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ANNA S. FROM BOSTON ASKS: Why do restaurants charge fees to bring my own bottle of wine?
Hi Anna! Ah, yes…the ever toilsome restaurant corkage fee. It can certainly be annoying, and sometimes even excessive. But there are a few good (or at least reasonable) answers for why they exist.
First and foremost, it’s to protect the business. There are places around that are BYOB, but more likely than not these establishments don’t really depend on beverage and wine sales to keep them going. In every other restaurant it's a valuable source of revenue. Charging a corkage fee is almost like a compromise between the restaurant and the guest. I think it is fair to say that it’s primary purpose is to discourage patrons from bringing their own wine, but if someone is insistent, it will at least help offset the loss of revenue. There is also a small labor cost associated with serving a bottle of wine. Somebody has to polish the glassware, open the bottle, and clean it all up afterwards.
Another consideration is that restaurants with great lists have usually invested significant time and money into their programs. It can be a bit disheartening to the sommelier or beverage director who put it all together to have patrons ignore it completely. It doesn’t always benefit the guest either. Most somms will curate a list with the chef’s cuisine in mind, and you could be missing out on an essential experience by forgoing that.
Now, that’s not to say there isn’t another side to this cork. At the end of the day, restaurants are in the business of hospitality and should try their best to accommodate their guests. There is such thing as an excessive corkage fee, and I’ve even heard of grinches who refuse it all together with fallacious reasoning that one wouldn’t bring their own meat to a restaurant. Some bottles are rare, special, or carry sentimental value. They are brought to the restaurant with purpose and the somm should honor that. What we can do as guests to return the courtesy is research lists before we arrive with a bottle the restaurant already carries, thank the somm and offer a taste, and pay the corkage without complaint.
By: Amy Zhou