As of last Friday, wine drinkers have another cellar to choose from when dining at a restaurant: their own. The newly passed “Corkage Bill” allows restaurants with liquor licenses to serve a wine brought by a customer for a fee set by the restaurant. Legislators see BYOB as incentive for consumers to dine out in an economy with a belt on the tightest notch. Local wineries can sell their wines to tourers and tasters dining out later, and wine shops in commercial areas will likely get shoppers looking to save some cash before their 8pm ressies. But how do the restaurants feel about this new dam in their biggest revenue stream?
While Brian Helleberg, owner of Fleurie and Petit Pois, initially felt that the law “isn’t great for restaurants,” he reconsidered, stating that it will force restaurants to be more competitive with their wine pricing, which he admits “can get pretty outrageous.” When we spoke, Helleberg was undecided on his corkage fee, but was leaning towards $15 at Petit Pois (and only $10 for Virginia wines) and $20 at Fleurie, where the quality of the stemware and wine service merits a higher price. “Of course, we’ll also welcome patrons celebrating special occasions with wines from their birth year or wedding year.”
Tastings’ Bill Curtis, who represents a unique perspective as the owner of both a wine shop and a restaurant, looks forward to serving (and tasting) diners’ special bottles. “I have over $100K in inventory and already offer diners any bottle from my shelves at retail price plus $7 for corkage, so I expect that any wine coming in will be something remarkable.” Curtis will charge $15 for a customer’s wine and would like to have it a day in advance so that he can store it and serve it with the same care as he would a wine from his own collection. That is, after all, part of the service you are paying for.
Aside from diners, it seems that those with the most to gain from BYOB are the Virginia wineries, where the cost of operation requires prices higher than many consumers are willing to pay. “People’s reluctance to accept Virginia wines comes from their relatively high cost, which is only exaggerated in a restaurant setting,” says Andrew Hodson, owner of Veritas Winery. “Now people can enjoy our wine at a fancy restaurant for a more affordable price,” Hodson reasons. He expects that corkage will encourage the flow of wine and is excited to take advantage of it as a consumer, too. “I refuse to pay a ridiculous markup, so now I’ll be much more likely to dine out,” he says.
What’s important to remember is that restaurants offer BYOB as a courtesy, so in the spirit of fostering good corkage relations, here are some etiquette tips to ensure BYOB merriment to all.