You’re looking forward to your reservation at the hot new restaurant in town and want to bring a special bottle of wine to pair with your meal. Is it ok to just show up wine bottle in hand?
Some restaurants are encouraging the practice while some others can’t due to corkage laws that prohibit it.
Here are four things to consider when bringing wine to a restaurant:
Call in advance
In order to avoid an uncomfortable situation, call the restaurant ahead to make sure they allow diners to bring wine from home. While some restaurants do allow it (and will likely charge a corkage fee to do so), others don’t. Some states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, ban patrons from bringing in their own wine (BYO), while some cities like Atlanta require restaurant owners who allow BYO to buy a special license from the city.
Restaurants that allow diners to bring their own wine usually charge a corkage fee per bottle which generally ranges from $15-50 (although there are some exceptions where they’ll waive this all together).This fee is usually intended to cover the service of the wine and the use of a decanter and/or nice stemware, however, it should not be considered a tip for your sommelier or server. Not a fan of paying the corkage fee? Rumor has it if you offer your sommelier a taste of your special bottle, the corkage fee might magically disappear from your bill.
Don’t bring wine already on the list
It might seem cost effective to bring one of your favorite “everyday” bottles of wine to a restaurant to avoid paying their markup, but for etiquette’s sake - don’t do it. It not only make restaurant owners angry, they won’t open them for you.
While you may have saved money by bringing your own wine, don’t be too stingy. When calculating the tip, be sure to factor in the time, energy and care given the server gave to your special bottle. Did it require decanting? Did the wait staff help select a dish to pair with it? Take these things into consideration and show your appreciation by compensating your server and/or sommelier accordingly.
Stephanie Miskew is a certified sommelier, wine educator and proprietor of The Wine Atelier, an online wine boutique. She also runs the The Glamorous Gourmet, a website dedicated to wine and entertaining.