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Wine,Wine Etiquette

Do you have issues with Corkage? I got over mine…

I just read this Facebook question: “What are your issues about Corkage Fees?” written by Bill Eyer.

This question was stemming from a thoughtful blog on the subject at Cruvee Corner Wine Blog, also written by Bill Eyer.

First, Corkage fees are defined as what one pays when he or she brings his or her own wine into a restaurant, rather than ordering wine from the wine list.

Being in the wine business, I’ve frequently taken my own wines into a restaurant. At first I used to get off on not having to pay those fees (because I could flash a business card and get away with it). Then I grew up, after I had given serious thought to what I was doing. I have no qualms now, whenever I have to pay that fee, and always leave at least a 25 percent tip for the effort, if I’ve not been charged.

Why?

Because I’ve come to realize the following:

  • It takes workers’ time ~ from getting stemware to washing stemware to storing it, replacing it, etc., (which equals money).
  • Whomever has hired the people to do the service has to pay more for the server’s hourly wage (regardless of how small that may be, that equals more money).

When you’ve managed a payroll, you see things differently and understand the complexities.

  • People enjoy the wine they’ve brought in, take their time over dinner (it takes more time to empty a bottle than it does if people are only drinking water or tea), and they linger at a table (that equals money lost by the owner)…
  • … A table where new paying customers could be seated, who might actually order from the wine list (which pays for that real estate).

When tipping the wait server, we tend to not give 20 percent for the service that was just provided, because it’s not reflected on the bottom line, if you didn’t have to pay for corkage.

Yes, some places charge outrageous fees for corkage that have been created  and obviously inflated to dissuade us from bringing in our own wine… which mostly is a money saving maneuver by most of us.

Yes, on a very rare occasion we’ll have a ’45 Margeaux that we’ve just got to enjoy, because it’s that important a day, but what are the odds of that?

Mostly, in today’s economy, it’s about trying to save money. And, if it’s free we have no reason to help the restaurateur to cover his costs of meeting (time) with wholesale and winery reps, doing their purchasing, using restaurant floor space for storing their wines purchased, menu costs (do wholesalers still pay for printing menus, then bill back the winery for that?).

What are your feelings? Do you bring in your own wine? When it’s a free service, do you give the wait server a better tip because he or she had to do the service for you? Do you stop going to a restaurant that charges outlandish corkage fees?

What’s going on these days in the real world of corkage fees? I’m not that in tune with restaurateurs to know what’s happening, and appreciate your thoughts.

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8 Responses to “Do you have issues with Corkage? I got over mine…”

  1. Debbie Passin says:

    What I’ve never understood about corkage is whether the restaurants are covering their cost of serving wine or making up for profits they rely so heavily on coming from sale of alcohol. I often feel like the high corkage fees exist as a penalty. Having lower corkage fees (or waving it on occasion) will likely bring people there more often, enjoying the food and spreading the word.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Debbie,

    You’ve raised a lot of good points.

    Yes, the restaurant is covering the cost of serving the wine.

    Yes, the restaurant is also making up for profits they rely on…

    Yes, sometimes it can be a penalty, because restaurateurs have inventory that they want to move through, so they’ll try to discourage you from bringing in your own wine.

    Yes, lower and waving fees completely will/does bring in people more often.

  3. You always make me think, Jo! Thanks for reminding us what we’re paying for. I don’t mind a high corkage of $20 at a nice restaurant and expect a lower one at a place that pours your wine into a tumbler…

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    I’m with you, Gwendolyn… the more the place costs the restaurateur, the more we should help with that real estate, since we’ve parked ourselves there.

  5. Frank N says:

    Here’s a new twist. A favorite winery publicizes the fact that the high-end restaurant across the street offers free corkage for their wines. I think it’s a good deal for both. It drives new business to the restaurant. It’s a nice thing for good neighbors to do.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    It’s an excellent twist. Thanks for sharing, Frank. In that same light, Dry Creek Kitchen restaurant in Healdsburg (Charlie Palmer’s eatery) has no corkage on any Sonoma county wine.

    It’s a very smart business practice… Hopefully, diners will know enough to give their wait server just a bit more to cover his or her efforts. Stemware, pouring, etc. all takes time.

  7. Bill Eyer says:

    Hi Jo,

    Wow, you’ve really expanded upon the conversation quite nicely and thanks so much for the link love, really appreciated. Personally I don’t have an issue with paying corkage, as long as it’s reasonable. I almost always byob, except to restaurants that in opinion really “get-it” with reasonable mark-ups. Unfortunately, these restaurants happen to be the exception and not the rule here in San Diego.

    I’m a capitalist at heart, one who understands that folks need to make a profit to continue to stay in business. I understand the small margins that most restaurants operate under, but charging a 400% markup on the wine they sell is not a good business model and it won’t entice me to come back.

    I could cite many restaurants in San Diego, which I dine at often, who have reasonable mark-up and reasonable corkage, who really make a nice profit, pay their employees well and pack their place out week after week. These are the folks who “get-it” and who have earned my business.

    Cheers,

    Bill Eyer

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    I agree Bill, and will also not go to a restaurant where the owner has his head up his corkage fees. They tend to over price everything… don’t they?

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