We often like to bring our own wine to restaurants for several reasons: We can drink wines that we know we like; we can pair one of our special wines with an excellent restaurant meal instead of our mediocre cooking; and we don’t have to pay the marked-up cost on restaurant wine lists. (Some wines can be marked up by 30%-100% above retail.)
Instead, we pay a corkage fee that a restaurant charges when you bring your own bottle. But prices vary, depending on the city, the type of restaurant (e.g., casual vs. fine dining) and other factors.
Some charge a small fee to cover their expenses to open and serve your wine, and to wash your glasses. Others charge a fee that is the same as the least expensive wine on their list. Yet others charge higher fees to discourage the practice or because their wine list contains high-end bottles with corresponding prices.
Some restaurants will waive the corkage on one bottle if you buy a bottle from the restaurant. This enables you to discover a new wine, while also enjoying your favorite bottle from home.
We’ve been charged anywhere from $5-$30 a bottle, depending on the restaurant’s policy. For example, last weekend we were at a Bellingham restaurant and corkage was $10. In Seattle, we’ve paid anywhere from $5-$20. Last month, a DC restaurant charged $30, which was a bargain compared to the price of wine on its list. We’ve heard that a couple of world-renowned, high-end restaurants in Napa Valley have been known to charge a $75-$150 corkage fee, and a posh Manhattan establishment charges $85.
If you are considering bringing your own wine to dinner, there are some simple rules of etiquette to make the experience a good one.
- Phone the restaurant in advance to see if bringing your own wine is permitted, and then ask if they have a corkage fee.
- On that same call, find out if your bottle is available at the restaurant. Never, never bring wine that is on a restaurant’s wine list.
- If you wine isn’t on their list, let them know you are planning to bring your own bottle, when you make the reservation.
- Along those same lines, never bring a cheap wine — at least $25 is best.
- When you go to the restaurant, don’t carry the bottle in a paper bag. If you have a nice container, great. Otherwise, simply carry it on its own.
- Let the host or hostess and your server know you brought your own bottle to drink, and then follow their lead on next steps.
- If you bring a special bottle of wine, offer your server and/or the sommellier a taste. It will be appreciated.
Bottom line: It’s best to know a restaurant’s policy on corkage fees before showing up with a bottle of your own wine.
Margot and Dave