Using Corkage service at restaurants - general opinions wanted...
Some friends and I were having a discussion the other day about bringing our own bottle of wine to a restaurant. I've never done it, but my wallet is saying that I should try it sometime.
One friend let on that she would never bring her own bottle to dinner. I asked her to elaborate and she admitted that she would feel embarrassed. After some back and forth the conversation ended with her saying for sure she would never, ever bring her own to the restaurant where her son worked as she felt that it would somehow reflect on their status or something.
This opinion kind of shocked me, as I always thought it was a great idea. So, who is out to lunch here? Me or my friend?
Is there some status connotation to using corkage?
There are a lot of threads about this in the wine section. I wouldn't do it to save money, but I would do it if I was celebrating something and have a special bottle that means something to the occassion. Also, for me, it would limit my menu choices - I seldom know beforehand what I plan on eating in a restaurant and I like to have my wine and food paired well, so bringing a bottle of, say, cabernet sauvignon, will take away the spontaneity of ordering something off the menu that doesn't go well with it.
I wondered why it's okay to do it for a "special occasion" but not okay to do it to save money. Seems like the reason why you do it is irrelevant.
We have done it only a couple of times. We were members of a winery years ago and wanted to enjoy one of those bottles that most certainly were not on any wine lists in our area. We paid the corkage fee and the server opened and poured the wine just as they would have if it was from their own collection. Having worked in the industry, I never knew of anyone who looked down on anyone who brought their own bottle. Most folks that are aware of, and take advantage of, corkage fees tend to have a greater appreciation for wine (i.e. wine reps, industry folks, foodies, etc).
And of course we see restaurants here in the US doing this (encouraging people to bring in their own wine to save money and gain patronage). Places like Josie in Santa Monica have "corkage free" Mondays and other places like Up Stairs 2 (which is associated with the Wine House) give you a less expensive corkage price if you bring in a bottle from the Wine House.
We do this quite often. If it is a restaurant we frequent, probably do corkage every other time. I think a very important point is to find a bottle you are quite certain is *not* on their list. If it is a first time restaurant we call ahead to see if they have a corkage policy and then try to bring something unusual that they probably don't have on their list.
I don't think there is a "status connotation" to corkage at all. A restaurant we frequent has lovely food, but a rather short wine list. Sometimes we are just anxious to try a bottle we have at home, so why not. We tip well, corkage or not.
My first answer is that of an owner/operator that had restaurants for over 20 years.
In general there are four types of people who bring their own bottles.
#1 The penny pinchers – they show up with a $10 bottle pay the $10 fee and think they have saved $10 -$ 20.
#2 The I have it home and want to try it people – they have special bottles of wine, usually decent to good and they have wanted to try it with the right meal.
#3 The special occasion– special occasion people have a special bottle of wine (anniversary, birthday, even had a bottle willed to someone to drink on the anniversary of that person’s death, etc.) to them they are honoring that occasion with a bottle that we could never provide.
#4 Wine connoisseur – He calls ahead, gets copy of the menu along with specials if available, many times will ask if he can bring a certain bottle a week or two ahead of time so we can store it. To him wine is as equally important or more so than the meal, he many times will ask about glasses and if he can bring his own, services we offer, etc.
So which one of these did I or my staff look down upon?
#1 These people wouldn’t order wine off of our menu to save money so we made a extra $10 off of him and the server made more in tips. We have even had a bottle of $2 buck chuck brought into our restaurant and we happily opened it served it.
#2 We are glad that you take enough interest in food and wine to even bother, welcome and enjoy.
#3 Only you have that special bottle, we are honored that you choose our restaurant to celebrate your special occasion.
#4 I am glad our food matches the quality of your wine, in many cases I get to try rare and valuable bottles with these customers, a treat for me that would otherwise not have happened.
As a customer I am a split between a # 2 & 4. I have a wine cellar, but I don’t consider myself a wine connoisseur even though I have some very nice bottles of wines. When I go to the trouble of brining my own, I usually want it cellared for a week at the establishment, and I will discuss ahead of time with the sommelier what my expectations are and what his/her suggestions are. Sometimes the wine is brought for a special tasting menu the restaurant is doing and many times it will served to a group along with a fight of the restaurant wines. If this is done most of the high end restaurants will waive corkage. I have also had private tasting’s with all of my own wines being served, and when I included the sommelier and the maitre d’ in on the tasting there was no longer a charge. (We are also talking about many wines from the 1950’s, 60’s & 70’s that these men were dying to try, a flight of Beringer, might not cut it.)
The bottom line is there is nothing wrong with brining your own wine. Call ahead and ask about procedures, some state laws do not allow open bottles to be removed from the restaurants so you may have to finish it or leave any remnants there.
Hope this helps.