Corkage Fee and Wine at a Restaurant
Start by reading the basics of Wine Markups at Restaurants to get a basic understanding of why ALL restaurants mark up food items :)
Once you understand why restaurants tend to charge more on drinks and less of a markup on other food items, you understand why it ends up being such a big deal for restaurants to let you bring in your own beverage. You are in essence "taking advantage" of their relatively cheaper prices on the food items and dodging any return investment in their beverages. If you want to drink water it's one thing - but if you want to drink wine, you should be drinking their wine and helping them maintain the proper balance of income in all of their income stream areas. They have set up their prices assuming that most people will be drinking wine and balancing their profits properly.
In order to keep this balance, most restaurants charge a corkage fee. This means if you choose to bring in your own bottle of wine - usually a special bottle they do not already offer on their menu - they will charge you a serving fee which generally matches the serving fee they would have gotten for any other bottle on their menu. A typical corkage fee is $10 to $20 per bottle. If you look at my wine markup sheets, this is really quite a bargain. On one hand they didn't have to pre-buy and store the wine, so they save a BIT of money that way. That's why you're not paying the full markup that they would normally charge on a bottle.
On the other hand, the waiter depends on wine tips as part of his livelihood. He is paid a low basic wage with the assumption that he'll "bubble up" to a full salary amount by including the tips. If people cut him out of tips by not paying him any wine tips, that can really cut into his ability to pay his apartment rent. If you bought a $50 bottle of wine, that's $10 gone right out of his pocket, if you instead choose to bring it in and not give him any cut of it.
If you do choose to bring in a bottle of wine, make sure you call ahead first to verify it's OK. Usually they will say it is OK as long as it's not already on their menu. Find out what the corkage fee is. Usually if the bottle is worth more than $30 you do save money by paying the corkage fee vs paying their prices. Note that this is true on cruises too! So it's well worth it to bring in a case of wine, declare it on your way onto the cruise, pay the fee, and enjoy your bottles.
Now this all being said, remember there is a downside to lugging your bottles around. If they are at ALL "aged" bottles, you are now shaking the sediment all around in the bottle by transporting them. You are going to be drinking that sediment as a powdery mix in your wine. Your wine won't taste nearly as good as it should :) If this is a brand new Chardonnay it won't matter - but if it is a 8 year old Cabernet, this could be huge difference in taste. I would much rather go with one of the restaurant's bottles, for an older red, vs lugging in my own and drinking down the sediment in each glass. It can easily take 5+ hours for the sediment to re-settle, so unless you're there for a full day, just waiting an hour or two - or decanting - isn't going to help any with this.
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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.