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Jul 17, 2008 04:33 PM

When is it ok to bring wine to a restaurant?

We live in California where almost every restaurant allows a guest to bring his/her own wine and pay a corkage fee of from nothing to ~$25. We enjoy good wine, and have a pretty nice collection of wine at home. We enjoy eating out somewhere really nice about once a week, but because we are retired, we have to watch expenses a bit. At many local restaurants it is really difficult to find a truly good bottle of wine (in our opinion) for less than about $100...which with tax and tip would come to about $130, clearly more than we can afford. We have many wonderful bottles at home which cost us ~ $30-40 and which we could not afford to buy at a restaurant, therefore we frequently bring one with us and pay corkage. Sometimes we feel uncomfortable doing this, but nevertheless we are forced to do so if we want a good bottle of wine with dinner. Is it ok...are there any much should we tip the server? Certainly we would always bring a very good bottle with us, and one that is unlikely to be on the wine list. Also, we always offer the server a taste. We never know what is the right thing to do with tipping. Any advice re this would be welcome. There may be some regional differences in the U.S., but in CA due to the proximity to wine country, bringing wine to restaurants may be more common than elsewhere. Any advice would be welcome!

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  1. As a former server, I think it's always ok to bring your own wine provided the resto. allows it, and it's not a duplicate of a wine that they offer. (And even that is usually ok, too.) It's great that you offer a taste to your server, buts it's also nice to pour a smidge for the chef, too. As far as tipping, it's fine to tip 18-20% of the total bill including corkage fee, but if you wanted to bump the tip up a little to reflect what it would've cost to buy a wine from the resto list, your server probably would love you even more ;). A fellow Californian hoping this helps.

    4 Replies
    1. re: adamshoe

      Yes we tip on corkage,it only replaces the stem cost.Yes we take more than
      one bottle.Yes we take care to not duplicate a list wine,unless we have a very
      nicely aged example.We always SHARE with our server,the chef (and the manager) any where we have a long standing relationship.I am F&B trade,we
      have a huge,deep cellar(2 generations).The young trade is so under exposed
      to older fine wine and off the wine list wines,we feel sharing is win- win for all.
      A bottle has 6 nice pours.As a usual party of four we try to send 1 really nice
      pour to the house(5oz).Most often these partials are shared after service by
      three or more people.More and more of whom are taking good wine service
      very seriously.Also we don't lean on FRI&SAT nights,how to served is a two
      way street.It is no surprise when after 4 or 5 bottles,lost count of nice stems,
      the check arrives,CORKAGE on all but one bottle has been waived.Guess where we return and go out of our way to recommend.The server still gets the
      full corkage fee\BYOB tip.The usual amount for us to give is $12.00 or more per bottle,about half a corkage fee amount.
      Feed back on the $12.00-$20.00 number would be welcome.We don't use wine list pricing as a measure because it's just such an absurd one for wine
      with no bottle age.$$$ triple retail are preposterous to me.

      1. re: lcool

        For good service we always tip a generous 20% on the bill which will generally include corkage, than add about $10-15/bottle tip over that. If corkage is waived, then I think $20/bottle would be a nice tip to leave.

        Quick question for someone in the many restaurants charge 3 to even 4 times retail for wine. Doesn't this translate into at least 5x wholesale? If so, this is truly preposterous, and I think strongly encourages patrons either bringing their own wine, or sticking to cocktails and beer (which are also overpriced generally).

        Charlie Palmer (of New York and Las Vegas Aureole Restaurant fame) recently opened Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdales in Orange County, CA. It is a really nice restaurant and they have an attached wine store called Next Vintage. The wine list in the restaurant is a tablet computer which they present with the menu, and it shows the full inventory of the wine shop. You can search by country, color, varietal or even by price...a neat trick! The best part of it all is that the list is priced retail (for take home purchases), and if you wish to have a bottle or two with your meal, they add $25 per bottle to the retail price. I think this is quite fair!

        1. re: josephnl

          In Baltimore, the Wine Market does the same thing, only it's a $6 charge. Hopefully New England can hop on this train in the future!

          1. re: josephnl

            Wine lists are often 4 or 5 times wholesale,with no bottle age and not much more than minimal staff knowledge/training.The lists with any older wines is rare,not to mention the "corrected"prices every few months.Retail on/off sales is regulated by law.DC corkage legal,Va not,MD county by county,VA Arlington county is the one retail,pour in
            house exception.A few purveyors/restaurants in Frederick co MD are
            a tad smarter,THE ENTIRE LIST is only 10 or15% over retail.Any one
            that has half price wine nights sort of rubs both ways.Were you ? ?us
            to begin with?

            Charlie Palmer in DC has a terrific policy,if the wine is domestic,limit
            2 bottles,corkage is free.We have taken old icon wines,fee waived.How
            the customer handles it plays back in a big way.Service staff does not
            equal servant/serf.

      2. If the resto has a corkage policy, then they are OK with it and you should not feel embarassed or funny in any way. They made the rules, you stuck to them, end of story. ask when you make the reservations. If they don't allow you to bring wine, then you can decide if you want to abide by that policy, or go elsewhere.

        We are also Nor Cal. We tip as we normally would on the bill. Corkage is included, so by definition we tip on that. There is no need, IMHO, to tip extra because you brought wine. If the server is helpful with pairing advice, or such, we will adjust the tip, but I view that as better service, and not because we brought wine.

        We offer a taste to the server if they are being helpful and friendly, but don't feel compelled to do so. A taste may help them with pairings however. If they sound like they know what they are talking about, then it might be in your best interest to do so. I have never offered the chef a taste. Giving alcohol to someone who is working near fire is not something I would be comfortable doing.

        2 Replies
        1. re: lgphil

          I agree with everything you said except for the tipping aspect. If the server provides good wine service (keeping glasses poured adequately, decanting, icing, etc.), I'd definitely tip extra.

          1. re: invinotheresverde

            Yeah, I probably would too, but again, I view it more as getting better than average service and not related to the original question of bringing wine itself. I would adjust the tip the same if the wait staff did (or failed to do) those things on a bottle I purchased from them.

        2. Hi josephnl, a wino here from SoCa!

          "Is it ok..." : ABSOLUTELY
          "are there any rules...": Yes, the ones set by the restaurant, plus common sense.
          "how much should we tip the server? ... ": As usual. BYOB doesn't change the rules.

          And don't forget BYOS ( bring your own stems ) in case the ones provided are not up to snuff with your liquid assets.

          3 Replies
          1. re: RicRios

            BYOS?? Definitely a gray area....might be slightly insulting to resto. We used a lovely, all-purpose Riedel stem for our wine service but occasionally got requests for a "balloon" or "Bordeau" type vessel. We physically did not have the space to stock wine-specific stemware, so we compromised on the Sangiovese/Riesling glass from Riedel. Who washes the stemware that you bring in w/ you? Do you go to the restroom and give 'em a quick rinse before heading home? Do you expect the resto to wash them? Lots o' peeps don't realize that every glass in a resto requires a different type and design of rack to fit in the dish machine. Can become a nightmare when offering a gazillion types of stemware. Just my 2 cents....

            1. re: adamshoe

              I like your 2 cents,the stemware is a logistical hassel,won't even address what a kitchen or the square footage costs.

              About BYOB for instance PA,perhaps the stupidest abc laws in the US,
              coupled with perhaps the most expensive/complicated liquor license
              procedures out there.Enter BYOB,fine stemware and 2 star or better
              chef/owners at fine dining establishments.Small with two staggered seat
              ings,booked 15 to 25 days out.If you are a wino there is the tasting menu
              avenue and a la carte.The folks that bring the Jack and ? are just as well
              received.In a state where not much about acoholic beverage service works

              Our forays across the Mason-Dixon line are to take advantage of this not
              to far from home boon.This a $20.00 per bottle tip every time,stems and
              service cost someone $$.

              1. re: adamshoe

                BYOS: I do it only if I know beforehand they have crappy stemware, or none at all. It has been always well received by the restaurant.
                Washing, of couse, taken care of by yours truly. Used stems travel back home upright in the same bag they came, no big deal.

            2. As long as the restaurant has a corkage policy, it is okay to bring your own wine. There are a couple of "professional courtesy" considerations, however. You really should only bring bottles that the restaurant does NOT have on their list, and you should only bring a decent bottle of wine. It is pretty tacky to show up with a bottle of, for instance, Yellowtail chardonnay, just so you can save a few bucks on your bill (since you already noted that you only bring good bottles, I'm throwing this in here for others' consideration).

              For tipping, I've seen it recommended that you tip according to what the bottle would sell for if it was on the list. If you are bringing a bottle that costs 30-40 retail, assuming a 3x mark-up, then tip 15-20% of $90-120.

              2 Replies
              1. re: DanaB

                I have several bottles of pretty high end, but rather readily available wines such as Justin Isosceles, Silver Oak and Caymus reserve cabs. Many restaurants may or may not have these on their lists. So, would you call the restaurant ahead of time to inquire...or would you just not bring these wines?

                I certainly understand your rationale and justification for tipping based upon what the restaurant would charge for the wine you bring, but I'm questioning whether or not you are overly generous (or perhaps, I am overly cheap!); I don't think many people would do that. Although I think it's reasonable to tip an extra $10-15/bottle (which is equivalent to a 20% tip on a $50-75 bottle of wine), I am wondering why, aside from your obvious generosity, you would think it necessary to tip more if you brought a more expensive bottle to the restaurant. The additional amount of work for the server is either negligible or non-existent, and perhaps offering them a pour of the more special wine is enough to make up the difference. What do you think?

                1. re: josephnl

                  I would call the restaurant first to check to see if they have the bottle you are considering bringing on their list -- you could ask at the time you make your reservation or when you call to check what their corkage policy is.

                  As for the tipping amount, remember that, whether you bring the bottle or buy it from the list, the work is the same for the waiter or sommalier who is handling your wine. I think your quibble on tipping amount applies to wine in general, and not just to wine one brings to the restaurant. Some argue that wine service is the same whether it's a 50 dollar bottle or a 300 dollar bottle, so why should the server get a $10 tip on the former and a $60 tip on the latter? My personal opinion is that if you can afford a $300 bottle, you can afford the $60 tip. I think this is especially applicable in the case of people bringing wine from home -- is it really fair that the waiter's tip be penalized because you opted to bring your own bottle rather than buy one off the list? This topic has come up before and people have different opinions on the subject, as you might imagine :-)