highway robbery.

                                                  I've read many well-spun explanations and/or rationalizations on this page for high corkage fees. But IMO they've all chosen to ignore the bottom-line perspective: That is, if you don't mind a restaurant charging as much (or more) for corkage as it does to sell you a bottle of actual wine, you are explicitly allowing the fairly simple act of uncorking and pouring to have greater monetary value than the wine itself. If so, you are then defining corkage as a super-premium luxury service rather than a general customer convenience. Some people can justify, perhaps even enjoy, getting ripped off in such a frivolous, wasteful way. But forgive me if, from where I'm sitting, it is an alarming outrage.

                                                  13 Replies
                                                  1. re: Arthur

                                                    I rarely, if ever, buy a bottle of wine from a restaurant this is $50 or less. I rarely, if ever, bring bottles of wine that would be sold by a restaurant for uner $200, usually much, much more. I realize that my case is unique, primarily due to the depth of my cellar.

                                                    1. re: Arthur

                                                      Arthur, few restaurants charge as much (or more) for corkage as it does to sell you a bottle of actual wine. That is, a restaurant that charges $25 for corkage will have few if any full (750ml) bottles of wine available for $25 or less; ditto at $50. And even if they do, all one has to weigh is what your bottle (the one you bring) is worth TO YOU, plus corkage, versus how much a bottle (that you would actually buy!) would cost you off the list. For example, if I bring in a 1982 Château Latour, it's worth it to me to pay the corkage because I know I would NEVER be able to afford the hundreds of dollars the restaurant wants for a bottle of equal quality off their wine list. OTOH, if I'm bringing in a bottle of a current vintage (but hard to get) California Chardonnay that (e.g.) costs me $65, and I have to pay $25 in corkage, I want to see what bottle I can find on the list at $90: perhaps it will be a better deal, perhaps it won't.

                                                      (Actually, I'm with woojink -- bottles I bring in will rarely be under $150 in a restaurant, and often more.)

                                                      Sorry, Arthur, but from where I'M sitting, it's only "an alarming outrage" if the bottle that is $90 is going to provide me with more enjoyment (i.e.: it is a better bottle) than the one I may bring in . . .

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        "Arthur, few restaurants charge as much (or more) for corkage as it does to sell you a bottle of actual wine." zin1953, you appear not to have read the numerous comments above regarding restaurants (e.g., The Polo Lounge) that will charge the full menu cost to pour a bottle of wine you supply if it happens to already be on the restaurant''s wine list.

                                                        "For example, if I bring in a 1982 Château Latour, it's worth it to me to pay the corkage because I know I would NEVER be able to afford the hundreds of dollars the restaurant wants for a bottle of equal quality off their wine list." True enough, but IMO that rationalization doesn't by itself make the charge reasonable. Again, you and others seem to be more than content to justify turning a very simple service into an exploitative luxury tax. I'm not.

                                                        Perhaps the following example will help put this folly into some perspective. I swear the rest of this paragraph is 100% true: My wife and I were married at The Beverly Hills Hotel, home of The Polo Lounge. As part of our wedding package, the hotel gave us a bungalow for the night. When we arrived at the bungalow, there was a lovely table of food set up for us by the catering office, which included a complimentary bottle of the house sparkling wine. My wife and I decided to save the bottle, unopened, and hold onto it for a special occasion.

                                                        Fast forward to our 10th anniversary. Suppose my wife and I want to celebrate this important date at the site of our nuptials and to have a romantic dinner at the hotel's Polo Lounge. Further suppose that we decide to use the occasion to finally open the cherished bottle. When we arrive for dinner, we discover that the same bottle and vintage is on the restaurant's wine list for $150. Under the official policy highlighted by the OP, would it be OK for the restaurant to now charge us $150 to serve this gratis bottle? How about $50? Or would either exorbitant charge be the height of absurd rudeness? And, sentimentality aside, what's the practical difference between my bottle and any other brought in?

                                                        My answer choices: No. No. Yes. None.

                                                        1. re: Arthur

                                                          Your example is a good one. The real issue therein is that while you may WANT to bring in that original bottle. Your "right" or "ability" to do so as well as the terms of such is governed by the restaurant (Polo Lounge in this case)... If they choose to charge $150, $50, etc... whatever the amount, your only recourse is to not bring the bottle in, or not come in at all.

                                                          Your comment that it is the height of absurd rudeness is more than a bit extreme... there is no way the restaurant could possibly know that it is a bottle given to you for free 10 years ago.

                                                          Clearly your thoughts are that this particular corkage policy is wrong and overly punitive. Clearly others disagree. Such is life. Others, myself included, place a higher value on the wine and wine service in general. I tip on wine I don't buy but bring, I tip on waived corkage, I share my wine, I bring lots of wine and spend $$'s on corkage... all because drinking great wine is a very big part of my dining experience... an example, as I'm writing this, I'm looking at the time and realize I have to leave to meet my wife for dinner. In my office right now, I have 6 bottles of wine I'm going to take with me... 3 Burgs, 2 Cal Cabs, 1 White Burg... all serious bottles... because I don't know what I'm going to have for dinner.

                                                          We look at wine service and corkage through widely differing lenses. Doesn't mean that either of us is empirically "right"... in your worldview, you are, in mine, I (and likely zin1953) am.

                                                          By the way, in your example, if I brought that bottle in to the restaurant, I would fully expect to pay the $50 corkage, and would definitely NOT bring it in if it was on the list (I would check). If I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wanted to bring it in, and it was on the list, I would call ahead to speak to the manager and/or Sommelier to explain the situation to see if an exception could be made. If they could not accomodate (which would be a surprise - IMO only), then I would accept it, and not be upset.

                                                          1. re: woojink

                                                            You know what, I don't think there is a "wrong" or a "right" on Chowhound. there is opinion-and everyone is entitled to have and act upon their own.

                                                            Please stop telling people they're "wrong".

                                                            1. re: Diana

                                                              I could be wrong, but I think it's a discussion of "right" as in "rights & privileges," as opposed to "rights & wrongs."

                                                              1. re: Diana

                                                                I don't think I made any accusations of empirical wrongness or rightness. In fact, I pretty much said the same thing you said... to each his/her own.

                                                                Secondly, aren't you saying I'm "wrong" for my post?

                                                                I don't think you have any right more than me to tell me what to post or not to post...

                                                                1. re: woojink

                                                                  no, I'm not saying you're wrong at all.

                                                                  I agree with you on the corkage. Utterly and completely.

                                                                  I just felt it was, I dunno, to bother to such a reply.

                                                                  I have no right to tell anyone what to post at all, unless it is something about me that is incorrect, which you certainly didn't post.

                                                                  maybe I just read it wrong.

                                                            2. re: Arthur

                                                              First of all, the house sparkling wine was less than $50 then and is probably less than $50 now. (I'm not sure, having not been in the Polo Lounge since the remodel.)

                                                              Secondly, read woojink's reply. (more elegant than mine would be.)

                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                Most restaurants that offer corkage do so to encourage people to come to their restaurant. However, many restaurants have discovered that in places like SF or Napa, bringing a bottle of wine is so common that it is causing a major hurt to the bottom line. It wasn't that long ago that wine lovers were outraged at comments by some prominent SF chefs decrying corkage. The problem for the chefs however, was that corkage is so prevelant there that a good restaurant that does not offer corkage will lose a lot of customers.

                                                                However, I disagree with Arthur (obviously) that corkage is "nothing more than a service and convenience offered by a restaurant." Corkage is a privilage extended to customers by the restaurant when it is legal to do so. There is no corkage in Richmond because it is against Virginia law to permit it. In Washington DC, only restaurants with a liquor license are permitted to offer it, and in NJ I believe it is just the opposite, that only those with no license may do so. (I'm no expert on NJ laws.)

                                                                Here in DC there are plenty of restaurants that offer corkage but with a couple of exceptions, all require that the wine not be on their list. This is not much of an issue for many places because like most of the folks above have said, they usually bring a special bottle, or like in my case, either a bottle that has been in my cellar for a long time or something that is fairly scarce or rare. And most of the bottles I bring cost me somewhere between $40 and $60 when I bought them (some are less, though rarely, since I will drink those at home, and some are more, though even more rarely since I seldom pay more than that for a bottle of wine.) However, even if they were on a wine list, they would probably cost at least $100.

                                                                Unlike zin however, I often pick a restaruant because it has a great wine list. I travel a good bit and I try to make it a practice to eat a good meal at a restaurant with a good list at least once on each trip. The only times I take wine with me on business trips is when I am going to be with people who I know are also "wine dorks" like me and who will appreciate sharing a bottle of a small production PN or a 15 year old Bordeaux.

                                                                Last point, Arthur, I won't pay outragous corkage fees either. Here in DC $15-20 is the norm. In other places, it is not unusual for the corkage fee to be about the cost of the least expensive bottle on the list. There are a couple of places that have great lists that do not permit corkage (Citronelle for one) and others that have very good lists that discourage people from bringing wine by charging a corkage fee of $45-50. That is the restaurant's right. I eat at Citronelle, and purchase a bottle or two from their list, I also eat at a couple of the others and again purchase from their list, but not as often. But then, I won't pay overly jacked up prices for a bottle from a list either. I won't pay 4 times retail for a bottle of wine, regardless of how great it is, but I have been known to spend $300 to get a bottle of something that is well stored, has been properly aged, and I just can't find anywhere else at that price. (But not very often, I do occasionally listen to my wife.:))

                                                                1. re: dinwiddie

                                                                  There's no law in NJ prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in a restaurant by people of age, just laws governing who can actually sell alcohol in a restaurant (you need an on-license). There are a lot of little mom and pop Italian restaurants in New Jersey that offer free, or shockingly cheap ($2 a bottle) corkage, because they don't have to maintain a wine cellar, and they can't get one of the limited number of on-licenses allotted to a township.

                                                                  On the other hand, until recently, New Jersey had ridiculously strict rules about the off-license sale of alcohol which protected middlemen, so the quality of the wine was not very high for a very long time. Now, with restrictions, you can ship wine directly to consumers in New Jersey, and combined with the American wine boom, more places are investing in cellars... so I expect this tradition of cheap or free corkage will die out.

                                                          2. re: Arthur

                                                            Arthur, I don't think it is so much the haves and have nots, though I readily admit that now that I am older (zin and I are the same age apparently) I am a have, and no longer a have not.

                                                            However, when I was younger, I still availed myself of corkage policies, I just didn't bring as good a wine as I can now. It did mean that I could take a date to a fairly nice restaurant and enjoy a bottle of wine without blowing my entire monthly food budget. But I also didn't eat at places like the Polo Lounge when I was just out of college and living in LA either, I couldn't afford it.

                                                            "High end" restaurants are expensive, and their wine lists tend to be so too, but that is part of what you are paying for. The wine list is a major part of the bottom line. But if the option is bring a bottle, or not drink any wine at all, the restaurant should not have a problem with someone bringing a bottle of wine and paying a corkage fee.

                                                            1. re: dinwiddie

                                                              My only comments (aside from the fact that I'm 53 -- gawd, that sounds soooooooooo old!) all have to do with this:

                                                              >>> But if the option is bring a bottle, or not drink any wine at all, the restaurant should not have a problem with someone bringing a bottle of wine and paying a corkage fee. <<<

                                                              First, I don't think that it's a matter of "bring a bottle or don't drink at all." I think it's more a matter of bringing in (and paying the corkage for) a better/nicer bottle of wine that I will enjoy more than I could afford for a comparable bottle off the list. In other words, do I spend an extra $$$ out of my pocket for a bottle of wine in addition to my meal, or do I spend the money on dinner and only $$ on the corkage.

                                                              (On those many occasions when I don't bring my own bottle of wine with me to a restaurant, I still order and drink wine with my meal.)

                                                              Secondly, the restaurant should NEVER have any problem with a patron paying the corkage fee. After all, it is the restaurant and not the patron which established the corkage policy. As long as the patron "lives" within that policy, the restaurant has no reason, has no grounds to complain or otherwise make the patron's dining experience difficult.

                                                              Cheers,
                                                              Jason

                                                          3. Interesting "article" on corkage by the wine director from Myth restaurant in San Francisco:
                                                            http://www.tablehopper.com/2007/06/wi...

                                                            1. Bringing your own wine tip from a waiter:

                                                              1) don't bring something that is on their list, it is kinda of tacky and you will certainly be percieved as cheap. I know of several restaraunts who now have policies like the Polo Lounge and will charge you full price for a corkage fee. That is just bad for business.

                                                              2) When you do bring the wine, bring something nice, don't bring a 10 dollar bottle of whatever. be sure you are bringing a special occasion wine.

                                                              3)Consider buying a bottle of wine or champagne to start out your meal, and then having your waiter serve your wine over dinner. You have made a great gesture in buying the first bottle.

                                                              4) Offer you waiter a taste (not a glass, a taste). With out having consistent wine sales, I would not be able to make a decent pay check. When people offer me a taste they do two things, 1- They sort of offer a taste as a gesture of good will; 2- they often allow me to try something i've never had. I love the chance to expand my wine and food knowledge.

                                                              If you happen to observe any, or all of these rules, you will find often that your service staff will waive your corkage fee. That is what we do to those who treat us well. (Assumming they have an option in the matter)

                                                              If you have an outstanding bottle of wine that is on many restaraunt wine lists, drink it at home. Find a recipie you've never tried before, and make a big sunday dinner. You might even appreciate it more if you are pairing the wine with your own food.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: admas

                                                                admas has is right. I agree completely. I recently posted something similar on corkage "rules".

                                                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/337220

                                                                More often than not, following all of these "rules" results in the waiving of the corkage fees... happened just last night. BUT, and it's an important BUT... NEVER, EVER, EVER expect to have your corkage waived because you offered a taste or followed the "rules". We follow these rules to ensure an abundance of good will and "rightness"... NOT because we expect to get something in return.

                                                                Also, and this is DEFINITELY a rat hole of controversy and dissension... we ALWAYS tip as if we were not waived the corkage and many times we tip as if we've bought the bottle from the restaurant... within reason (if it would have been a $1,000 bottle, we do not att $200)... but it does make the tip in the 25% to 30% range of the total "actual cost" check.

                                                                The other big benefit of all of the above is that we are invariably welcomed back with a high degree of enthusiasm to the restaurants that we go to.

                                                                1. re: woojink

                                                                  woojink is correct (as is adams) when it comes to the unwritten rules of corkage. I didn't get into the tipping discussion because it wasn't part of the original issue, but I too tip as if I had purchased a bottle from the restaurant (even when, like I normally do if there are more than just my wife and I, purchased a bottle from the list.)

                                                                  As was pointed out in the article linked to above, many folks started bringing bottles with them because of the outragous markups that some restaurants charged. On the other hand, there is a restaurant here in DC (anyone who has read any of my posts in DC knows which one I mean) that has a great list, exceptionally reasonable markups, and a good corkage policy. The owner sometimes makes requests for what he would like me to bring, waives the corkage (since he always is offered a glass) and I still buy a bottle from the list.