What are your thoughts of this restaurant corkage fee policy?
We were visiting some out of town friends recently and they suggested we dine at a restaurant for dinner one of the evenings. When our friend called to make the reservation he asked what their policy was regarding corkage. The person that took the reservation said their restaurant allows people to bring their own wine and there was a $20 corkage fee per bottle.
We took a magnum of a Cote-Rotie to enjoy with our dinner. When we looked at the menu, we saw exactly what we expected to see: there is a $20 corkage fee per bottle of wine. After dinner when the bill arrived there was a $40 corkage fee charge. Our friend asked the server about this because he only expected to see a $20 corkage fee on the bill. The server explained that because the bottle was a magnum she doubled the corkage fee. I thought to myself I suppose that was reasonable because we had brought the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine just in one bottle.
But then I thought of another scenario and politely asked the server that if instead of bringing the magnum, we had for example brought a half bottle of Sauternes to enjoy with dessert would our corkage fee then only be $10? She replied that no, our corkage in that case would still be $20 because that is still considered a bottle of wine.
We certainly were not going to argue with her about the inconsistency. Their restaurant, their rules.
What are your thoughts about that corkage fee policy?
We went to a local, better, pre-fixe only restaurant over the weekend and their stated policy was: $25 corkage for one bottle; $35 for a second bottle; maximum TWO.
Unrelated rant..................That really didn't bother me (brought one, bought one). What DID bother me was paying $40 for a single Macallan 18 scotch. The next night we were meeting visitors at a high end local hotel where the same Macallan was $26..It takes all kinds.
Ah, the "value" element. That does factor into my decisions, after I factor in storage, stemware, time to serve, etc.. Still, when a restaurant wishes to charge me twice what a bottle of Port costs at retail, for a 2 oz. pour, then I sort of hesitate, and do something else, and maybe just leave and serve that same Port to my young wife, on our patio, where I can light up a Cuban?
Just reviewed a wine list for a friend's restaurant visit. It was odd in several ways. They had large format bottles at below retail (still not inexpensive, but a "great" deal), and then some 0.75's at 800% markup. I advised him to go for a tad more in overall charges, enjoy and pass on some of the wines, even if the party were to share the magnums with others, from the chef, to the sommelier, to near-by patrons. The "deal" was so much better, and the final $'s so close, as to be a mild joke.
Looking at things, through a pair of "reality glasses," let's discuss what IS a "corkage fee." Jason covers a big part of it - recouping potentially lost revenue, from not selling wines from their list. That is a standard part of a corkage fee. Also, many restaurants use those, priced pretty highly, just to discourage people from doing BYOW - a penal charge, if you will.
Now, with a magnum, the stemware will be the same, as for a single 0.75 btl. So far, so good. The one additional "cost" to the restaurant would be the waitstaff pouring twice as many glasses. Is that worth the doubling of the entire corkage fee? I do not think so, but that is my personal feeling only. Maybe others can comment on that "extra work."
Now, I very seldom do BYOW, and cannot recall ever paying a corkage charge, BUT those occasions were at restaurants, that we dined at often, and I provided glasses for owners, sommeliers, chefs, etc., and always called ahead, to verify that there would be no issues.
The only issue that I have ever had was with BYOW on Maui, HI. Back then, the county (Island) laws forbade BYOW, so the answer was a flat "NO!"
I am anything but an expert on BYOW, and corkage charges, so others will have to weigh in. However, I would also be surprised at a 2x charge for a magnum - still, that is only me.
re: Bill Hunt
That IS a possibility.
Still, I would like to think that a restaurant would be more interested in covering their overhead, rather than being penal.
Still, I so seldom do BYOW, or even ask about it, that I am probably the last person on the list, to comment/complain on/about it it.
It IS obvious that some restaurants DO wish to discourage BYOW, and at any cost - like a return patron.
And a corkage fee of $20 seems awfully steep. They need a few less accountants running the business. for Example, you buy a $35 bottle of wine, no charge for corkage and you'll get 4 decent although meager pours. You buy the $11 glass of wine...a bit more pour...still no charge. You bring your $20 bottle, pay $20, you lose.
Admittedly the $11 glass probably only runs you $8.99 in a store
>>> And a corkage fee of $20 seems awfully steep. <<<
Not really, depending upon where you live, and how fancy the restaurant . . .
From Jaleo in Washington DC: "You are welcome to bring your own wine to Jaleo DC for a corkage fee of $20 per bottle."
From Minibar in Washington DC: "You are welcome to bring your own wine, for a corking fee of $25 per bottle. There is a maximum of two bottles per party."
At Emeril's New Orleans Fish House,in Las Vegas, corkage is $25; same at Emeril's restaurants that are actually IN New Orleans . . . .
From Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco: "Our corkage policy is fourty dollars per 750 ml bottle; the limit per party is two bottles. The corkage for magnums is seventy five dollars; the limit per party is one bottle respectively."
From Per Se restaurant in New York City: "We are pleased to offer wine service for bottles not represented on our list for a $90.00 fee per 750ml of wine. This service is limited up to the equivalent of 3 standard bottles."
(OK, now THAT'S outrageous!)
Whether $20 is steep depends on where you live. NJ or PA, where corkage is only permitted in restaurants that do not have an alcohol license, that is really steep. In DC or MD, where only licensed establishments can offer corkage, it is is fairly normal.
Of course, if you take a $35 bottle of wine to a restaurant, you would have to expect that the mark up would make it about $60 on the list (at least) so a $20 corkage fee still saves you money.
One more way of looking at your math...............
Your $20 bottle of wine (the one you're bringing in) would likely cost you $40 to $50 at most restaurants, so paying $20 corkaqe nets close to $0 all-in, or a breakeven. Personally I wouldn't bring a $20 bottle to a restaurant, but that's up to you.
And........ your $35 dollar bottle (the one you're buying) will usually have a retail value of $15 to $18.
As to your $8.99 bottle (the one you're buying at retail) ............ my experience is that it's wholesale price probably ranges from $8 down to as low as $6, depending on where you're buying it. If a restaurant is charging you $11 a glass for that wine you should go somewhere else. Just my opinion.
All this can vary widely by area and business practice, but that's basically it.
BTW folks, nowhere in his post did Fowler say that the corkage fee was printed on the menu or posted in the restaurant. It was a discussion over the phone. If it had been published somewhere, it may be a different story, but if it wasn't he is out of luck and all he can do is complain.
Unless you are in one of those rare places where corkage fees are set by law, you have no real complaint. (and most places they just set a maximum fee and don't even bother to enforce that.) Corkage fees are set by the restaurant, and are subject to supply and demand. It is not at all unusual for restaurants to charge 2X the corkage fee for mags. After all, it really is two bottles worth.
Restaurants are not required to permit corkage, and if they choose to charge what they will, so be it. You can always vote on the reasonableness of the fee with your feet and patronize someplace else.
I've had restaurants tell me on the phone that the corkage fee is $20 then charge me $25 when I brought a bottle. Do I have any legal recourse, not really. I can complain, write about it on the boards, or just never go back, but that is about it. If you try to dispute it on your credit card, you will lose every time.
Should they have told you up front, yes. But then again, you should have expected the double fee, it is more common than not for restaurants that charge more than a nominal corkage fee.
Fowler, your first instinct was correct as long as the menu clearly says "$20 per 750 mL bottle." ...as it does on my wine list. We'll charge you $40 for a mag.
However, your second scenario is where the restaurant went in the wrong direction. I waive corkage on a bottle if you buy a bottle from us, including half bottles, or even 4 glasses of wine.
We spend a lot of money putting together a very comprehensive wine list with offerings at all kinds of price points--~450 wines from $27 to $950 with over 175 under $100 and almost 50 at or under $50--and I'd prefer you buy wine from us. But if you've got a special bottle I'll bring you special stemware, professionally decant etc. and you'll pay what I consider a nominal fee to help us recoup the cost of you bringing your own wine instead of buying from us (consider, would you ever bring your own bottled water to a white table cloth restaurant? Coffee? Steak?). However, the second you buy even an inexpensive bottle or a bottles worth by-the-glass, the economics start to turn back around and we'll cover the costs we put into wine service (note: having a full-time dedicated wine staff can cost easily $10, or more, per bottle opened, just in salaries. Though in this case is sounds like you just dealt with a server).
Sadly, I suspect the server was caught in a situation where her training failed her and she was just doing what she'd been told to do without explanation. The person who answered the phone ahead of time is tougher but they should still know to provide the caveat that the corkage applies to a 750 mL and is multiplied for larger formats. We spend a TON of time making sure any customer that calls or arrives with a bottle is aware of the corkage policy and when we'll waive it. We want to put the customer in a situation where it is easy to get all of the economics right for everyone. Especially if the guests are wine lovers who have a great bottle we'd be proud to have them pair with our food.
And for anyone still reading who brings bottles to restaurants sometimes, Wine Directors/Sommes love wine. Give me a couple ounces of your '96 Mouton (happened a couple weeks ago) and I can't get to the computer fast enough to wipe that corkage away.
In my very limited BYOW experiences, I have had the very same results - no charges. Still, I call first, discuss the event, and in all cases, these have been with restaurants, where we had been loyal patrons - so obvious differences from others.
Even when not a BYOW experience, but with some sommeliers' discount, I share - next to drinking wines, I love to share those wines.
re: Bill Hunt
While it is true that that there are times when a corkage fee gets waived when sharing the wine with the sommelier, chef, owner, whomever -- I am loathe to mention this in forums such as this.
The reason is two-fold.
I share my wine NOT in the quid pro quo of hoping, or even expecting, the corkage fee to disappear, but rather because I know the sommelier/chef/owner/whomever is a lover of wine who would enjoy tasting what I have brought. As Hunt says, "I love to share those wines."
Secondly, it is a matter of individuals, and rarely corporate policy, when and if the corkage fee gets waived. In other words, as I said above, sometimes it gets waived; sometimes it doesn't. I am pleasantly pleased, and thankful, when someone does indeed take the corkage off the bill, but it's never something I *expect* will happen. If it doesn't . . . well, I'd planned on paying it anyway, so "no harm, no foul."
In other words, I don't want anyone going into a restaurant, pouring the waiter a glass of _________ and then being upset/ticked off/angry if the corkage fee still appears on the bill.
This is different that the POLICY which some restaurants clearly state on their wine list, that one bottle's corkage fee is waived for every one bottle purchased from the restaurant.
My thoughts... simple.... when it comes to corkage, I confirm everything up front when making a reservation (unless I know the place well). AND I get the name of the person who's quoting me the corkage.
There's too many venues out there that have unwritten policies, this reservationist quotes you one rate, the other quotes you another, when you arrive you get a 3rd rate... *&^%$ all that... nail it down precisely up front.
it' sounds like this place is one that "makes up the rules as they go along".... probably can't find their policy printed anywhere.
Still, they do have a point... a magnum is two full 750ml bottles... more glasses, more pourings if the server is pouring for you, more wine sales they're missing out on...
Think of it this way though... in the long run, by letting you slide for $20 this time they would probably net a whole lot more from your repeat business than $20. Penny wise and pound foolish from a marketing standpoint I think...
I know of a good many restaurants that limit corkage to 2/750ml bottles or 1/1.5L bottle . . . personally, I think THAT is stupid.
The POINT of "corkage" is for the restaurant to recoup some of the profits lost by bringing a bottle into the restaurant (BYOB), rather than purchasing it off the list.
As a result, MOST restaurants that *do* restrict corkage this way -- X for 750ml; 2X for a magnum -- the *theory* being you, the customer, would have bought two bottles of wine, rather than opening one magnum . . . I don't think it's accurate, but -- there you go.
Never thought about what the charges would be for a 375ml.
Basically sounds like BS to me.
But............ I was looking at the on line wine list of Sirena, a new and highly touted LA restaurant, and found this:
"Sirena Corkage Policy:
1 bottle 750 ml. bottle: party of 2 people or 1 1500L bottle: party of 4 people "
That's ALL it says. No cost shown, so do we assume that they'll open one 750ml for up to 2 and one 1500ml for up to 4 people; or do there have to be exactly 2 people or 4 people? Hmmmmmmm. I think my OCD tendency is showing.
Hopefully there is either NO fee (as above) OR this is just an oversight and on line only.
I think you got played.
That said, I would have confirmed the corkage fee before handing over the wine to be opened. Since the menu has the $20 fee printed, I would have disputed the check.
If you paid by credit card, let the credit card company do the dirty work. Dispute the charge and claim the $20 fee was printed on the menu.
A notification to the state department of consumer protection is also in order.