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Mar 29, 2008 10:53 AM

Corkage fee at retail shop/winebar

I'm interested in knowing the view of posters here about whether or not it is reasonable for a wine shop to charge a small corkage (say $5) for bottles bought in the shop and consumed at the shop's wine bar. Many local wine shops now have rather active 'wine bars' in them. They feature wine flights as well as a short wine list of tasting pours usually for much less cost than a similar quanitity of wine at any restaurant or traditional wine bar. Many also serve a menu of cheese pairings, small sandwiches and other appetizer items.

For the shop there is a greater profit percentage in the pours and the food than there is in the bottles at retail price. Pour prices I find are generally based on a 1.5 times multiple of the retail price of the volume of wine. A customer who buys a bottle to 'taste' pour-by-pour gets the same level of service and attention as someone doing a flight or pours or glasses but the shop is making only the profit on the bottle and doesn't get the multiple on it without a corkage charge.

In your experience AND in your opinion is a wine shop with a wine bar in it somehow different from a 'regular wine bar' or restaurant in regard to this subject? What issues do you see in this situation?

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  1. This is just one more ripoff that adds to a long list.
    The idea is: you try it, if people swallow it passively, then it's here to stay.
    Income Tax, "temporarily" created by the IRS in WWII
    "Handling Charges", fees out of thin air applied to pretty much anything nowadays
    the infinite list of ridiculous bank fees,
    the extra fee many merchants charge for paying with ATMs,
    the yearly fees applied by some credit cards
    and I could go on and on.

    My position:
    I do not patronize wine store/wine bar combos that charge corkage on their own stuff.
    If consumers complain, the custom will go away.
    If they don't ( as it's unfortunately the case most of the time, see list above ), then it'll be here to stay.

    7 Replies
    1. re: RicRios

      I don't necessarily disagree with you but I'm trying to focus on the WHY of this reaction. What is it about this business model that makes you feel they should offer pouring service, bread, crackers, glassware, etc.. at no charge if you buy a bottle from them. Do you feel they should also price their flights and pours, including the same services, at no profit above the retail value of the wine? Where I live most of them offer almost all the amenities of a wine bar or restaurant lounge these days, yet they seem to be perceived very differently.

      These businesses seem to be hung up in a unique space in people's minds. They need to offer wine tasting and winebar amenities to attract customers and to help sell wine, yet they are 'expected' to work on a non-restaurant (retail) price structure in that aspect of their business.

      1. re: Midlife

        Let me illustrate my point with a short story.

        In my first and last visit to Wolfgang Puck's Cut restaurant in Beverly Hills, I ordered a steak ( don't recall exactly which one ) and chimichurri sauce. The steak was top dollar, close to 3 digits. And they had the galls to add $2.00 to the bill for the chimichurri sauce. I met some time after this with Puck's top chef Lee Hefter, and complained him re. the $2.00. His response: "In order to provide extra service for free, we would have to jack up the prices for everybody, and that would be unfair." Now... come on! FIRST you are already charging top dollar, what the heck. SECOND what, are you telling me water and bread are part of my bill? Well, it happens I don't drink water and don't eat bread. Could you please deduct?

        Perhaps my point in all of this is: I feel very uncomfortable when every little item is billed. Now is chimichurri sauce, later it'll be use of napkins, visits to the restroom, pieces of bread consumed, extra fees for making a reservation,... should I go on? Back to the wine / bar business model: I don't expect free crackers, cheese or tapas. But neither do I expect being charged for pulling a corkscrew or using a stem. Hey, after all I always carry my own corkscrew & stem...

        1. re: RicRios

          So.... you have no problem sitting at the tasting bar and paying $3 for a 2oz pour from a $25 bottle ($36 for 12 total pours), but don't like paying $25 + $5 = $30 for the whole bottle? That's the simple math of it. The fact that the $5 is added on at the end is so offensive? Just trying to really understand this.

          BTW, a winebar or restaurant would likely charge $16 or so for 6 ounces of the same wine vs. $9 at the retail tasting bar. Is there another way you would suggest they get a fair profit on the bottle served on site? I know others share your opinion on this......that's why I've asked the question. I just really don't see how this new-ish wine tasting environment can make an honest profit on this part of their business if they're somehow caught in between business models and ae affected by this feeling on the part of consumers. Do they just have to suck it up on the bottle service or just not offer it?

      2. re: RicRios

        things in this world cost. there is no getting around it. ultimately everything has a price.

        there isn't a universal rule that should be applied to everything, because everybody's situation is different and everybody's goals are different.

        the fact to the matter is - you probably neither want to nor can't have the staff at BevMo, Costco or Trader Joes open that bottle you just bought for you to enjoy in their store, because they are not licensed to do so.

        if you'd like to take that bottle out to the Bevmo parking lot and enjoy it out there, you run the risk of being fined for public intoxication - unless you are in Las Vegas there just aren't that many places in the country for you to drink in public.

        and if you visit the little wine bar/store and the store owner has gone through the process of applying for the on-site alcohol license, the food and health permit, and buying those bar stools, dishwashers and stemware. he should have the right, if he chooses, to recapture his investment. the poster down below "sebi" chooses not to do so. that's very admirable of him and maybe he has other avenues help pay the rent. maybe his retail prices are higher than normal. who knows. all i know is that everybody deserves the opportunity to get paid.

        1. re: waffleman

          Waffleman: nope, normal retail markup.

          Like I mentioned, if you purchase a bottle from me, why should I care where it is drunk. And if I have the license to have open container, primarily for wine flights and education, then why not allow it at my wine bar?

          Here is a common situation: a customer who is a regular buys a wine flight, then wants a bottle of one of the wines, decides to buy a full bottle and would like to drink it at the bar.

          Should I?
          a) Look to get an additional $5-$10 corkage from that person?
          b) Open the bottle for them, let them enjoy it and they leave with a good feeling

          To me that good will translates into word of mouth advertising. There is a cost for that.

          It just seems a bit short-sided to me to ask for corkage. Most retailers will tell you it is the "repeat" customers that make your business thrive. If you are in it for the long haul, providing the best customer service is the way to go.

          1. re: sebi

            sebi: i'm not hating on you. i said it's admirable that you do it that way. that's great for you and great for your customers.

            my contention that it is perfectly reasonable for some shop owners to charge a corkage. just as i think it's reasonable for restaurants to charge corkage.

            i wish every wine bar didn't charge corkage and wish every restaurant didn't, but it's a pretty standard and common practice and shouldn't be viewed as unreasonable.

            and further, most bars that i go to waive it for regulars.

            in fact, the place that i go to most, i talk to the owner quite a bit. he says he only really charges it half of the time. the biggest determinant on whether he charges the corkage is the customers attitude.

            1. re: waffleman

              I hear you. And I agree that it is reasonable from a business perspective. But I also know that some people do look down upon it. And I always want to keep in mind what it was like to be a customer...

      3. Yep, sometimes you do not make the same profit on everything you sell. The Wine bars that charge a corkage on their own product and pissoff good customers are simply stupid. They are making money on the wine they sell, the folks that are smart enough to buy a bottle are probably serious knowledgable winos, just the kind of repeat customers these places need to stay in business. Don't piss off the money train, you are much better off having happy repeat customers so you can keep making money off them with every visit.

        2 Replies
        1. re: duck833

          Once again..... could someone help me with why a corkage is different from the shop taking a markup on individual pours from bottles of the same wine?
          I KNOW the corkage pisses off some people...... but the same people don't mind paying that service markup on individual pours. That's what I don't get.

          1. re: Midlife

            Retail sale: ring up bottle, place in bag (or box), thank customer, done.

            Sales by-the-glass: take customer's order, open bottle, pour glass, serve customer, thank customer . . . clean up after customer leaves, wash wine glass(es), dry glass(es), put away glass(es), wipe down bar, fill open bottles with inert gas to preserve them overnight . . . .

            When a customer brings his own wine into a restaurant, OR buys a bottle in a store and drinks it there (in the store's license wine bar), you are still using their glasses, their bar/table. their chairs, etc.

            So . . . you tell me: which of the two scenarios above does your "corkage" more closely represent? Did you bring in your own corkscrew and glasses, or did you use the store's wine glasses?

            From what I've read so far, it not only seems perfectly reasonable to charge a corkage in this instance, but economically necessary and even desirable!


        2. I believe that a wine bar in a wine shop is very different from a restaurant or bar that charges a corkage fee. A corkage fee is charged when a customer brings in a bottle of his own and does not purchase one from the establishment. Imagine going to a restaurant, ordering a bottle of wine, and then being charged, on top of the bottle just purchased, a corkage fee. I can appreciate the wine seller charging for tastings or actually selling legitimate glasses of wine, but they should not profit further on a bottle they sold moments ago. Instead, they should be bending over backwards to accommodate customers who not only purchase from their store, but who help to create an environment where the store is not only a point of transaction, but a community establishment where the product can be enjoyed and highlighted for other customers.

          My .02.


          1 Reply
          1. re: AManHastoEat

            The mark up on a bottle of wine sold in a store would cover the store costs - rent, staff, etc. If a store then decides to have a bar, that is going to entail extra costs, such as someone to pour, glasses, a dishwasher, washrooms maybe, etc. Why should those things come for free?

            What it all comes down to is ome people just hate paying for anything...

          2. I can't speak for everywhere, but in many places, including here in DC, there is a substantial extra cost to get a license that permits you to pour wine by the glass as opposed to selling it by the bottle. I don't see anything wrong with a wine shop charging a modest corkage fee to allow you to drink your bottle there, using their glasses, etc.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dinwiddie

              Yup, the additional (required) license can cost anything from $$-$$$$

            2. I don't understand the whole concept.

              If you are going to buy a bottle of wine from the "off-premises" portion of the the store, why do you want to drink it "on-premises"?

              If you want to drink on premises, sit at the in-store wine bar and drink a glass of wine.

              Charging such a fee seems perfectly reasonable to me. The action of buying a bottle from the retail 'off=premises' license, and then carrying it to the 'on-premises' licensed portion of the ship seems to me rather ludicrous.

              3 Replies
              1. re: FrankJBN

                There are some retail wine stores that -- where permitted by law -- have a second, "on-sale" license. They serve limited amounts of food, but they DO serve food, and often times people DO congregate there to taste through a flight that is offered AND/OR buy a bottle to serve and drink with friends.

                Two such examples in Northern California are the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant -- or for info on their wine bar and its $6 corkage -- and Solano Cellars -- or for info specifically on its wine bar.


                1. re: zin1953

                  "There are some retail wine stores that -- where permitted by law -- have a second, "on-sale" license. They serve limited amounts of food, but they DO serve food, and often times people DO congregate there to taste through a flight that is offered AND/OR buy a bottle to serve and drink with friends."

                  You seem to have misread my post.

                  When I said "If you want to drink on premises, sit at the in-store wine bar and drink a glass of wine", that included the possibility that one might purchase more than one glass.

                  The situation you describe is opposite of what the OP describes.

                  1. re: FrankJBN

                    Reopening this discussion as, for some reason, I never saw or don't remember some of it from back in '08 when I started it.

                    FrankJBN, if you're still around, or anyone....

                    A retail wine shop in the US works on something in the neighborhood of 30-50% profit margin on bottle sales, while bars and restaurants work on maybe twice that. In order to compete today many local wine shops have had to invest in seating, staff, kitchen facilities at some level, and have created 'on premise' service by the glass and bottle. Many also feature live music, usually on busier nights.

                    I really do understand that people can come down on both sides of this argument, but I mostly agree with Zin (above) that there IS a justification for the charge in the wine bar, especially those with food service. I don't see why you think my OP isn't what he is describing. It is exactly what I was talking about.

                    As an aside, one such place I'm aware of waives the corkage for "regulars". Not fair, admittedly, but it does answer one of the objections.