Friday, March 13, 2009

Today On Serious Grape: Embracing Corkage

Today on Serious Grape, my weekly column on Serious Eats, I take up the controversial subject of restaurant corkage fees. (photo by neeta_lind).

Some grumble that $15-$20 is too much to pay for someone to open your wine and occasionally pour from the bottle. Others never buy off the wine list, and prefer to bring their own wine.

I'm a novice at this, but my recent experiences taking wine into restaurants lead me to think that corkage fees are a small price to pay for drinking good wine without going bankrupt.

Click over to the post and see what you think. And leave your comments--here or there--about your experiences with corkage. Do you accept it? Hate it? And are you taking wine to restaurants more now that wallets are tightening?

9 comments:

Scott McReynolds said...

$15 is till worth it for corkage. $20 if it's a really good bottle. You still get to drink what you want and save money.

Los Altos Grill in Los Altos, CA is a great restaurant and does not have a corkage fee. It's a bit pricey, but this helps.

Claire said...

$15 seems to be standard in St. Louis, but we do know of a few places with lower or no fees.

I agree with you - it's worth it to pay a little more to have a little more control over the quality of the wine you drink!

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john said...

I'm a restaurant server in Kansas City. Our restaurant officially charges a $10 corkage fee, but it is almost never applied. We don't want to offend the regulars, who usually bring in good wines which are not on our list and sometimes offer us a glass.

Now if you are bringing in grocery store wine and are obviously just trying to be cheap, I will charge you. If you are bringing in a special wine for a special occassion, I won't.

Dirty said...

Corkage is where diners show their true colors.

I'm a corkage fanatic, and rarely buy off the list. Mostly due to my own cellar- I want to drink something mature, ready to go, and most lists don't have the depth. 2nd is economic. I don't want to pay 2-3x for something that is rarely ready to drink.

Fee: Whatever they want to charge is FAIR (though it may sway whether I choose to go or not, and also what type of bottle I bring), but corkage is a privilege and not a right, and wine sales are a factor in the restaurant's business plan.

Tip: Tipping on only the corkage fee is bush... Tip AT LEAST on the value of a bottle of wine from the list (cheapest on the list if you are stingy).

WAIVED FEE: This is where people need to be beat. "I gave the server / chef / etc. a glass, and they still charged corkage!" Offering a glass is a great gesture, but does not entitle one to zero-corkage. If they waive it, great, but the corkage fee is not put in place for the server. Most restos don't want their servers drinking during shift anyhow.

Corkage isn't a fee for wine service or stemware. It is a fee to partially recover lost revenue. I routinely bring stems, pour my own, open my own etc. and still make sure the server is taken care of. Ultimately, this is taking money out of the resto / servers pocket.

rj's wine blog said...

to me, it's a kind of necessary evil. the restaurant doesn't make incremental money on the wine you bring in, so it's fair for them to charge you for bringing in your own wine. and, if i bring a bottle of wine to a restaurant, i'm usually bringing a good bottle of wine, sometime $50+, so the corkage fee is worth it. if someone brings in a $10 bottle of wine, then it's probably not worth the corkage fee.

Anonymous said...

Consumers/diners have the power. I have decided not to dine somewhere with a high corkage fee, so the restaurant loses out of my business. Moreover, when a restaraunt has no corkage fee, the server get a more generous tip than normal.

FYI: I had a friend travel to New Zealand who told me that no restaurants charge corkage there.

nd89sc88 said...

For me, it's actually more about getting wine served at the correct temperature. Paying a mark-up on wine is one thing, but paying that mark-up and having it served 15 degrees to warm is so annoying that I've finally started bringing wine with me and paying a corkage fee. The first time I did it, I was so embarrassed, but the restaurant was great about it and I'm much more comfortable about doing it now. I agree that you should try to bring a somewhat unique bottle - certainly nothing on the wine list for that restaurant if at all possible. Most restaurants have their menus (including wine) online now, so it's not that hard to avoid their list.

Bill

Thom said...

Dr D
I was checking out the other sites response but thought I'd give my 2 cents here.
I understand that a restaurant is a business and needs to make a profit.
I have worked as a waiter and in the wholesale end of the wine business, so I have a good understanding of what's at stake.
As with wine and wine makers restaurants and chefs have become celebrities and feel like they are doing something so unique, that they can over charge and be jerks.
The whole idea that someone will allow me to spend my hard earned money at the new "must eat at place" is just crazy.
I as the customer, and the one with the money, should be the courted one.
I won't eat in places that treat me like they don't need my business or are just to great.
I won't be over charged on wine and avoid places that do so and because of that, don't bring my own.
When I do, it is always something special, not on the list and I tip as if I purchased the wine from the restaurant and have rarely been charged corkage.
I also will get a glass of wine from them as well.
Having said all this, I also don't treat the staff or owners boorishly
and try to be the kind of customer that makes it easy to look forward to coming again.
Didn't mean to be sooo long winded,but the bottom line is...eat only at the places that give you what YOU want and they will have business and make a profit and the ones that don't will change or fade away.