Corkage Fees

. . . cork·age / a restaurant fee for serving a customer's wine . . .

Once upon a time the restaurant created its own special dishes often from nana’s home recipes using local ingredients and spices, including a local wine list that complimented their dishes to provide a local dining experience.

In a perfect world a restaurant would keep a sommelier on staff to curate an impressive yet fairly priced wine list that paired with the dishes presented by the chef.

Restaurateurs however may consider income from the investment in their in-house wine service program more important than simply the revenue from their food service.

Times change.

Today the food neighborhoods of every city include choices of traditional and modern cuisine derived from various cultures and melded together to create a unique, new and exciting array of dishes.

Today individual wine lovers are discovering and sourcing their favorite wines.

They are determining wine and food pairings that simply cannot be predicted by a restaurant sommelier and relegated to a distributor's wine list.

Restaurateurs focused on developing a loyal customer base will allow diners to bring their own bottle to dinner. In return they almost always charge a corkage fee.

Servers will open the bottle, bring it to temperature, serve in the appropriate stemware and refill as necessary.

Naturally diners want these services performed correctly so they agree it is worth paying a corkage fee and expect the fee to match the level of service.

Charging a corkage fee therefore allows restaurants to give wine enthusiasts the option to bring their own bottle without undercutting the investments they’ve made in their own wine program.

For example, a bottle for wine with a retail price of $100 may have been purchased by the restaurant for $65 and find its way onto the wine list for $195. Forgetting the cost of capital or storage overheads, etc. this adds $130 profit for the restaurant but as customers become more and more wine savvy they might just choose a lower price wine from the list so the restaurant is gambling.

To charge $50 corkage on that bottle is a fair outcome for both the restaurant and its customer.

Corkage Fee Etiquette.

Allowing guests to bring their own bottle of wine is considered a courtesy by restaurants. As such, there is etiquette to follow when bringing your own bottle of wine.

Not all restaurants permit BYOB, so call to check before you go.

Corkage fees may range broadly depending on the establishment so ask about the fee first.

Be smart on your numbers, one bottle of wine is five glasses so limit your BYOB bottles to a glass each.

Is the wine you intend to bring already on their list? If it is, do not bring that wine.

Check the menu - food usually dictates your wine so be sure there are options on the menu that will pair with wine you’re bringing.

If you brought something special offer to share a sip with your server as one wine lover to another, the gesture will be appreciated.

Potential Corkage Fee Calculation.

A restaurant’s corkage fee is usually commensurate with the level of service provided by the restaurant.

A high-end restaurant that has elegant types of glassware, a wine list, and sommeliers may change from $50 to $100 per bottle.

More regular restaurants, with smaller wine lists and no wine waiters may change from $20 to $50 per bottle.

Some restaurants that charge a corkage fee might agree to waive the fee if you also purchase wine from their list, usually on a one-for-one basis.

BYOB – Bring Your Own Bottle - establishments tend to have smaller corkage fees or none at all. Guests might open their own wine, pour their own glasses and use less-sophisticated glassware.

You should tip on the corkage fee in the same way they might for any other drink or food item.

Corkage Fee Laws.

States like Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, and Massachusetts have laws that make it illegal to bring an alcoholic beverage into a restaurant.