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Feb 24, 2013 03:56 PM

What's the highest corkage fee you've seen in San Diego?

Went out for dinner last night at a nice place in North Park, very well regarded by CHers, but by no means 5=star or Michelin rated if you know what I mean. I had checked out the menu online beforehand, and knew that they had a $35 corkage fee. This was enough to force me to leave my
personal stash at home. I was not familiar with the wines on their list as they were mostly non-Californian. Ended up purchasing a bottle from their list, which we fortunately liked. But it got me thinking what is the most locals have encountered as far as corkage fees? Would appreciate any input.

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  1. Establishments that charge high corkage fees are sending a message, 'don't bring your own'. If you take into account the corkage fee vs the cost of a bottle on their list, you are probably better to go with their selections. I'd pay up to $10. if I had a special rare bottle.

    7 Replies
    1. re: cstr

      Different take. The message I get from higher corkages is "please don't bring a cheap bottle of rot gut just to save a few bucks."

      I'm happy to pay even a $35 corkage if I'm bringing in a special bottle of wine that's not on the restaurant's list. Let's say I have a bottle that cost me $40 retail. With a normal wine mark up being 3 to 4 times retail, that same bottle would cost well over $100 on a restaurant's wine list. By bringing it in and paying corkage of $35 I'm enjoying what I know to be an excellent bottle with hopefully a great meal for an outlay of $75 rather than $120 to $160.

      1. re: cstr

        It really depends on the establishment. I have no problem paying $50 at the French Laundry, since I know whatever I bring in is going to be better than anything that's on their list for less than $200 and the food is good enough to make up for that annoyance.

        Around San Diego I think the most I've been threatened with is $50 for the second bottle ($25 for the first), but I forget who that was, I was arranging a wine dinner where we were going to bring in 6-8 wines and I just went: "Thanks, we'll go elsewhere". I think the most I've ever paid in San Diego was around $30, and was happy to pay it, since it was a bottle of 1990 Clinet that was properly decanted and they had decent stemware.

        1. re: mikec

          I'm pretty sure corkage at French Laundry is $100 and has been for several years.

          1. re: mcgrath

            Their current web site says "a fee of $75 for each 750 ml bottle with a limit of one bottle for every two guests". You can verify this by clicking on 'menus and stories' -> 'wines' from the main FL site.

            I'm pretty sure it was $50 when we were there two years ago.

            1. re: willyum

              Perhaps I was confusing FL with Keller's NYC outpost, Per Se. There, I know it was a $100 fee 4 years ago because in a weak moment I actually paid that. I had an expensive French Burgundy in tow and didn't want to transport it back to California. Plus, anything on their list that was close to the quality of my bottle was in the hundreds of dollars. Nowadays I ALWAYS call ahead for the corkage policy.

              1. re: mcgrath

                Just checked Per Se's website. I guess what I paid was $90. Seemed like a Franklin at the time, though...

            2. re: mcgrath

              It was a few years ago at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. Haven't really cared what their corkage policy is since then.

              I'm just pointing out that sometimes, even $50 corkage can be a damn good deal.

        2. The highest I've seen recently is $29 charged at Morton's. For years they've charged $25, but with their recent corporate takeover, there are all kinds of little surprises there now. Raising it 4 bucks to $29 (rather than an even amount) made me smile. Kind of bush league. At least it wasn't $29.99!

          It seems to me it was $50 at Addison when they first opened. Not sure now.

          2 Replies
          1. re: mcgrath

            This is an aside, but have you noticed that Morton's quality seems to be taking a major nose dive since the new ownership?

            1. re: chetatkinsdiet

              Quality has clearly slipped; that's what I was referring to as "all kinds of little surprises". Steaks and service still up to par but not much else. Really too bad.

          2. 1st - there are a number of corkage threads on the CH Wine Board (or sites like Wine Berserkers) so you might want to check those out. You'll find that there are places in the US where it is illegal to bring your own wine into restaurants and others where it is so difficult to get a license, BYOB is encouraged.

            Allow me a personal rant, briefly, on the very sad state generally of restaurant wine lists in San Diego. Usually boring, frequently filled with wines from the BIG distributors like Southern. Those sorts of places scream to me "bring your wine" because they won't put in the time/expense/effort to develop an interesting wine list.

            Places like, for instance, the Patio on Lamont and Chloe that have half glass options, with some well considered wines on their lists are something I really appreciate. A small but well thought out wine list like at Wet Stone is to be appreciated as well. I would generally be unlikely to take a bottle to such places.

            Now - for San Diego, I think the highest corkage that I have paid is between $25-$30. I have also seen limits on the number of btls that you are allowed to bring in, even if paying corkage. I'd say the general range if there is such a thing here is $10-$20 per bottle. My personal reaction is that when it gets over $15-$20 I'm thinking "high" in general. With that said, there is a lot that goes into it.

            Wine service is an expense to the restaurant. Buying and cleaning glasses, training the staff, purchasing and storing wine, etc. I think we all understand as well that all forms of alcohol are profit centers for restaurants and I'm fine with respecting that and paying a corkage.

            When I do take a bottle, I also try to make it a point to order a drink from the restaurant or, if with other people, even buy a bottle. I always offer to share a glass with the server or Somm. In my experience and assuming you are bringing a decent bottle of wine, I have been favorably treated with a reduction in or full waiver of the corkage; not always but it does happen.

            As regards the reference to Addison, I wouldn't be surprised if they had a $50 corkage. They put a huge amount of resources into an excellent wine list, not all of which are "high" priced, allowing for differing opinion of course. When I've been to Addison, I look forward to what they have to offer that I won't see anywhere else in San Diego.

            I agree with McGrath that if you are taking an excellent and somewhat high priced btl with you, you are still miles ahead even with a $30+ corkage as compared to what you might pay for a similar quality bottle at a restaurant.

            12 Replies
            1. re: ibstatguy

              I have to agree, maintaining an inventory of good bottles is a large investment. If the wine list sucks, it may be better to bring your own. In addition, if the wine list sucks, I'm more concerned about the food as that type of philosophy can carry through to food quality.

              1. re: cstr

                Yes, a deficient wine list can indicate a suspicious menu or food quality. That said, despite the advances in San Diego's food scene, for some reason having a quality wine list still seems to lag behind. Consequently I've become comfortable taking wine to restaurants whose lists are dismal. I should have added to my earlier post that having multiple BTG options is something I value as well

                1. re: ibstatguy

                  Both from what I've seen and heard said by other local restauranteurs, many of the kinds of wines that one sees featured in larger cities -- think small producers, less widely known appellations, lighter bodied varietals, less oak, $10-15/glass -- don't sell enough in San Diego to keep on a list (otherwise the restaurant is pouring out more than they sell, which doesn't work). That's why I think you see so many "middle-of-the-road" wines on lists here.

                  The exceptions I can think of are places that are structured to be able hand sell wine to its patrons -- which is both a matter of having a small enough scale and a commitment to doing so. The Patio has a very strong commitment to hand selling its list, and they're a pretty big space for that, so that's cool, and if it's successful will create a model for other places to follow (and help educate a lot of diners about wines they hadn't previously known about, that they discover they like).

                  1. re: jayporter

                    Jay - I appreciate the input of a restauranteur on the issue since, afterall, its your money as well that we are discussing. I agree that there may be a requirement for the hand sell but perhaps that ought not to be so different from expecting a wait staff to sell the food? If a talented kitchen can move people to try interesting food, why not wine?


                    1. re: ibstatguy

                      Well of course every restaurant works to have its front-of-house team hand sell everything on its menu. The degree to which that is successful with handselling wine depends on a lot of factors, including the broader culture (specifically the wine and restaurant culture) that the individual team members live in and come from, the scale of the restaurant, and how much premium (in terms of increased menu prices) the market is willing to pay for server knowledge and skill.

                      My observation is that, with the way those factors combine in San Diego, only a few places, mostly very intimate ones where the principals are fully immersed in the front of house, have been able to pull it off consistently at the by-the-glass level.

                      1. re: jayporter

                        Your last sentence seems, to me, to be a key. Are the principals involved? Do they care? Wine just seems to be a secondary consideration for most places. If I'm not mistaken, your places do try to stretch the wine palate and even promote some of our worthy regional wineries.

                        There are a lot of "corporate" type places where the local folks aren't involved in wine decisions so why should they get involved in hand selling wines that they didn't select?

                2. re: cstr

                  Do you think that the wine programs here are affected either positively or negatively by the high quality of the local beer scene? Are there places that fall short on the wine selection but have a nice beer selection?

                  Overall, there are definitely at least two excellent restaurants that seem to completely ignore the local craft beer scene but put out very high quality food so the correlation doesn't always hold true on that end.

                  1. re: JRSD

                    The quality of wine lists in San Diego was poor long before the boom in our artisanal beer industry

                    1. re: JRSD

                      I can confirm that there are plenty of folks who normally drink good wine with dinner, who if they are at a restaurant with a thorough list of quality craft beer, will switch to beer even if there are wines on the list they are into. So, certainly restaurants' good beer programs cannibalize some wine purchases. But at the same time, the good beer programs are bringing people into the restaurants, and at almost every table *someone* is drinking wine. So on the whole a great beer program at a restaurant with good food should increase beverage sales across the board. But in terms of what the people buy, I don't know. Maybe people are spending their exploration energy on beer instead of wine here, it's possible.

                  2. re: ibstatguy

                    Funny you should mention The Patio on Lamont. Went there for the first time last week and you're right about their list. Lots of interesting wines from interesting places, like a red wine from Slovenia!

                    This is not a place I'd BYOB (except on Tuesdays when it's free corkage), as the list is fairly priced with, as you noted, full and half glass options. I'm happy to support such a wine program.

                    Like you, when I bring my own I normally offer the server a taste and almost always purchase something else like a bottle of water or cocktails. When it's dinner for four, and I bring in one bottle and buy another off their list, it really rubs me wrong when they still charge corkage. But the worst is ordering or bringing a nice bottle of wine and discovering the only stemware available are those tiny, thick glasses you get at weddings and places like Denny's. Hate that.

                    1. re: mcgrath

                      Concur about crappy stem ware and not fully clean stem ware

                      1. re: mcgrath

                        on the Slovenian wine, I'm pretty sure they worked with Blue Danube an importer with an outstanding list of wines from that part of the world