Corkage: A Privilege, Not a Right

Categories: Wine Time

wine bottle corks.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen
In the wake of last week's post on The Wine Lover's Bill of Rights, I wanted to turn the tables (no pun intended) and address one of the wine lover's responsibilities in the unique social compact that is sealed when you sit down for a meal in a restaurant.

In most states, corkage -- i.e., bringing your own bottle to a restaurant and having your server open it for you for a fee -- is legal.

In Texas, corkage is illegal unless the venue does not have a spirits license. In other words, if spirits are served, corkage is forbidden by law. (I'll devote a future post to this bizarre nugget of Texas legislation.) Many sommeliers allow corkage regardless of this restriction. But, for the most part, our corkage options in Houston are severely limited.

There are, however, a handful of great Houston restaurants where corkage is encouraged.

Here are some guidelines for proper corkage etiquette:

  • Inquire about corkage policy and fee beforehand.
  • Be sure that you're not bringing a bottle that the restaurant already has on its list.
  • Bring something truly special or unique, an old vintage or a rare label (that's the whole point of corkage).
  • Don't use corkage as a loophole to save money (corkage is a privilege, not a right).
  • Order a bottle of comparable value.
  • Offer your server a taste of your wine.
  • Be sure to tip generously, keeping in mind that your bill will be significantly lower than it would have been otherwise.

Here's a link to an excellent article on corkage by Wall Street Journal wine writer Lettie Teague. And here's another by California wine blogger Jack Everitt.

Two of my favorite Houston corkage destinations are Giacomo's Cibo e Vino and The Burger Guys.

Where's your favorite place for corkage in Houston?



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Location Info

Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

3215 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Burger Guys - CLOSED

12225 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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33 comments
Ace
Ace

Nice corks in the photo - looks like a good time -

Not Enough Money for Everyone
Not Enough Money for Everyone

I kinda agree with 'his fusiness'.  Eating out for me is a treat, good restaurants are expensive so I don't get to do it very often. I don't feel like supplementing the server's wage because they chose to take a minimum wage job, and I dislike the "well, if you don't tip me 20% I'm losing money because I have to give Uncle Sam 15%".  That's a problem with the tax code in the US, the restaurant not compensating the staff enough, and again, the server choosing this particular way of earning a living...that's not my problem.  So, I eat at home 99% of my time and the restaurants and servers never get any of my money...for food even, never mind wine or a tip.  Let's not forget that a tip is a gratuity, not an obligation.  As for corkage and the servicing of glass ware...they are providing me with water aren't they?  I'll drink my BYOB out of my water glass (I know a few restaurants that use Riedel glasses for water), call me cheap, I don't care, in this economy I have to look after myself and family, I can't afford to put a server through college!

Roy Schneider
Roy Schneider

Understand that Restaurants count on Wine Sales as a profit center. Especially Fine Dining establishments. Margins in this industry are very low except for Wine and alcohol. Corkage is designed for you to enjoy your Special Occasion Wine, not as way for consumers to save a buck. 

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

cry me a river.  the restaurant business is tough.  I understand that.  It's hardly a license to charge customers through the nose on wine.   it's seriously highway robbery.  perhaps a better business model would be to offer at last some bottles at more reasonable prices.  I know we would be more likely to buy wine in that case.  as it is now, we simply do not.  [and we're not alone] so the restaurant has effectively cut off that revenue stream by insisting that if you want wine you have to pay way more than it is actually worth.  of course, having better by the glass service would also help -- while I might not be willing [or able] to spend $30+ on a bottle of wine with dinner, I generally can find it in the budget to splurge on $7 or $8 for a glass and at those prices per glass, they are more than making up the outrageous margins charged on bottles, at least for good but lower price point wines.  but it is darned difficult to find restaurants with good by the glass offerings.

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

and besides all of that.... if the restaurant offers corkage, then you are paying the agreed upon fee for their service, clean glasses, etc.  they shouldn't get their nose out of joint because of the price of the wine you bring in.   Perhaps you just happen to really like this particular $13 malbec.  that's your business and you're the customer.

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

absolutely amen on the prices of eyeglasses!

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

SirRon is absolutely correct that you are comparing apples to oranges.  Your numbers are suspect, though.  They certainly do not jive with those in these articles:  http://money.cnn.com/galleries...  

http://www.winemag.com/Wine-En... http://www.wellheeledblog.com/... 

but if you have actual market data that compares restaurant pricing with wholesale and retail prices, it would be great for you to provide actual facts rather than continuing to traffic in flaming insult. No one is denying that both retailers and restaurants must [and should] mark up their products, including wine.  The problem is that restaurants use wine to plump their margins because they have the customers trapped in a monopoly sort of situation.  one generally goes to a particular restaurant for the food, and once there, you have no other option, if you want wine, than to pay whatever they decide to charge.  I'm even okay with restaurants charging a higher markup on wine than retailers do.  they do have increased overhead charges associated with wine in comparison to liquor retailers:  storage, glassware, servers, etc.  But there has to be some reason and limit.  and, in too many cases, that limit has been exceeded.  and, if in doing, so, the restaurant prices customers out of paying wine, then it really has not done itself a favor.  In the end, it still comes down to the simple fact that should a restaurant offer corkage and the customer agree to pay that fee, whatever it may be, it does the restaurant no damage whatsoever for the customer to bring in whatever wine she desires.  It is getting the same return whether the customer drinks a $150 Gevrey-Chambertin or a $5 bottle of plonque.  To complain about the quality or price of that wine is merely snobbery.  Of course, everyone is entitled to their personal snobberies, but let's not pretend that they should be the basis for rational market decisions or good customer service.

SirRon
SirRon

But we are talking about a consumable product, and a product where there is the option at some places to bring your own. Wine markup stands out over food markup because (presumably) a chef/cook is taking ingredients and creating a dish.

For wine, nothing of significance happens. Bottle. Cork. Pour. I don't think you'd here these same arguments if there was a winemaker in the back crafting this stuff.

If you really think there aren't people annoyed by the price of clothing, drugs, etc, then you just aren't having those conversations. The HP's Eyeglass Blog isn't as popular, but they are b!tching all the time about the cost of bent wire and molded plastic. It's ridiculous.

ReallyHandfasted1?
ReallyHandfasted1?

The point I was making is that lots of things are marked up far more aggressively than wine in restaurants. Yet I never hear the level of anger regarding those items (Eyeglass frames, Clothes, Prescription Drugs, etc...) as I do with wine. In fact, here in Houston wine mark ups have gone down while nearly all other pricing has gone up. However actually seeing those facts seems impossible for readers here to notice.

SirRon
SirRon

Yeah but if The Gap offered a "sewage fee" would you take them up on the deal? Wait, not a "sewage" fee. Gross. Like sewing-age. Clothage. Threadage. Or what if they offered clothes at a year end sale that was closer to cost. Would that be something you would be interested in? We are still talking retail, and people have to make a living. Even that $13 Malbec is marked up.

But I can totally see how clothes and BYO wine are the same thing. I literally luv it here.

ReallyHandfasted1?
ReallyHandfasted1?

The fact you are claiming my "facts" are not true shows your ignorance. Look it up. Also, where are wine prices at restaurants "ridiculously inflated"? Give actual mark-ups somewhere. Anywhere. Regarding wine knowledge, I would gladly stack up my wine knowledge against yours any day of the week. You mention restaurants do not have reasonably priced bottles. Again where is this the case? Give an example. An actual real example. My guess is you have none. Just like your wine knowledge. Just for the record this was pulled from The Hallman Company a retail consulting company: Fashion stores, generally, should strive for an average markup of at least 56%(Cost X 2.3) in clothing and shoe classes. 

Restaurants here in Houston frequently mark up cost x 1.5 to cost x 2.5. If you want examples I can give them. 

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

now there's some really ridiculous commentary.  who said anything about giving Gap, etc. a pass on ridiculous markups?  they weren't being discussed.  But thanks for making up "facts" to bolster your vitriol.  My dining companions aren't complaining and you obviously do not know anything about me, so I can hardly be bothered to worry about you being a douchebag who resorts to ad hominem attacks.  But again, making up things is the last bastion of those who have no valuable thoughts to contribute to a discussion. There was no "senseless attack" here on restaurant pricing.   It is simply a fact that wine list prices are too often ridiculously inflated.  and if you think all $13 bottles of Malbec are "crap," that just shows how little you understand wine.  The price of the bottle often has little to do with the quality of the wine inside.  more expensive does not mean better.  But it is a convenient short hand for no-nothing snobs who really need a serious education in wine appreciation. 

ReallyHandfasted1?
ReallyHandfasted1?

Handfasted1, Stay out of restaurants you mouth breathing philistine. You simply do not get any of this discussion. Regarding wine mark ups: It makes me laugh to hear people bitch about wine markups while they wear clothes that are easily marked up 300% or more. Somehow restaurants are ripping off guests but The Gap, Neiman Marcus, Walmart and countless others get a pass. This senseless attack on a restaurant pricing is just crazy.  So many businesses mark up far more than restaurants do. The point to corkage is so people can bring in special bottles like older vintages that sadly because of laws here in Texas restaurants can not easily acquire. Bringing in some crap bottle of $13 Malbec is classless. But judging from your comments that does not surprise me. I imagine you have a palate like a dumpster so that Malbec should be perfect for you. I feel sorry for anyone who  has the misfortune of dining with you. 

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

corkage may not be a right, but don't use it to save money?     when there's a 200% markup on the wine sold at the restaurant?  please.     most restaurants' wine lists already price us out of buying wine at all.  perhaps folks preferring to pay the corkage fee an bring less expensive wine might give the restaurant a hint that their wine list isn't very friendly to their guests.

Anon
Anon

Full disclosure: I am a somm, and I frequently bring my own bottles to restaurants when and where it is appropriate.  I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said accept the "tip generously."  There is really no reason to tip more than you would have otherwise if you bring your own wine.  It's the restaurants decision to allow or disallow corkage.  If it is allowed, you pay a fee, follow directions, and do your thing.  You don't owe anyone anything for complying with the restaurants policies.  You shouldn't have to tip extra, as if the service staff is doing you some kind of favor by offering corkage.  Corkage is a way to get people in the door, an incentive if you will, not a privilege.  Corkage is a right however, if the restaurant offers it.

Jb411207
Jb411207

Price gouging on beer, wine, and liquor is so outrageous I would vote "dry" if there were an election.  

SirRon
SirRon

La Vista. My wine, mussels, side salad, pizza.

I don't know of any places in town that deliver better value and experience for couples dining.

Quick question for Jeremy. Is there some rule against opening beer at BYO restaurants?

His Fussiness
His Fussiness

Generally, I agree with this list and feel that offering the server a taste of the wine you brought is a very nice gesture and one that most servers/somms would appreciate. Ordering a second bottle of comparable value seems absurd (especially if your party can’t finish the second bottle).

While the restaurant is losing the income from the mark-up on the bottle of wine, they are gaining the corkage fee. Even taking into account the extra the restaurant would spend washing glasses, my guess is that the majority of the fee is pure profit.

Mathematically, most of the places that I've seen charge corkage in the $25 range. I doubt that it costs more than $1 to wash, dry and restock the 4 glasses (at most) that would be used to serve that bottle of wine, meaning that the profit on the corkage fee would be $24.I estimate the average bottle of wine that I would purchase at a restaurant would be about $70 a bottle. Using a 3x markup, the restaurant’s profit on that bottle is $47, using a 4x markup, the restaurants profit on that bottle is $53, with the wine costing $15-$25. Therefore, the restaurant is losing somewhere around $25 in income they could have received by allowing me to bring my own bottle ($47 wine profit - $24 corkage fee profit = $23; $53 wine profit - $24 corkage fee profit - $29. Average profit loss $26 . Ordering a second bottle of comparable value doesn’t change the $26 loss in income; the total ticket amount is higher, and therefore the profit margin on the ticket as a whole changes, but that doesn’t change the actual dollar amount, only spreads the "loss" around.

So the “rule” of ordering a second bottle only serves to diminish the impact of corkage on the restaurants profit margin. It is absurd to think restaurants that offered corkage haven’t already done this math and know exactly what the impact to their business is and yet still choose to do it. By taking advantage of this offer, I am in no way responsible for helping to raise the profit margin on my ticket; it is the job of the restaurant to either 1) up sell something (an appetizer, salad, dessert or a special) or to 2) take the loss with the understanding of what is going on.

As for generous tipping: using the same rationale above, the difference in the tip between the $70 bottle I would have ordered and the $25 I have spent on the corkage fee is $9 ($70 - $25 = $45 * 20% = $9). While I generally agree that a server shouldn’t be held accountable to income losses due to a restaurant policy or manager action (a comped dish or drink, a discount coupon, etc.), I’m not sure this extends to this situation. I tip in the neighborhood of 20% on the full amount of the bill including tax and wine, and try to make sure a server is tipped on the value of a dish if a chef or owner has graciously comped something (this doesn’t always happen, depending on if I’m inebriated or not). However, in this instance, I’m not sure if the server is entitled to that extra $9 for not serving me a bottle of wine from the restaurant’s cellar. I’ve tipped for the service that was offered to me: my meal + tipped $5+ on the corkage fee. I think at this point, it is up to the restaurant to use some of that 98% profit on the corkage fee to pay the server if they feel it is appropriate.

And I know I’m going to get blasted for what I’ve written above, but as someone who VERY frequently dines out and tends to spend a fair amount of money in restaurants, I think there has to be a line drawn somewhere. I shouldn’t have to pay for every single little thing because the restaurant industry as a whole won’t take care of their employees.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

 Where the hell are you seeing $25 corkage fees?  I'd laugh and walk out.  As to the tipping?  If I'm staying well past my meal being finished, I'll tip extra.  Otherwise, it is just like me having a water with my meal and the server refilling it.  And, no, I don't tip the waiter as if I'd ordered a tea. 

Sheridan Fay
Sheridan Fay

Ok! Lets address a few issues that 'Corkage Smorkage" has. First, remember that bringing your own wine is a privilege, not a right. In establishments such as Underbelly, their wine list has been as carefully crafted as has Chef's food. They allow you to bring in your 1982 beautiful Bordeaux from your collection, pay a little respect to the house. Allow the server to taste the wine. Broaden their knowledge. It's not a 'BS' fee. Are you drinking it straight from the bottle? Were those glasses and the decanter not purchased, washed, and polished so that you could enjoy your wine like an adult? Not like an amateur chugging from the bottle of Boones Farm at the frat house. Buy a bottle of wine from the house because you respect wine and the house and what they offer. You don't tip excessively, you tip what your bill should have been. Not more. You tip appropriately. Your check average would have been much higher and therefore the tip percentage would reflect that. With excellent service to match it of course. Your server still presented, opened, and served that bottle of Yellowtail you were savvy enough to bring in did they not? Oh by savvy, you meant cheap? Maybe eating at home might be more economical. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

 It is not cheap at all.  It is just common sense.  But then, I'm sure that the guy last week with the $12,000 bill should have tipped the waiter 15-20%, as well? 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

My favorite BYOB joints in no particular order: Pampa Grill, Luigi's, Calliope's Po-Boy, Banana Leaf and Pizaro's.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

The problem with Pizaro's is the 90 second pizza!  You can end up with most of the bottle left while the pizza pan is empty.

Dunstan2
Dunstan2

 Calliope's will have beer and wine in a couple weeks, I'm told.

Two great Thai places, Vieng and Kanomwan, welcome byob.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

It certainly will! But Lisa, being her awesome self, will still allow BYOB on the side...

Matthew
Matthew

two more: capri in the woodlands and sichuan cuisine on bellaire in chinatown.

corkage smorkage
corkage smorkage

Are you f'n kidding me? "Offer your server a taste of your wine." ???? I'm already paying them a BS "fee" to open it. What's next, offering them a taste of my food so they don't feel left out. And "Be sure to tip generously, keeping in mind that your bill will be significantly lower than it would have been otherwise." ??? Huh? Now I have to tip more because I was savvy enough to bring my own wine? I guess if I just eat at home, I should send the server a check because then I REALLY had a lower bill than I would have. What inane drivel.

Bells and whistles
Bells and whistles

Some wine lists are complete shit, but you can't expect to avoid a corkage fee because of that. Get used to it or just eat and drink more at home.

Josh
Josh

Can't tell if total white trash piece of shit or just trolling. *Insert picture of Phllip J Fry here*

Antonio
Antonio

a restaurant that allows corkage can survive when you do not purchase a bottle with them on this visit, but your server lives on tips. it is polite to tip as if you purchased the bottle in the restaurant. it also never hurts being polite to others.

remember that corkage like driving is a privilege and NOT a right

Adrienne byard
Adrienne byard

Offering your server a taste is about broadening their knowledge of wine so that they can better serve customers like you - assholes who don't appreciate their job as a career and therefore leave a shitty tip.

John Winger
John Winger

"Lighten up, Francis!"  -- Sgt. Hulka from the movie Stripes

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