One of the best kept secrets in the world of wine is BYOW – Bring Your Own Wine! I always recommend bringing a bottle or two of your favorite wines to a restaurant to keep the price of your meal low while enjoying high-end wine at the same time. Many people have no idea that this is even a possibility! I have yet to encounter a restaurant that disallows outside vino; however if you feel uncomfortable, call ahead and ask if it is OK.
Restaurants make most of their money at the bar; beer, liquor and wine account for a large portion of the total income, not food sales. This is why you will sometimes see an inexpensive bottle of wine marked up to 2-5 times normal retail price. In order to subvert the average wine buyer’s knowledge of retail prices some restaurants will feature their own house wines, typically labels that are sold by distributors exclusively to places where the product is to be consumed. This practice allows the restaurant to have a unique wine offering compared to what you would find at most package stores (like ABC) while hiding the actual cost of the bottle, which is often much less than what is being charged.
Because restaurants earn a large portion of their income from wine, they are encouraged to maintain an up-to-date wine list with exceptional offerings. Unfortunately, most establishments do not employ a sommelier (wine expert) and are often left at the mercy of their alcohol distributors. While this is not always a bad thing, it can be apparent when the wine list never changes or doesn’t match the menu offerings all that well.
A cork fee is often applied to your bill when you bring your own bottle. This is usually ranging from $10 to $20 per bottle opened. To dispel some myths about this fee: no it is not a fee to physically uncork a bottle. No, you cannot bypass or contest this fee by opening the wine yourself at the table. Yes, you will still be charged this fee for a screw cap wine. The cork fee is simply a small way that the restaurant can recoup some of the money lost when a patron brings their own wine. Regardless of this fee, it is almost always cheaper to BYOW. There are even some restaurants that do not charge a cork fee (guard the anonymity of these establishments, they are real gems)!
So whether you are ordering a bottle off of the wine list or bringing your own, I hope you are a little more informed on the matter of bringing your own wine to a restaurant.
Corey Phillips, Wine Consultant – Avalon Park