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Understanding (and Appreciating) the Corkage Fee

December 27, 2018

With several new restaurants boasting curated wine lists opening in Columbia, let’s revisit corkage fee etiquette. Sommeliers and restauranteurs dedicate expertise and resources to curate diverse and interesting wine lists. Their selections are designed to enhance diners’ experiences and provide an opportunity to discover new wines along with their cuisine. 

 

But occasionally a diner will have a special bottle that’s been saved to drink at a restaurant they love and a corkage fee will apply. The fee can serve several purposes: to cover the service provided by the sommelier or server to decant, present, and serve the wine; to address potential revenue loss from diners not ordering from the list; or simply to discourage the practice. 

 

Generally speaking, the corkage fee represents a courtesy provided by restaurants to allow diners to enjoy their special bottle with a memorable meal.  Following are some tips for helping you foster “bring own wine” relations and achieve corkage peace.

 

How Much?

 

A survey of higher-end restaurants around town shows that corkage fees range between $25-$50.  While a restaurant may permit a diner to BYO, it is up to management to develop the corkage stipulations to allow a diner to do so.  Some restaurants have a sliding scale based on the price of your bottle, while some may prohibit you from bringing your own if the wine is already on the their list.  Research your restaurant’s fee policy well in advance, and if the fee seems excessive, resign to ordering off their list or choose to dine at another establishment. 

 

Respect the List

 

Nothing is in more bad taste than to bring a cheap wine simply to save money. While the occasional bottle of wine for a special celebration is generally welcomed, toting in a cheap bottle to undercut the wine list is understandably frowned upon. Bring a bottle that costs at least as the least expensive wine on the list—a good rule of thumb is $35.  This will require you do some legwork before you dine, but will go a long way to show you respect the expertise and philosophy of the sommelier and chef.  Many sommeliers delight in wines brought in by guests that are unique, high-quality, and have significant nostalgic meaning.  But restaurants will know when a diner carts an inexpensive bottle, and it will only make you appear to be a cheapskate.

 

Offer a Taste

 

While the sommelier may decline to do so, it’s good etiquette to offer a taste of the wine you brought in. Yes, you’ve eschewed the wine list, but this practice goes a long way to display your goodwill and acknowledges the important role the sommelier serves in the restaurant. It also an opportunity to educate the server or the sommelier and broaden his/her palate.  We are all students of wine and any chance to learn about interesting varietals or styles is always appreciated.  Moreover, this act goes far towards ensuring your future BYO activities will be better received. 

 

Consider Buying off the List

 

Finally, consider ordering wine from the restaurant’s list to compliment to your own bottle.  With several new wine conscious options in town, why not use this as an opportunity to explore new flavors? Allow the sommelier to guide you through their program and compare your wine with one from the list.  The side-by-side tasting of wines and expanded food pairing options will undoubtedly enhance your dining experience. Certainly it will create goodwill with your restaurant and ensure you’ll be viewed as a good ambassador of BYO relations. 

 

Have you visited any of the new wine-focused restaurants around town? Erlinda would love to chat about all the wine excitement happening around Columbia! Contact me at erlinda@thevinicola.com to discuss your grape goals, learn about wine, or to plan private tasting functions.

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