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Mar 14, 2013 11:55 AM

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?

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  1. I certainly would have chosen to argue with her about the inconsistency.

    1. 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.

      50 Replies
      1. re: bagelman01

        That's a lot of work for $20.00. And I don't know that they did anything illegal. Their house - their rules. They can allow corkage for free or not allow it at all. I agree its a BS policy, especially the written part. In Indiana its illegal and I would love to have some kind of corkage-any corkage! I'd advise objecting with your wallet and not returning.

          1. re: Leonardo

            Exactly what is fraudulent? What am I missing?

            1. re: Leonardo

              Not really. They can charge whatever they want and change the rules whenever they want.

              I have paid double corkage on magnums before in more than one restaurant. I'm not defending a policy but its not that big of a deal.

              1. re: HoosierFoodie

                >>>They can charge whatever they want and change the rules whenever they want.<<<

                So if you called a restaurant and asked how much they charge for the New York Strip and they said $40 and when you were seated at the restaurant and read the menu which confirmed the price of the New York Strip was $40 you would have no issue if the bill arrived and were charged $80 for the New York Strip?

                1. re: Fowler

                  You would be charged 80 for a steak twice the size, same thing.

                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    So $20 for a steak half the size? Please read my original post.

                    1. re: Fowler

                      l did and my point stand. In my experience a half bottle requires the same service and glasses thus same charge.
                      The magnum and larger sizes are charged as a multiple of the 750's.

                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                        "In my experience a half bottle requires the same service and glasses thus same charge."

                        The same could be said for the magnum. One bottle, one cork & same number of glasses.

                  2. re: Fowler

                    That's not the same. And the point below about steak size is relevant.

                    I don't like it either. The person should have been told about the difference by someone. I have taken magnums into restaurants and I have always been told, at least once, that a magnum is twice the price. Further, I believe ,though I can't recall exactly, that I asked about a magnum. I know, for instance, in MGM properties in Las Vegas the policy is, or was two years ago, that the limit was two bottles but magnums were not allowed.

                    I am not saying that the restaurant handled the situation right. In fact, they handled it poorly. They should have just let it slide for the original quoted amount because they should have explained it before the magnum was even opened.

                    That said, implying that it was fraud or that somehow legal lines have been crossed seems more than a bit excessive and a waste of time.

                    1. re: HoosierFoodie

                      Good points, Hoosier. Just to be clear (so someone else that comes along and did not read my original post does not misunderstand) I did not claim what the restaurant did was illegal. All I asked for were thoughts.

                      Thanks for your comments.

                      1. re: HoosierFoodie

                        >>> In fact, they handled it poorly. They should have just let it slide for the original quoted amount because they should have explained it before the magnum was even opened. <<<

                        FWIW, most wine lists that I can think of off the top of my head -- in the more "upscale" establishments, and independent, more moderately priced places -- do clearly state on the wine list something along the lines of:

                        "We permit corkage at $X per bottle ($2X per magnum), with a 2 bottle limit. No cellphones at the table, please."

                        Now, if indeed the policy of the restaurant is 2X corkage on a magnum, and a) it is not so stated on the wine list, nor b) explained to the patron, then you're absolutely right -- the charge should have been $20.

                        1. re: zin1953

                          "Now, if indeed the policy of the restaurant is 2X corkage on a magnum, and a) it is not so stated on the wine list, nor b) explained to the patron, then you're absolutely right -- the charge should have been $20."

                          And I really think that's been the most rational view (IMHO) throughout this topic....... side conversations just there- aside.

                      2. re: Fowler

                        Corkage fees do change though... that's happened to me more than a few times. The price of a steak is usually printed right on the menu so it's hard to get that wrong...

                        .... whereas the corkage fee is often not written down anywhere. You'll get one quote over the phone, another when you arrive and yet another when the bill comes.

                        Confirm it up front, and get the name of who you spoke to on the phone. If you're really concerned I'd call again before arrival to re-confirm.

                        1. re: TombstoneShadow

                          >>> whereas the corkage fee is often not written down anywhere. <<<

                          Maybe where YOU live -- ;^) -- but I cannot think of a single restaurant that doesn't have the corkage fee printed on their wine list.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            When you sat "restaurant" I assume you're speaking of really fine dining. Maybe the OC is too laid back, but I see very few corkage fees on wine lists at all but the really high end places around here.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              "I see very few corkage fees on wine lists"...

                              me neither. Some venues may print their corkage fee on their wine list, but wouldn't that encourage BYOB, exactly the opposite of what alot of them want to do...

                              Just checked the wine list of the first few restaurants listed on the NY Uncorked website:

                              Here's Aldea:

                              Here's Aquavit:

                              Here's Apiary:

                              Here's Ai Fiori:

                              Here's Blue Hill:

                              Someone else can finish up the B's then start on the C's....

                              Here's one that does have it, Gary Danko SF, CA: Interesting to note the printed fee is $45 / bottle which is not so unfair a deal considering you're probably going to be bringing higher-priced bottles here than you would to the "average" BYOB.

                              Whether printed or not printed is very un-even in the industry IMO.

                              1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                >>> Whether printed or not printed is very un-even in the industry IMO. <<<

                                True. I'm not denying that. But I would merely say that a) I still can't think of a place that doesn't have it printed (yes -- fine dining), and b) a website listing of wines isn't the same as the actual wine list.

                                By the way, check out Duende's website listing -- -- go to the Bottles pages, and look at the top of the pages: "All the Bottles Available To Go at a 50% Discount."

                            2. re: zin1953

                              I don't think I have ever seen the corkage fee on a wine list around here (DC). I make a point of always asking about the corkage fee when I make the reservation at a restaurant that I have not taken a bottle to before. Most (not all) restaurants charge double for a magnum. The assumption is that you are having more people drinking and thus more glasses, etc. However, as many noted, the main reason for a corkage fee is to make up the lost profit to the restaurant when you bring your own wine.

                              1. re: dinwiddie

                                I vaguely recall the corkage fee being on the wine list at Minibar and at Dino, but I could certainly be mistaken.

                                1. re: dinwiddie

                                  Just as an aside, I was poking around a Las Vegas retail wine store-and-tasting-bar (located in the Palazzo) that listed many of the corkage fees for restaurants on the Strip . . .


                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    Oh, and by the way, Chez Panisse charges $25/btl. but only $45/magnum . . .


                                2. re: zin1953

                                  Well, zin (Jason), I don't know if YOU still live in the SF Bay Area, but here is my experience there.

                                  When I started doing BYOB with "corkage" in the later 1970s, having learned of it from wine-mentor friends, the practice was somewhat novel and not generally advertised by restaurants. Tact was called for; asking upscale restaurants if they "permitted customers to bring in wines" might bring a politely discouraging response, while "what's your corkage charge, please" -- from someone evidently accustomed to doing so -- would bring, from the very same restaurant, a price (typically in those days $10, occasionally $15 or more).

                                  In time the practice spread in restaurants, and became more open and written down. But gradually, over decades; and as many of these threads bring up, customs still differ across the US.

                                  As of my last gastronomic visit to France a few years ago, the whole idea was all but unheard-of, and I'm told that's pretty typical for Europe.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    As I've mentioned before, when the topic has raised, the restaurant for which I was the wine buyer in the 1980s, charged a flat $5 over retail on the list, and corkage was $5 as well . . . then again, we weren't in the Bay Area -- we were in Santa Cruz! ;^)

                                    And -- yes -- I'm still in the Bay Area, in Berkeley.

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      And as Bob Dylan sang, things have changed. Even since the song.

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        I still think that (the $5 over retail) is a super idea.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Then get thee to Passionfish in Pacific Grove. ; >P

                                          1. re: PolarBear

                                            The Passionfish list and pricing is indeed great. Not exactly $5 over retail -- but very friendly pricing compared with so many others. -- Jake

                                          2. re: c oliver

                                            Especially considering the restaurant is paying far less than the retail price. They can sell at $5 over retail and still make a significant profit even when factoring in the cost of stemware, opportunity cost, etc.

                                              1. re: Fowler

                                                "Especially considering the restaurant is paying far less than the retail price. They can sell at $5 over retail and still make a significant profit..."

                                                That's less clear to me, as it depends on a bunch of other factors, unmentioned above, in the restaurant's accounting. The economics from the other side of a cash register aren't always intuitive to customers.

                                                OTOH, I've examined some large wine lists at big, experienced restaurants that pride themselves on the wine list. If you know a little about wine and its pricing, big lists can be revealing. The markups (even in by-glass offerings) can vary widely within a list, and the choice of how to price what kinds of wine can further vary even between closely competing restaurants, in the same market, with a lot of basic overlap on their lists. Reflecting each place's pricing strategy, sense of its target customers, etc.

                                                From this I take that as a customer, it sure helps to know something about the prices of the wines you're likely to order because the idea of fixed % markup (or even fixed dollar markup, something I associate mainly with an earlier era) is far from universal on restaurant lists.

                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                  WSRP (Winery Suggested Retail Price) is set @ 50% markup off of the wholesale price. That translates to a 33% profit.

                                                  For example, a wine costing $120/case wholesale (before any discounts), or $10/bottle, carries a suggested retail of $15.

                                                  -- $10 + 50% markup (or $5) = $15.
                                                  -- $15 - $10 (66.67%) = $5 (33.33% BGP¹)

                                                  Retailers, who may by 5, 10, 25, 56, or more cases at one time can receive deep discounts off that "case one" wholesale. Restaurants, which often buy one case of a particular wine at a time (not including by-the-glass pours), generally do not receive a discount, except -- perhaps -- on what's called a "Family Plan," meaning if the total order is one case each of 5 separate wines, that order may receive a 5% discount off the total invoice on those wines which are eligible for a discount in the first place. (Some wines are net, no discount.) This is otherwise referred to as "5 on 5." If a restaurant buys a couple of bottles of this and a few bottles of that, those bottles are ineligible for discounts.

                                                  So, typically, if a restaurant buys a case of that $120-a-bottle WSRP Napa Valley Cab, that case cost the restaurant $960 and is likely a net (no discount) item. Any guesses how long the restaurant sits on that nearly $1,000 investment before realizing a profit?

                                                  / / / / /

                                                  Now, keep in mind, a restaurant might sell that Napa Cab anywhere from $160 (2x wholesale) to as much as $360 (3x retail)! On the other hand, "my" restaurant² would have had it on our list for $125 . . .

                                                  ¹ Beginning Gross Profit, from which all costs are subtracted before one knows their actual realized net profit.

                                                  ² I wasn't the owner, merely the wine buyer/bar manager.

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    I defer to your experience as to WSRP, but need to inject that my memory is that the invoices of the two biggest SoCal distributor list a 'suggested retail' based on 25% gross profit. That always made me laugh when we owned our shop.

                                                  2. re: eatzalot

                                                    >>>That's less clear to me, as it depends on a bunch of other factors, <<<

                                                    I noticed you edited my reply to intentionally exclude the "other factors" I mentioned.

                                                    You are correct about inflation though. $5 in the 80's is probably roughly 3 times more in 2014 but the price of corkage is not the root of the issue.

                                                    1. re: Fowler

                                                      Other factors beyond those you mentioned -- that was my point. Jason has now added an example.

                                                      Selling price minus wholesale cost (and even some other factors) will show up on the accounting as just gross margin. The net profit can still be negative, when the rest of the constellation of costs is accounted for.

                                                      Sorry if unclear!

                                                  3. re: Fowler

                                                    Your belief would not work for any restaurant in the State of New Jersey....where the cost a a liquor license is typically six figures and can run ad high 1.5 million in the right community or location(shopping mall or highway). Factor in the cost of inventory which is over 25-50+k and that pricing strategy would doom a restaurant for lack of return.

                                                2. re: zin1953

                                                  Of course Jason's $5/btl 1980s corkage fee corresponds (with inflation) to roughly $15-20 in 2014 dollars (depending on just when in the 80s, it being a high-inflation decade) -- but roughly, typical of many restaurants today, as in the example that started this thread.

                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                    I'd love to find a restaurant today that only charges $15 or $20 . . . not in my neighborhood! ;^)

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          I am not surprised because you have good taste. I am going to remove the comment so others do not go there and expect special treatment.

                                                          1. re: Fowler

                                                            Yes, that touces on delicate territory ably summarized by zin1953 earlier in this thread, when it was young:

                                                            Many people who bring good wine to restaurants experience episodes of courtesy from the staffs, but that's distinct from a published straightforward policy, and it's subject to misjudgment in several ways, so maybe best let it happen spontaneously.

                                          3. re: HoosierFoodie

                                            Seems that there are elements of common usage and ethics woven into this. The word 'bottle' does not limit itself to any particular size by definition. Therefor it's understandable for the average person to expect one thing and a restaurant professional to see it differently. As has been said elsewhere here, much of this isn't really about the bottle volume, but about the reason for the fee. Each side sees it from its own perspective.

                                            1. re: Midlife

                                              >>> The word 'bottle' does not limit itself to any particular size by definition. <<<

                                              I would disagree. A standard bottle is 750ml/25.4 oz.

                                              To wit, check out the following:

                                              . . . and on and on and on.

                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                Well...... I was trying to find some common ground to explain the clash of definitions, but certainly do get that the vast majority of people would see a "bottle" only as 750ml. OTOH, duesnt that, in away, back up the restaurant's position that. Magnum us two bottles?

                                                1. re: Midlife

                                                  Yes. A magnum is two bottles . . . HOWEVER, one can make a valid argument for the fact that it costs the restaurant the same amount of money to store, chill, and serve a bottle of, say, KJ Chardonnay as it does a Puligny-Montrachet (ignoring turnover); or a bottle of Korbel versus Dom Pérignon; BV Cabernet as Lafite . . . this is one argument for a flat price above retail for wine lists (off-topic, but bear with me).

                                                  AND, it costs the restaurant the same in terms of service (glasses, time @ the table pouring the wine, etc.) if someone buys wine off the list or brings it in from home (thus, the argument for corkage).

                                                  A magnum (1.5L), with its additional volume, requires either multiple visits to the table for service, or a longer time serving a larger party. Personally, I can't think of a restaurant that doesn't charge more for corkage when it comes to a magnum versus a bottle.

                                                  So, too, those restaurants that place a limit on the number of bottles one can bring in, count a magnum as two bottles towards whatever that limit may be. Not every restaurant sets a limit like that, but -- again -- I can't think of a restaurant that has such a limit that doesn't count a magnum as two bottles.

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    I think I've lost track of which side of this you're on. ;o[]

                                                    1. re: Midlife

                                                      I don't have a "side." Basically, the restaurant can do whatever the **** it wants, as long as a) it's within the law, and b) it's "publicly stated" (i.e.: printed on the wine list). The customer is then free to make his or her own choice.

                                                      Back in the 1980s, we charged a flat $5 over retail on the list, and our corkage was a flat $5. But if TFL, for example, wants to charge $150 for corkage . . . well, *I* may think that's exorbitant, but if that's what they want to charge, so be it.

                                                      I am far more offended by outrageous markups on wine than I am exorbitant corkage fees. (Thus, my slight drift into the concept that serving a bottle of Korbel costs pretty much the same as a bottle of Dom.)

                                      2. re: bagelman01

                                        "Consumer protection"? How about business protection? Server protection?

                                      3. If the corkage fee notice did not say "$40 for magnums" then she was in error charging you that much. I would take it up with the credit card company at this point.

                                        I'll just bet that is not the restaurant's policy (doubling the fee for a magnum).

                                        1. 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.

                                          1. 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.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              It's entirely accurate and utterly logical.