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Sep 21, 2008 06:02 PM

BYO in Toronto

I thought about this topic recently, having tried a few places recently. The quality of service varies from place to place, as does the enthusiasm of staff when you bring your own. The sommelier at Morton's will ignore you from moment one, while the manager at Whitlock's will bring out multiple glasses and talk about his tasting experiences and offer to customize dishes to match what you bring. There isn't any current info on who's offering, how they're doing it, and what the prices are like. Responses and anecdotes welcome.

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  1. I just brought two different bottles of '99 Bordeaux to Scaramouche for a special dinner with some friends. The waiter gave the bottles to the sommelier, Ian, who immediately came over to talk about what order we wanted the wines to be served (he had a very definitive rec that was spot on). He decanted the wines and they were served as graciously as if they were from the restaurant's own cellar. Dinner was fantastic, of course. :)

    2 Replies
      1. re: jayt90

        What is a reasonable corkage fee?
        The equivalent to the markup on the least expensive bottle on the list?

        1. re: garlicandwingnut

          The website listing of BYOW restos in Toronto, noted above, is hardly complete. It doesn't include, for example, the only restaurant in the city - that I'm aware of - that charges no corkage whatever if you bring your own: namely Paese, an Italian resto on Bathurst St. north of Wilson Ave. Paese only charges corkage on Saturday. The rest of the week, no charge whatever, despite having a pretty extensive, and fairly priced, list of its own. The staff has never been less than gracious when I bring my own to Paese, though I take care not to crassly bring any bottle listed on Paese's website as being in its own cellar. It's also a good idea for the diner to add an appropriate amount to the tip so that the staff isn't out any tip money because of BYOW. The food is also quite good at Paese. There aren't too many places in town that can beat its Cornish hen recipe.

          What's a reasonable corkage fee? Well, no corkage whatever is ideal, but I'll sit still for up to $10, to cover the extra stemware and such. That's what I pay at Thai Plate (also not listed on the BYOW website noted above, which I suspect is restricted to advertisers), a decent Thai joint on Bathurst St. north of Lawrence Ave., with a notoriously limited wine list of its own. Anything more than a $10 corkage fee usually renders bringing your own wine rather pointless, in my opinion, unless you're bringing a very, very expensive bottle. Most joints nowadays have a $20-$25 corkage fee, which, to me, means "We don't want you to bring your own wine!"

          Would that Ontario had a BYOW policy similar to Quebec's, where restos can have one of two licences: either a regular liquor licence or a BYOW licence. Those with BYOW licences are usually small neighborhood start-up joints that rarely charge any corkage, some of them quite good, whose owners can't afford to stock a wine cellar and who are content to make their money solely on the food. A godsend for couples on modest incomes who merely want an enjoyable night out without shelling out big bucks on inflated wine lists. THAT'S the kind of BYOW policy Ontario should have. It'd put a stop to runaway restaurant wine prices in an instant. Though it'd also make most restaurant owners rather cranky, I suppose.

          1. re: juno

            I have a different take on Ontario versus Quebec and byow in general. I think that the Ontario system is superior as it maximizes choice for the restaurants and the public. A restaurant doens't have to choose - it can both offer byow and offer its patrons a wine list. Customers then have the option of buying off the list or bringing their own.

            I regard byow as one of the best innovations in the Ontario dining system over the past few years. Like everyone else, I would prefer if corkage were a bit lower, but I recognize that wine is a high margin item and that restaurant owners need to make up that margin if they are to make a living. Customers can decide if the corkage is worth it or not. When I think that the restaurant is charging excessive corkage for its quality, I go somewhere else. But for me, the chance to drink a great bottle of mine with some great food is a privillege worth paying for, particularly if the wine service is good.

            In terms of finding byow restaurants, the Toronto Life restaurant website lets you search for byow in a particular area or throughout their entire data base. While not perfect, in my experience, it is the best currently available. Too bad they don't list the corkage fee, but you can always call and ask.

            1. re: juno

              Here's a list of who and how much. As to how, I have yet to bring my own. Perhaps I have bottle envy? Looking forward to Barberians.

              1. re: Googs

                I have a feeling it's seriously out-of-date (or copied from out-of-date lists).
                Example: Susur dropped his corkage from $60 to $40 over 2 years ago - and of course no longer exists anyway.
                But of course, everybody should call and check anyway.

                1. re: estufarian

                  This was the original that other sites copied. There are no up-to-date lists to be found. For all the origfinal fanfare about having BYOW, there was no follow-up to promote it. Even the Toronto Life "BYOB" search function comes up with several defunct restaurants. Let's call the Bring My Wine list a starter kit and see if we can build from there. Whaddaya say?

                  1. re: Googs

                    Good idea, Googs. The title will have to reflect Toronto and GTA or it may get moved.
                    Perhaps some of us can volunteer to sift through the list every 3 months to see if it is up to date, and bumped up.

                    1. re: jayt90

                      LOL! You guys slay me. Start that thread jayt90! How about "Who has BYOW in Toronto and how are they at it?"

        2. A post about whether BYO should be a requirement or an option has been moved to the Not About Food board. You can find the thread here:

          Please keeps posts in this current thread about finding BYO restaurants in Toronto. Thanks!

          1. any other toronto byow places with no (or only token) corkage fees?

            For us in Montréal, the thought of corkage fees is rather ghastly.

            1. The original comment has been removed