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Jun 18, 2009 01:28 PM

Corkage Disappointment in Vegas

I love great food and great wine. I'm a fairly serious wine collector (500+ bottles) and have several Big Occasion wines I like to break out a few times a year.

My wife and I will celebrate our 39th anniversary this weekend in Vegas and had our heart set on dining at Carnevino for the first time. We've dined at several other Batali properties in L.V. and N.Y. over 10+ years and have nothing but respect for the food and ambience these properties are able to produce consistently.

We've brought in special bottles with no problem at most high end restaurants, including Joel Rubuchon. We had reservations at Carnevino. I thought I'd best call ahead to make sure it was ok to bring in a special bottle (2002 Sine Qua Non "Just for the Love Of It" Syrah), but was told no. No exceptions no matter the wine or the event.

I canceled and called CUT. They graciously said they usually don't allow this, but for a special bottle and a special event, they'd be happy to make an exception.

I understand all the restaurateur arguments against BYOB, and Mario obviously knows how to run a restaurant as well as anyone. Not trying to tell anyone how to run their business. But under these circumstances, it's just really disappointing that Carnevino has such a rigid policy while other, equally high profile places, are able to make exceptions in certain cases.

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  1. Rigid policies are always poor practice in a customer-service business, even more so in these times. In this case, it was their loss -- literally! Have a great anniversary!

    9 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      I disagree, and here's why ...

      If a restaurant has a policy, in this case - corkage not accepted, then why should it buckle? Yes, there are special occasions but if every Tom, Dick, and Harry got wind of said restaurant buckling with the mention of a "special event" ( I'm not suggesting that you're bending the truth ) ... then wouldn't said restaurant be open to being taken advantage of?

      Yes, you would expect a restaurant of reputable caliber to acknowledge such a special occasion and make an exception but ( and just playing Devil's Advocate here ) how is that restaurant to know that it truly is a special occasion and they aren't getting hornswoggled?

      I'm just saying.

      If an establishment has a corkage fee ( and whether or not that's a fair practice is a whole other discussion ... ) then it's my opinion that it shouldn't bend the rules unless it's a prior ( ie: regular ) guest with a history at the restaurant. Then, and only then IMO, should the restaurant give it some thought.

      Everyone knows that the liquor ( wine, beer, spirts, etc. ) is where the restaurant makes most of it's money. Taken to the extreme, if everyone were allowed to bring in their own beverages without compensation, then the restaurant makes little to no money. Because of this, most of the upper echelon restaurants won't allow it no matter who it is. That's because they are making almost nothing on the food.

      Business is business.

      Again, I'm just saying.

      1. re: azbirdiemaker

        Right. Business is business. This restaurant just lost a customer -- how is that good business?

        When I went through customer service training many moons ago, they emphasized to us that a customer who has a bad experience will tell an average of, I think it was, nine people. That was before the internet. Now, someone can come on chowhound, or yelp, and tell the world. Even if only a tiny fraction of the people who read their complaint act on it, that's bad for business.

        If every Tom, Dick and Harry was lying to the restaurant in order to bring in their own wine, then that would be the time to institute the policy. But my sense is, the vast majority of restaurant patrons aren't interested in bringing their own wine. And yes, I know most restaurants make most of their profit off alcohol sales, but this restaurant lost a customer forever, and that's worth more than the profit off one bottle of wine. Furthermore, I'm willing to bet that wine lovers like Mr. Mcgrath and his wife would have ordered more wine -- maybe some champagne to celebrate, or a dessert wine -- or maybe some cocktails.

        I was unaware that Nevada doesn't allow corkage, which does change my opinion slightly. However, they could have offered to allow the customer to bring a special bottle if he also buys a bottle off their list -- waiving corkage on a bottle for a bottle purchased from the restaurant is a fairly common practice among restaurants that do charge corkage. In Nevada you can take the open bottle "home" with you, so ordering more than you wanted to consume at the time wouldn't be a hardship.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          I didn't want to leave the impression that CUT wasn't charging a corkage fee. Their policy is $50, or they'll waive the fee if another bottle is purchased off the list. We'll probably buy something off the list as well--after all, this IS our anniversay!

          I don't bat an eye at $50 corkage, or even the $100 I paid at Per Se in NYC. The wine I typically bring in to fine restaurants is high end, well aged, and something comparable would cost upwards of $500 on the list if available at all. I'm well aware that restaurants make their profit on the wine, which is another reason I don't begrudge a high corkage. Happy to pay it.

          I think a reasonable policy for restaurateurs of high end restaurants would be to do just what CUT is doing in my case: charge a relatively high corkage to compensate for the lost profit on not ordering off the list, but waive that if another bottle is ordered off the list. This would keep people from bringing in cheap wine just to save a few bucks and the restaurant has a happy customer and wine profits. (By the way, as I posted below, I do take issue with the statement that corkage is illegal in Nevada--my experience over many years suggests its not)

          1. re: mcgrath

            As I said, even if we take as fact that charging corkage is illegal, they could have offered a quid pro quo of allowing you to bring a bottle if you buy a bottle -- that would technically not be charging corkage.

            Someone should forward this thread to the corporate offices of B&B.

          2. re: Ruth Lafler

            "If every Tom, Dick and Harry was lying to the restaurant in order to bring in their own wine, then that would be the time to institute the policy."

            Well who's to say that isn't how it went down? So perhaps they instituted the policy because of said example.

            Again, I'm just saying.

            You say yourself that's how it should go ... so if that were the case, then would your opinion of this particular scenario change? What if the 2002 Sine Qua Non "Just for the Love Of It" Syrah was on their wine list. Should they still allow it to be brought in from outside?

            Corkage is not illegal in Las Vegas ( I can't speak for all of Nevada ), but a lot of restaurants don't allow corkage, which is to say bringing in your own wine.

            As I stated before, debate on the practice of charging a fee for this corkage or other such compensation is a whole other topic.

            1. re: azbirdiemaker

              It's never acceptible to bring a wine to a restaurant if the same wine is on their wine list.

              1. re: azbirdiemaker

                Agree completely with Ruth; I would never bring in a wine that's on the restaurant's list. Or if I hadn't checked the list ahead of time, would immediately agree not to open the wine if I find out once seated that they had it on their list.

                I usually check ahead, and did in the case of Carnevino. They had two vintages, I believe, of SQN wine, both too young to drink, and both at just under $400. That's the problem with most wine lists, even in upscale places like Carnevino: great bottlings, huge prices, and nearly all way too young to drink.

                1. re: mcgrath

                  I agree with that point also ... which is sort of where I was going with it.

                  I hate to be on the other end of the debate here but I'm in the business and I've seen the entire gamut of "corkage" conversation.

                  My question to you is this ... will you check out Carnevino in the future or does this one event sour you from the restaurant altogether?

                  1. re: azbirdiemaker

                    I suspect everyone has been victimized by a restaurant (poor service, rudeness, etc) prompting vows never to return. This wasn't the case for me with Carnevino. I was politely but firmly informed by the young woman who answered the phone that wine could not be brought in, whether or not the wine or the event was special. So no, I made no "never again" vows.

                    As a practical matter, though, I can't see myself dining there. For me, it's a "special occasion" kind of place, and as I stated above, on special occasions I like to bring in a fine bottle from my own cellar. I live in San Diego, only get to L.V. a few times a year, and with so many other great spots there that will allow corkage, there'd probably be no reason to choose Carnevino.

        2. that's very disappointing. to think i get to freeload a meal this coming week and i told the host this was one of the places i wanted to try - i have 2nd thoughts now.

          1. How would you feel if the restaurant charged a corkage fee equivalent to what its profit would be on a comparable bottle?

            4 Replies
            1. re: Dave Feldman

              The simple answer to your question, Dave, is I wouldn't feel so good. The SQN's Carnevino has on their list cost them $125 and they're listed for $385, so, hypothetically, a corkage of $260 wouldn't set too well under any circumstances. However, I'd be happy to pay a corkage equal to their profit on a $150 bottle of wine, which I think is probably the great majority of what they sell.

              1. re: mcgrath

                The difference between the cost and the wine list price isn't all profit. There's quite a bit of overhead that is directly and specifically related to developing and maintaining a wine cellar (as I'm sure Mr. McGrath knows). Among other things, you have a substantial amount of capital tied up in inventory. There are special storage needs and a large amount of dedicated space (rent is calculated by the square foot), special serveware (fine crystal, decanters, etc.), training for your staff in the qualities of the various wines and how to serve them, employing a sommelier, maintaining an up-to-date list, etc. That's why I'm not nearly as incensed by the typical 3x retail mark-up for wine as I am by the 6x (or more) mark-up for bottled water, which entails none of those costs.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  At the risk of devolving into a discussion of wine list pricing and corkage fees in general....I look at bottles of wine a little like race horses. The cheap plater eats the same amount and takes up the same amount of space as the multi-million dollar superstar. That's why the normal 3x markup seems out of whack when applied to a bottle whose cost to the restaurateur is $100 the same as one costing $10. Any way you look at it, the customer who buys the more expensive wine is paying 10 times more in markup than one who buys the cheap wine. In responding to this, restaurateurs might well point out that another big part of their overhead is paying for bottles that are sent back by the customer, a cost to them that can only be recouped by a consistent 3x markup on all wine. As a customer, I've wondered what percentage of sent back wine is due to legitimately bad bottles versus perfectly good juice whose taste the diner just doesn't care for. I'm not thrilled as a customer by helping finance the latter category with 3x markups on expensive wine. And, as a final thought, I'd point out that allowing folks to bring in their own wine eliminates this particular headache for restaurateurs altogether.

                  Now, I'm off to Vegas!

                2. re: mcgrath

                  Thanks for your honest reply. I feel that both you and Carnevino did nothing wrong, and I think you set it up honestly by indicating that the restaurant was polite but firm in its response. I think you have a reason to be disappointed, but like AZ, I don't think the restaurant has done anything wrong. It's a complicated issue, much discussed on Chowhound. Luckily, this discussion has been more civilized than most!

              2. Corkage is actually illegal in Nevada. A well known local French restaurant, that also has a well known wine shop attached to the restaurant, was recently cited for allowing corkage.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Eric

                  Are you sure? There's a similar thread (from June 2009) at John Curtas' site, where he concludes that corkage is illegal in the city of Las Vegas, but NOT in unincorporated Clark County, i.e., The Strip.

                  1. re: Larry

                    I just read the post you're referring to, and it seems that there's enough ambiguity in the regulations to give a licensee pause, whether s/he is located within LV city limits or not. According to the author, the City of Las Vegas views charging of corkage fees as being a violation not only of local ordinances, but also of Nevada state law.


                  2. re: Eric

                    "Corkage is actually illegal in Nevada".

                    I must take issue with this. I've literally brought my own wine into at least a dozen high end L.V. restaurants over the years. I typically call ahead to check the fee and am usually given the policy immediately, suggesting it's a pretty common question. I'd need to examine the circumstances of the case you've quoted, Eric, and do further research, to accept that it's actually illegal.

                  3. Corkage is NOT illegal here, and this is after discussions with the Nevada Restaurant Association. Which is good, because we've been doing it for years. I too, agree that a higher corkage fee keeps people from bringing in a bottle of KJ to save a buck (which I have seen, sadly). The sommelier at most places will stop by and we will offer up a glass to him. They always refuse but always take a taste. But we are bringing wine that isn't on their list, nor likely to be available in the city.