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Jul 3, 2009 09:55 PM

What's the deal with BYOB in new england?

Being from Michigan, we have no BYOb restaurants. I see BYOB mentioned in many NE restaurant posts. Is it in certain states? Can you bring a bottle of rum and order cokes to mix it in?

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  1. BYOB laws vary by state and municipality. In general, though, it is restricted to beer and wine. Here in Massachusetts, BYOB is only allowed at restaurants that do not have liquor licenses, either beer/wine or hard liquor. Even then, according to specific town law, they still have to get a BYOB license. Liquor licenses can be quite costly, (and hard to get), in many cities and towns, so BYOB is often a great alternative.

    12 Replies
    1. re: hilltowner

      However these BYOB bylaws are usually restricted to wine only.

      1. re: Lenox637

        Some BYOB laws restrict you from taking anything that is opened home with you. So a bottle of rum would have to be consumed or left behind.

        Some states are trying to pass a "Merlot to Go" bill bottles home with would allow you to take opened bottles home with you. You might ask the restaurant your looking at what their license covers. You could always bring nip bottles of Rum if they allow it.

        Most places I've been to I usually just see Beer and Wine though....

        1. re: milemarker0

          I can't speak to BYOB but Maine already has a wine-to-go law. It needs to recorked and bagged. This is wine you purchase at a restaurant.

          1. re: soxlover

            Rhode Island also has a wine-to-go law. It also needs to be recorked and bagged, and the receipt from your dinner is attached to the bag. Also, it's only available if you order a "meal", and not just drinks (which is the reason for attaching the receipt.)

            1. re: dagwood

              Vermont also has a wine-to-go law.
              It must also be recorked.

            2. re: soxlover

              Connecticut likewise has a wine to go law. In principle, the bottle has to be bagged before you leave.

              Outside our region, I was amazed not too long ago to learn that you can't take wine home in DC: I thought you could do ANYTHING liquor (or gun...) related in DC. But not, half a bottle of a rather expensive but very nice Italian red had to stay behind for the delectation of the staff. Oh well. Another reason to clive in CT.

              1. re: linguist

                I'm not sure about cliving in CT, but how about delectation in DC?

                1. re: linguist

                  It seems they were wrong, linguist - according to the link I posted below, DC is a wine doggy bag district.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    Interesting. I wonder when this change was made: the web site says that the relevant section of the DC code "has been amended" to allow this. The incident I was referring to took place well over a year ago, but I haven't tried lately -- and like passadumkeg, I have rarely had wine to take away.

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      DC passed their law a few months ago allowing unfinished wine to be removed if it is properly bagged. Missississippi and Alaska just passed similar laws making it legal to take wine "home" in all 50 states, although packaging requirements may differ.

                  2. re: soxlover

                    I have never had wine to take away.
                    Maine, BYOB is often at the discretion of the owner; but is common.

                    1. re: soxlover

                      Massachusetts also has the "Wine Doggy Bag" law as well. As in other states, one opened but unfinished bottle that had been ordered with dinner must be placed in a one-time-use tamper-proof clear bag with the dinner receipt stapled to the bag.

                      Here's a list of states that have the wine doggy bag law or not:

              2. If you're a beer "snob" like I am, it's a great way to enjoy craft beers like Dogfish Head with dinner without being forced to select from a small list, plus it's a LOT cheaper (although there is usually a minimal corking fee).

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jeremy01506

                  I'm surprised you can't get DFH in restaurants around you.

                2. In MA, as stated by other posters, there are BYOB restaurants in dry towns (like Vineyard Haven) and there are BYOB restaurants because the place doesn't have a liquor license. It is also my understanding that it is beer and wine only, because that's all I've ever seen.

                  milemarker- for years and years it was against the law for anyone to take any undrunk portion of a bottle of wine home, if purchased at that restaurant (w/an on-premise license). But, a few years ago that law was repealed. Now people may take home their unfinished bottles from those places. We were supposed to have some ridiculous capping of the top of the bottle with "stoppers" or caps furnished by the Mass State Liquor Commission, along with forms in triplicate to be initialed by the customer, along with fingerprints....ok, I jest. But it was stupid bureaucracy that we never received! All that being said, I cannot imagine a BYOB place not letting you take home any unused portion of wine you bought, and you brought in. I frequent a few places in my hometown and you have always been able to take home what you brought and didn't finish. I always leave it for the waitstaff because I want to be sure to get a table again!

                  1. It is my understanding that, in Massachusetts, one is not permitted to bring wine to a restaurant which DOES have a liquor license. We do, however, have the wine doggie bag option for unfinished bottles. That is a win-win situation for the restaurant industry, the wine industray, and the safety-issue industry. You do not need to walk away from OR chug a 2001 BigHorn Cellars can take it with you and have a nightcap.

                    17 Replies
                    1. re: AikiLou

                      No, it is not against the law in MA to bring in wine to a restaurant with an on-premise license, but it's always frowned upon. Restautateurs pay a lot for those licenses, the extra liability insurance, and the inventory they have on hand. In the various places I've worked in MA, we would always stress to the customer that if it's a "really special bottle of wine" (ie: Heitz Martha's Vineyard '85 and NOT Kendall Jackson), then ok, we'll do it. And then there is a corkage fee.

                      1. re: ciclista

                        Yes, it most certainly IS against the law in MA to bring wine into a restaurant with an on-premise license:

                        For those who don't care to follow the link:

                        From the FAQ section on licensing from the ABCC:

                        Can anyone bring their own beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages into an establishment (so-called "BYOB")?

                        Not if the establishment has a liquor license. If the establishment has a liquor license, then no one can carry onto the premises their own beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages for their own private consumption (so-called "BYOB" or "brown-bagging").

                        If the establishment does not have a liquor license, then one must check with the city/town in which the establishment is located to learn if there is any local law dealing with bringing one's own beer onto an establishment for personal consumption.

                        1. re: hilltowner

                          I know of several restaurants in CT and MA that allow liquor in addition to beer and wine. Some even allow you to bring in coolers and blenders! Others I know provide mixers-like mojito mix, margarita mix etc. so it is definetly restaurant-specific what is allowed.

                          1. re: hilltowner

                            There's the "law" and there's the practice. A search of Wine Spectator's on-line dining guide reveals close to a dozen MA restaurants that permit corkage. And keeep in mind that in order to be listed in the database, the restaurants have to have a fairly serious wine program to begin with. So this is by no means an exhaustive list. Just a list of "better" or higher end places.

                            And in response to ciclista, it isn't "always frowned upon". That's just silly. enlightened restauranteurs know that some of their best (and most affluent) customers are wine collectors. These are the people they want to encourage to come back again and again. So allowing wine collectors to bring in their own wines and run up a $200 tab in food is simply good business. A reasonable corkage fee more than makes up for the service and stemware issues. Many people who bring in a bottle also buy a second, or a few glasses of Champagne, or a sweet wine with dessert. So the restaurant certainly isn't losing money when wine collectors come in and bring their own. And it certainly isn't necessary that the wine be an '85 Heitz "Martha's". But it shouldn't be on the restaurant's wine list. However, this is not usually an issue as most wine lists are populated by widely distributed wines in the $15-$40 range for which the restaurant charges $35-$100. People who bring in wines from their cellar aren't going to pay an additional corkage fee to drink wines that they can get anywhere. Rather, the wines brought in are usually small production wines (or older vintages that restaurants don't carry). The bottom line is that it is better for the restaurant to make $20 in corkage than $0 if the customer stays home, or drinks water. Especially nowadays.

                            1. re: FoodieJim

                              At least in Massachusetts in 2009, I would cautiously dispute your assertion that BYOB can be good business. Town and state regulators are inflexible, humorless, and aggressive when they find even the slightest violation of liquor laws, so even trivial violations are perilous. Example: One local restaurant on the Cape was penalized last year when employees were seen with two open beers on the bar while they were cleaning up after closing.

                              The state's position on BYOB is 8 words long, and they don't see it as subject to interpretation. This still can seem like a Puritanical state.

                              1. re: cape year rounder

                                Open beers after closing is different than hammering a restaurant for permitting corkage. While I don't dispute that the law is what you say it is, that can be said for many states. But most states have numerous forward-thinking restaurants that have corkage fees. In this economy where states need business tax revenue more so than ever before, shutting down restaurants because they allow cutsomers to bring in a bottle and pay $20 to drink it would be a bad move. While I will admit that MA has fewer restaurants with welcoming corkage policies than many other states, it is still done. I have brought wine to the Chatham Bars Inn and Morton's with no problems whatsoever.

                                1. re: FoodieJim

                                  I still maintain that it is against the law in Massachusetts...

                                  1. re: AikiLou

                                    But that doesn't further the discussion started by the OP. It is technically against the law in numerous states. But in almost every one (AZ being the ONLY one I have visited that has no corkage permitted whatsoever) there are restaurants that allow you to do it. the OP wants to know if wine can be brought in to restaurants in New England. The answer is "yes". Whether the restaurant is breaking the law or not is beside the point. If the restaurant allows the OP to do it, then it can be done. Always call ahead and ask politely what the corkage policy is. You will either be told "we allow personal wines with a charge of "X", or you will be told that the restaurant does not permit personal wines. Simply proclaiming here that "it is against the law" will mislead the OP as he/she will think that it is impossible to do, when, in fact, it can be done in every state in New England, irrespective of what the laws of each state are. The topic is about whether it is done, permitted and/or common. Not whether there is a law somewhere on the books that prohibits it. In practice, it is done in MA as well as every other New England state. (Admittedly less so in MA). That is the information that the OP is looking for. Just call ahead and you will never be surprised or encounter an awkward moment.

                                    1. re: FoodieJim

                                      If a restaurant has a liquor license, BYOB is very illegal in MA. I work in alcohol training and am up to snuff WRT the current legalities. Any licensed MA establishment allowing BYOB is not only brazenly flauting the law, it is also at risk for an exceptionally large fine and forfeiture of said liquor license.

                                      Some owners may take that gamble. They are, however, extremely few and far between. I believe most owners have figured out that the $20 they receive in corkage isn't equal to the tens of thousands of dollars that could be lost in fines and lost revevue.

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        My point, exactly...any restauranteur in Massachusetts who gets a call about corkage fee has no way of knowing whether or not that person works for the ABC...after all, those who call merely inquire about corkage and do not exactly introduce themselves over the the restauranteur who says okay is basically asking for it.

                              2. re: FoodieJim

                                I have been enlightened! Now I know that it is indeed against the law for a restaurant with an on-premise license to allow bottles from outside (thanks invino, Lou, et al). How strange that the Wine Dictator would then solicit BYOB-friendly establishments, and publish that list.

                                I will back down from my original stand that bringing wine to a restaurant with a liquor license "is always frowned upon"...I'll remove the "always". Of course we know many of our wealthier customers have impressive wine cellars, and we know who they are, but it is extremely rare for them to ask. The vast majority of them "play nice" and know the rules, and don't ask to ever bring in their own wine. It only happens a few times a year (and I am there 5 nights a week). They appreciate that we are there, in business, and they want it to stay that way. They drink their Cheval Blanc at home and are happy to patronize our wine list. Most restaurants make their money off alcohol, not the food. So I dispute that "it is good for business". I say "most" because obviously breakfast, lunch-only, and BYOB places don't. I don't know if my boss doesn't know the law as written (??), or if he has the idea, like many out here "I'm on Nantucket! The ABC isn't going to bust me, they're not even here!" And if they ever show up, the coconut telegraph lights up like crazy with every restaurant calling one another. I'm not giving away any secrets, the ABC knows this. capeyearrounder, a restaurant on ACK last year received multiple fines for having an "after hours" party in the place (like2-3:00am)'s across the street from the police station. Duh. But I'm getting off-topic..

                              3. re: hilltowner

                                Ironically, it's just the opposite in California: it's illegal to bring wine to a restaurant that does not have a license. Which is why there's no such thing as a BYOB restaurant in California, although some restaurants may choose to ignore the law. But then, California doesn't have dry counties, and wine and beer licenses are fairly easy to get.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Yup, in CA, illegal to bring wine to an unlicensed restaurant, and perfectly legal to bring it to a licenced restaurant (at the restaurant's discretion, of course).

                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                    At the same time, we see lots of discussions on the LA Board about restaurants that don't have a license yet, but they'll let you bring it in for free. And if you hop onto the thread and point out that it's illegal, you'll either be ignored or get a chorus of BUT EVERYBODY DOES IT.

                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                      Well, I think it makes sense to use some discretion in those instances. I don't care that they're doing something technically illegal, but advertising in a public forum that they are might not be so good for them. My concern isn't shared by many posters.

                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                        I don't think you'd ever get a chorus of "everybody does it" in Mass. In this state a relatively rigid and extreme set of rules around serving booze has settled in as the norm, rarely aver getting questioned. Most towns pride themselves on taking a hard line even for what seem like technical infractions.

                                        Foodiejim, consider that is possible you are making the staff uneasy when you bring your own bottle. They are professionals in the hospitality business, so they try to accommodate you. I'll bet sometimes if you need glasses or a corkscrew they are provided by managers -- the staff knows the risks, and they know licensing boards are pleased when a licensee apologizes for some violation and notes that the offending bartender/waiter has already been fired.

                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Interesting... there's a local restaurant in San Clemente that does not yet have it's liquor license (it's applied for). They allow you to bring your own wine, and I had heard they allowed you to bring beer. I tried this past weekend, and was told that it was "illegal" for them to allow people to bring their own beer, but okay for wine.

                                      Sounds like they are misinformed.

                              4. It's a legacy of prohibition: the practices vary from state to state under the US Constitution. New England states largely share a culture on the practices.