HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >

Discussion

How high should a corkage fee be? (split from San Francisco board)

I haven't been to Slanted Door, so can't comment on the relative merits of the food. But just a general comment: the phenomenom of "corkage" is a relatively new one, and I think (tho not sure) it began in the Northern California wine country. We have come to think that we are entitled to bring our own wines to dinner and that corkage should be a minimal charge. However, restaurants are not obligated to even offer corkage. It's a courtesy that more and more restaurants extend, but it's not a right. I agree, $35 is high, I'm not trying to assert that it isn't, I'm just saying that corkage should be treated as a courtesy. I don't think we should be trying to "stick it" to a restaurant because the corkage is high. Instead, we should just drink wine from their wine list when we dine there. Of course, if you have a special bottle that is not on the list that would be perfect with the meal, you may want to bring it, but in that case I would always call the restaurant or check the website to see if corkage if even offered (yes, I know it almost always is in the bay area) and if so, how much does it cost. Then use this information to decide where you will eat, and where you will drink that special bottle.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
Posting Guidelines | FAQs | Feedback
Cancel
  1. Perhaps if restaurants didn't charge $30 for a $7 bottle and $9 a glass for a $10 bottle, they would have a leg to stand on. In other countries and less pretentious food areas like New Zealand or the restaurants where I grew up in South Florida, corkage is unheard of. If you bring a bottle of wine, someone will open it and perhaps join you for a toast. Markups are also not 300%.

    It's one thing to charge a modest courtesy fee that covers your wine glasses and dishwashing, another to discourage people from bringing their own bottles, and quite a third to gouge tourists and expense account diners, hoping they won't care. Restaurants that don't build relationships with their customers will not survive in this economy.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Windy

      Comparing restaurants in S.F. with those of other countries and cultures is really not a fair. The cost of doing business in America, and even more so in S.F. calls for a much different pricing structure...and certainly the SD in its current digs (like em or not) is experiencing a lot more overhead than in a building they owned on Valencia St. in the 90's.

      1. re: Windy

        From my trip to New Zealand, it is permissable to BYO if the restaurant does not have a liquor license.

        1. re: baron45

          And I must add that I believe eating in any restaurant in S.F. is still a voluntary affair. If someone prices themselves out of the market...they will suffer the consequences. I don't think SD has to worry.

          1. re: bdl

            Oy, so much consternation! I love the Slanted Door, and I also love Vietnamese food (including what I ate in Vietnam). I think "authenticity" has a place, but that's not TSD's goal. Also, even in Hanoi and Saigon, the chefs are experimenting with new food ideas. Is there anyone here who says their food can't be called Vietnamese?

            What I really wanted to post about: When at TSD, order beer. Their selection is good and goes with the food quite well and is much cheaper than wine. Problem solved.

            1. re: lorien

              thanks, lorien- I appreciate your post!

          2. re: baron45

            The same is generally true here in Pennsylvania, where many restaurants either can't afford or choose to not apply for very expensive liquor licenses. We're really fortunate that there are so many fine restaurants here in the Philadelphia area where we can tote along our own bottles of wine, very often with no corkage fee at all.

          3. re: Windy

            I wonder what Bay Area rent means to mark ups.

            1. re: Windy

              In very broad terms, a B-T-G selection is usually priced at the cost of the entire bottle at wholesale. Now, I've seen it at retail + 50%, in some places, that just do not "get it."

              Also, remember that more goes into that single glass of wine, re: restaurant's overhead, than just the cost of the wine, contained within.

              Hunt

            2. The family is taking my Mom to dinner for her 80th birthday. The restaurant charges on $10 corkage (per bottle) and we are bringing 6 bottles. I thought the charge was very reasonable since we are getting nice bottles of wine.

              1. Kathleen M,

                I know that your thread was split from the SF board, so most of your comments are aimed at that particular market. Still, for a little discussion, on a bit broader concept, there is currently a "BYOB" thread on the Wine board, with some good comments on how local laws can come into play. Take a look at:
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/577735

                Now, I do not know exactly where BYOW and "corkage" got its start, though Napa/Sonoma sound good to me. I do not normally involve myself with it, with a few exceptions. I have brought special wines to several restaurants, with but a call. To date, I have not ever been charged corkage, but these were all special wines, in special restaurants.

                There are several replies, that indicate that with the "right" wines, and a call, others have not been charged a "corkage fee," either.

                The charging for the opening of a client's wine, providing the glassware, and possibly decanting, plus making sure that glasses are not empty, etc., is fairly common, where allowed by the various laws. These service items do cost the restaurant money. Wine sales are also part of many restaurant's business plan. Some chose to charge a "corkage fee" that just covers their additional costs, while some do use it (or so it seems) to dissuade patrons from bringing in their own wine.

                The same seems to exist, though in reverse order, with the patrons. Many just want a special bottle, that is NOT on the restaurant's wine list, while others are trying to "beat the system," by picking up a bottle of $2 Chuck at TJ's, on their way to the restaurant. I am only in the former group and always offer the server, the sommelier, often the chef, and likely the owner, some of my wine. That, plus the call beforehand, is probably why I have never encountered a "corkage fee." It seems similar for many.

                Now, let's look at the wine pricing. First, the restauranteur possibly employs a sommelier to build the list and stock the cellar. Wine is purchased, at wholesale, or through auction, etc. Money is spent up front. A space needs to be created to store that wine, and some of it for many years. Glassware must be purchased, and the staff needs to be trained, unless only the sommelier handles the wine. Some of this wine is used to educate the staff. If a bottle is broken, it is part of the overhead. If a bottle is tainted, it will probably be replaced, free, by the distributor, UNLESS it's a much older bottle, or is acquired via auction. Still, part of the overhead. Then, we have to count the washing of the glassware. Good glassware can, and does break, and must be replaced. Next, though possibly on a laser-printer, the wine list needs to be printed, and then updated. Again, this is overhead. Last, the restaurant should be expected to make a profit, after all of the overhead has been accounted for.

                Yes, that US$50 bottle might cost only US$25 at retail, but there is more to it, than just a brown paper bag, to transport the wine. Some restauranteurs have found more profit, by volume, by setting the markups rather low, and ofen set to the same markup per bottle, regardless of price. Others, do not wish to attempt to make it up on volume and have a sliding scale. It is, after all, their call.

                What should "corkage" be, if the various laws permit? That is a great question, for which I do not have a pat answer. Were I a restauranteur, I *think* that I would set it to US$25, and be prepared to waive it (empowering my staff), if the patorn has called ahead, and has provided a bottle that is not on my wine list. However, if I saw a ton of $2 Chuck showing up, I might quickly ammend my policy. This would be especially true, as I would have a list of fairly priced wines, that went perfectly with my chef's cuisine.

                Always a good question.

                Hunt

                6 Replies
                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  no snark intended here, but what does the price of the bottle a patron brings have any weight in your decision in your example? Personally, the only thing that would bother me(as a restuarant owner, which I am not.....just using your example) is if people kept bringing bottles I stocked. I have seen many a menu/website that refuses(politely of course) to open bottles they have.

                  as far as $2 chuck goes, I would re-evalutate much more then my corkage fee if my patrons were bringing that swill in!? either my target audience is way off, or my food is only worthy of Mr. Shaw's finest...........:-)

                  1. re: nkeane

                    If I am providing a well-thoughtout wine list, it would be a slap in my face, for a patron to bring plonk. Maybe I am just too much of a wine snob.

                    Because of a propensity by the masses to try and "beat the system," is exactly why many finer establishments do charge a high "corkage" fee. They do not want "cheap wine" in their restaurant. This is their choice.

                    Hunt

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      I do notice some higher end restaurants here in the LA area using "corkage free" Monday's (or whatever day) to entice customers to come in on slower nights. From previous visits to both Australia and New Zealand I found that the locals patronize BYO places precisely to save money. So I am not sure if you can call it gaming the system so much as being a savvy consumer. And these days being savvy about money can't be a bad thing (and the restaurants probably appreciate any business given the current state of the economy).

                      1. re: Servorg

                        I suppose that because of the BYO_ laws in AZ, and also in the places that we travel, I have not observed "corkage free" in any restaurants. Sounds like it could be a good and fun idea.

                        There was one little Italian place in Scottsdale, that fell within the BYO_ laws here. Friends took us and we did bring our wines. They had 8 stems stored by the restaurant, so there was also good glassware.

                        I only know of a very few places with any form of BYO_ and these are tiny (table number is part of the law here), and are also attached to, or very, very near, a wine shop

                        It will be interesting to see how various restaurants handle "corkage," as the economy changes. We might see smaller wine inventories, with encouragement to BYO_. Or, maybe not.

                        Hunt

                    2. re: nkeane

                      nkeane- asking restaurants to have gigantic piles of inventory that moves very slowly (wine) is a huge investment, so they gotta set their rules. What if I wanted to mix my own cocktails at the table? That would be unheard of, but I could save quite a bit of money, also I don't meter my own drinks. :)

                      I agree that I wouldn't open a bottle that I had in the cellar.

                      1. re: P. Punko

                        just to be clear, I think a restaurant has every right to make whatever rules they want about their wine program. To be honest, I dont know if I would allow outside wine in to my place at all! Like BillHunt, Im a bit of a snob when it comes to food and drink.

                  2. Some NYC corkage fees:
                    Blue Hill - $35
                    Grammercy Tavern - $40
                    Museum of Modern Art - $45 and you are not welcome to bring in wine that is already of
                    their wine list.

                    Somehow it all makes sense to me if wine is a good park of the profit.

                    1. Gulp (!)-so I guess I shouldn't have been cranky when the club we helsd a colleague's retirement wine and cheese do charged $13.50 for wine corkage! Toronto charges are apparently a bargain.

                      But I remain unconvinced of the logic of this...what is the logic of a corkage fee double the price of a bottle, when the effort of opening is so little...the effort of turning $10 worth of ingredients into a $20 entree is so much greater?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: LJS

                        I'm curious about your comment of "corkage fee double the price of the bottle" - I don't think that they people at, say, Gramercy Tavern expect you to show up with a $20 bottle.
                        And it isn't just opening the bottle - it is also providing glasses, someone to pour, etc. Or are you saying you brought a sub $7 wine to your colleague's retirement?

                        1. re: Dan G

                          As DanG correctly points out, there is much more, that goes into BYOW, than just opening the bottle. Others have gone into great detail on most of the particulars. I would suggest that anyone, who still thinks that it is only a deft flick of the waiter's friend, expand the replies and give them a good read.

                          Hunt

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            The amount of markup on wine and the levels of corkage fees always generates a lot of discussion on this board. Oddly, the markup on ice tea or soft drinks generates much less discussion, but on a percentage basis is generally much higher. Personally, I object more to outrageous markups on pedestrian mass market wines than to corkage fees. (There is not much cellaring of stuff that is delivered weekly by the pallette, and they are not generally using fine glassware for this plonk.) I do, however, see the value in a well planned wine list and a well stocked wine cellar. I appreciate the added costs to the establishment beyond just the juice in the glass.

                            Ultimately, each customer will vote with their wallet. I tend to not return to places where I do not think I get a value equal to the cost, whether it be the food, the wine or the service. At some point, even the finest restaurant could markup the wine to a point I would not see the value and also charge a corkage fee that would cause me to stay away. Most restaurants where I have dined have not done this.

                        2. re: LJS

                          My reference to double the price of the bottle was not to my own experience, but to others I have read about here. Ours was approximately equal to the price of the bottles.

                          The retirement 'do' was a pairing of wine and cheese courses, each representing an event in the life of our colleague: the Verdicchio and mild peccorinno and honey dish for the time she covered a story in Le Marche in Italy, the Dan Ackroyd Merlot and Balderson Cheddar for when she interviewed that comedian/vintner. The bottles averaged $14-15.

                          But we had already paid for wait staff so why the corkage fee? or more accurately, how do they justify them being so high? For our group of 30, we paid for 1 bartender and 2 wait staff in addition to a service charge gratuity of 15% on the food.

                          My point was I don't see the value added of corkage being at all consistent with the value added of ingredients plus a chef's work added to the waiter's work, on which I am only expected to leave a tip of 15-20%?

                        3. While there are some customers who indeed are just too cheap to want a restaurant owner to make a reasonable profit on a bottle of wine, there are others who simply want to avoid being ripped off. And although I'm not a BYO type, I can definitely empathize with the customers who want to bring their own wine in response to unreasonable wine list markups. To penalize those individuals with equally unreasonable corkage fees strikes me as, well, unreasonable.

                          Of course restaurant owners have the right to charge as much as they can get for whatever they sell, but the argument that customers have no right to complain about excessive charges is wrong-headed. Sure we can vote with our dollars and our feet, but bringing the discussion out into the open might actually result in some changes that will benefit both the restaurants and their customers.

                          First, let's start with the proposition that some restaurants charge markups that are simply confiscatory. As an extreme example, Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains 2001 can be had in stores for as little as $100, and is found on some restaurants' wine lists for as little as $200. But at a particular restaurant that shall remain nameless, the same bottle is (or was) listed for $800.

                          Making a profit is one thing; taking advantage is quite another. And IMHO an 800% markup on a wine that the restaurant almost certainly bought for under $100 is taking advantage. Attempting to impose an excessive corkage fee on any customer who has the audacity to object to being taken advantage of just adds insult to injury. So what constitutes "taking advantage" on corkage?

                          I'd say anything over about $25. The vast majority of restaurants - including most of the finest restaurants in the US - have at least a few bottles (or half-bottles) for under $30. So presumably a restaurant - even a fine restaurant that has highly-trained servers and uses good crystal - can realize at least some profit with a $25 markup. So anything in excess of that amount is not a fair attempt to recoup the cost of serving wine, but is an attempt to force the customer to choose between overpaying for wine and overpaying for corkage. Talk about a Hobson's choice!

                          Again, I respect the right of every restauranteur to maximize profit, and the right of every customer to decline to do business when s/he feels the terms of the deal are unfair. But wouldn't it be better if the whole relationship was less adversarial? My sense is that at least some restaurants have brought the whole "beat the system" attitude upon themselves by pricing their wines unfairly. So I think it's incumbent on them to try to address the situation.

                          Okay, time to end this rant and try to figure out if we can get away to Monterey this weekend. Nothing better than casting some of my dollars' votes for the wine list at Passionfish.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Alanbarnes,

                            Well-stated. I too agree that there is definitely much room for discusson on both the pricing of wines in restaurants, and also of "corkage fees," where they are allowed by the restaurant, or by the laws governing.

                            Unfortunately, too many seem to off ill-prepared to add to these discussions. Much of the necessary information has already been posted to this (and to many others) thread. I'd suggest a good read, first.

                            I am also not normally a BYOW person, but will look down a wine list to try and find the wines that will pair with my meal, and at a fair markup ("fair" in MY book). Usually, there are some on most wine lists.

                            As an example of wines that I do not order, going back a bit, the Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages was released at about US$27. In short order, the "Wine Spectator" declared it "Wine of the Year." I drank up most of the allocation from a local restaurant, priced at US$55 from before the WS pronouncement, as well as after. They did not raise the price $1. When it was gone, and I ordered the last two bottles, it was gone. At about the same time, I traveled back to a place that I once lived. I dined at a favorite, wine-friendly, steakhouse, where I knew the sommelier from a previous restaurant, years before. Same wine was on the list for US$650. I pulled him aside and aske, "why?" His answer was, "because I can get it." OK, it was a good wine. It went well with grilled steak. The WS did declare it WOTY. Still, it probably only cost less than US$20 at wholesale, especially upon release and in any quantity. Too many restaurants use similar pricing, and I see this as preditory - unless patrons do not purchase it.

                            In very general terms, I usually find the "deals" in the mid-priced wines. The cheap ones are marked up through the roof. The "trophy wines," pretty much the same. Still, a good list should have plenty in the mid-tiers, that work well and are priced more fairly. I also support restaurants, that have realistic markups and both tell the sommelier how much I appreciate it, plus include the details in my reviews.

                            I always appreciate your comments,

                            Hunt

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              The markup on the wine is likely doing a couple of things. Providing cover for having a massive inventory that turns over slowly (costs that don't get recouped as quickly) and if there is profit on the wine above and beyond that, the question is whether the entire restaurant is profitable and to what extent. If it isn't, or only breaks even, then the "profit" on the wine mark up isn't profit.

                              1. re: P. Punko

                                So a restaurant is entitled to make a profit every month? And if it doesn't, it's okay to gouge the customer to make up the shortfall?

                                What, the chef bought 400 pounds of bad fish from a vendor who's vanished? The build-out on the expansion went over budget because nobody would respond to the contractor's RFIs? The owner put last month's rent up his nose again? No problem, just jack up the prices on the wine list and raise corkage to $100!

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  I get ticked that I can't sit behind home plate at Fenway whenever I want, but the prices are just too high. Seems like someone will pay those prices.

                                  If you read my comment again, I wasn't blanket legitimizing any sort of gouging, I was stating why I think restaurants mark up wine and charge corkage. No other item in a restaurant's inventory sits for years like wine does.

                                  I appreciate that you wanted to be so aggressive- I did laugh at your passion here, though some of your points are non-sensical. My fave restaurants better be making a profit, because I want them to last more than a couple of years.

                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                Alan, I think I also need to rant. We live in a small town in the Western Carolina mountains. We have about three (maybe more if we were willing to drive more miles) good restaurants in the area. We had dinner at one of them Friday night. Wine we can buy at $9 per botttle was priced at $7 per glass (not very big glasses--and wine should not be served in tiny glasses anyway). I will call and ask if we can bring our own wine if we go there again. How do others think about this?

                                1. re: pepperqueen

                                  I am personally used to the by the glass selection to be priced so that the glass price is what the bottle retails for. Sounds like your example is right in there, if the pours are on the light side.

                                  1. re: pepperqueen

                                    Actually, that markup sounds about right. What gets me are the places that charge two or three times as much. But it's my experience that folks in smaller communities in the middle of the country are much less likely than sophisticated urbanites to put up with such nonsense.

                                2. When people bring wine to a "better" restaurant, one that has a good wine list, the motivation is to try something from one's own impressive collection. And I doubt that that bringing in of wine, corkage or not, is about saving money or protesting prices, but is about furthering that specific eating experience. And trying something special.
                                  (Silly, but can't resist, if a place served a spectacular lentil soup - and charged $25 - there would be little discussion of cost of lentils. How much should a restaurant charge for 'soupage' - bringing in your own great recipe?)
                                  It's unusual not to find an affordable ($30s) wine or two even if the $100+ offerings go on for pages. Any business is entitled to a mark up that reflects cost of delivering a product, and if that product is rare, well you decide if you need it.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: serious

                                    Serious, you forgot to mention the 'plating' charge in some restaurants for bringing in your own special dessert - birthday cake, for example.

                                    1. re: serious

                                      Maybe restaurants should waive corkage fees and allow you to bring your own food to boot. Just sit down, use their space and leave! I like to go to restaurants to see what overall experience they can offer - food, bev, ambiance.

                                      1. re: 5ft10in210lb

                                        I agree with you and accept the corkage fee for those occassions we want to open something spectacular. The restaurant is a business after all.

                                  2. Just wanted to point out that there's nothing new about corkage. The word origin (per a quick online dictionary check) goes back to the early 1800's, and I've known the term and its meaning for all of my dining life (many decades) here on the East Coast. It's not unusual or new-fangled for a wine-lover to want to bring a special bottle for a special night, and as a rule of thumb, if the restaurant does not have that wine in their cellar, they will - for a fee - allow the patron to bring his own. The fee is variable and arbitrary - you either accept it, order from the restaurant's list, or go elsewhere.

                                    Frankly, I am a moderate wine fancier, and enjoy BYOs. Happily, I have the good fortune to live next door to New Jersey, where - due to the state's liquor licensing policy - many of the best restaurants in the state don't have licenses and happily welcome BYO'ers (and of course, no corkage fee is charged).

                                    Somehow they manage to make a profit nonetheless (many of the ones we dine at are long-term successful establishments), which makes me wonder at the general claim that restaurants make most of their profits on booze.