A Quandary

Is it chutzpah and do I have the chutzpah to try it? Very recently the law regarding bringing wine in to a restaurant has been changed here in Michigan. It is now legal to do so. My question is, is it ethical to bring a bottle of wine into a restaurant? Is it morally right to do so as well? The newspapers have been very quiet on this subject, other then than the mere reporting of the change in the law. I question the ability of newspaper journalists to bring any sound reporting anymore, as I find that I have to read some articles a couple of times, because of the built in bias of the so called writer.

Ch Mouton Rothschild 1964
I have been to a few restaurants where the owners have graciously allowed friends of ours to bring in a special bottle of wine for a celebration. I might also add that the bottle of wine is each time was a bottle that even the finest of restaurants would be hard pressed to have in their cellar and if they did, the storage and investment of the wine would be astronomical and the restaurants did it as a favor to a good customer on the q.t. as we used to say. For the last decade or say, there have been grumblings that restaurants were scalping diners on the price of a bottle of wine. It seems that the markup could be three to four times the retail price of the bottle of wine, but in all fairness, this was usually noticed on popular priced and popular wines. I have noticed many times in a restaurant that fine wines are not nearly as steep in price as the popular price wines are. It seems to me that fifty dollars is usually the point of diminishing returns for a restaurant on a bottle of wine. Where a ten dollar bottle of wine in a store can return forty dollars and thirty dollar bottle does not bring a hundred and twenty dollars.

Ch Lafite Rothschild 1990
There does not seem to be a consensus yet among the restraunteurs about what to do with this new ruling. How much should a reasonable corkage fee be? Will the fee be waived if another bottle of wine from the carte is purchased? Should they allow a bottle to be brought in, that they already have on their carte? What if the wine that is brought in, is an embarrassment to the establishment? I think that these are reasonable questions for both sides of the table.

Gaja Barbaresco 1982

As a retailer, I understand about the hidden costs of doing business. I mean some restaurants have the finest and pristine crystal wine glasses, especially for their reserve wines. That has to be done by hand. Then there is the service performed either by the wait person or the sommelier in the opening and the decanting of the wine. I wonder what a restaurant would have paid to secure a Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1964 in today’s market at an auction. How does one figure in the tip for a bottle of wine that one brought with them? I think we have all looked at a wine carte and thought my price was better. I would be interested to hear from anyone that lives where this has been an allowable practice for some time, and what they have encountered. At the moment I think that I shall refrain until I feel more comfortable with the concept.  Perhaps it may cause the markup to be reduced, we shall see.


About thewineraconteur

A non-technical wine writer, who enjoys the moment with the wine, as much as the wine. Twitter.com/WineRaconteur Instagram/thewineraconteur Facebook/ The Wine Raconteur
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6 Responses to A Quandary

  1. AL POE says:

    My thought is that the Wine prices would go up if a restaurant let’s you bring your own even with let’s say a $10 per bottle corkage fee. I think you bring one special bottle and then buy a couple more from them for let’s say a group of ten. Since you ask I’ll be happy to ask the many restaurants I eat at about your query. I’ve read many reviews from other states that had this for many years,,no problems. I truly believe many fine dining spots will welcome this with open arms to attract new customers.

  2. talkavino says:

    John, I live in Connecticut, and it is a standard practice around here – which will include New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – to be able to being your wine to the restaurant. Of course there will be corking fees which will range from $10 to $35, with some restaurants in New York city even asking for $50. There are all sorts of exceptions – for instance, some restaurants might simply not allow bringing the wine in. Yes, it is legal to bring the wine into the restaurant, but there is no law which would force restaurants to allow that. Therefore, if someone is planning to bring a bottle with them, it is wise to call ahead and ask if it is okay and how much it will cost to do so.
    Now, if you think about is, for the most of the cases, people will bring the wine which is either special or familiar to them – I don’t believe there is such thing as an embarrassing wine – people should be allowed to drink what they like.
    When it some to the tip, there are no hard and fast rules – if I will have to pay $50 corking fees, there is no way I will increase the tip to accommodate the cost of wine. If corking is reasonable, you might factor in the cost of the wine – but this is entirely up to you.

  3. Here in Philly, there is an added complexity–there are numerous wonderful restaurants that are strictly BYO–they do not have a liquor license. There was one such restaurant in our neighborhood that we have been to at least 100 times. After they got a liquor license, we continued to go, usually buying some wine from the resto first, then opening our bottle. Recently, they informed us that they would no longer allow us to bring our own wine, even if we bought some off their list first. Their wine list is horrible and the mark-ups are at least 400%. So we will not be back, which is a shame. I just think it is fairly short-sighted when a restaurant insists on gouging the customer with ridiculous margins. I do not know what we would do if there were not other BYO options in the city. Buying wine at a restaurant is one of my biggest pet peeves….

    • Jeff,
      I think the BYO concept is way too radical for Michigan. I have no problem with any business making a profit, though they seem to have set their sights on the wine crowd. I am hoping that this new law may force the price of wines down, in a restaurant setting, because if enough people bring their own wine in, the investment for the restaurant in wines will be wasted and take a much longer time to recoup. If the wines are marked up in a reasonable fashion, I do believe that the wines will sell quicker with less buried money. Time will tell, and maybe I am just a dreamer.
      – John

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