What You Might Not Know About Corkage Fees
Recently, a girlfriend came to me with a restaurant-related dilemma. She and her husband dined at an expensive and celebrated restaurant to enjoy their anniversary. They’re huge wine collectors and decided to bring a special bottle from their cellar to make the experience that much more memorable. They didn’t care about paying a corkage fee. In case you don’t know, a corkage fee is what a restaurant charges to open and serve a bottle of your wine from home. When the couple got to the restaurant, the sommelier refused to open the bottle of wine they had brought with them. “What gives?” she asked me. I realized I didn’t know that much about traditional corkage fees, so I investigated. Read on to see what I found out.
Not all restaurants are fans of corkage fees, and not all corkage fees are the same. Just as each restaurant’s cuisine differs, so does their policy toward corkage fees. Check out the website to find out more information. Depending on the fanciness of the restaurant, the fee can range from $10 to $85. Restaurants generally mark up wine much more than they do food, so if the price of a bottle of wine starts at $100, you might want to pay the $85 corkage fee and bring in a $50 bottle that you love.
If you’re going in with a big group of people and want to bring in several bottles of wine, check with the restaurant to see if they have a BYOB limit. They may only open three bottles, and you’ll end up having to buy some. Note that you will be charged for each bottle that you bring.
Some restaurants have a policy where they refuse to open a bottle of wine that is currently on their wine list. This is what happened with my gal pal; the bottle of wine she and her husband wanted to drink was also on the list, so the sommelier refused to open it. This is a common practice at some places but not all, so it’s worth it to investigate if you want to savor a really nice bottle. Check the wine list online and make sure the restaurant doesn’t have what you’re pulling from the cellar.
Often, restaurants have special days of the week where there is no corkage fee, or they will offer a cheaper corkage fee on a less-busy night of the week, like a Sunday or Monday. Research these deals online. Locally focused restaurant websites like Eater often list out deals.
Don’t bring a cheap bottle of wine to an upscale restaurant. The sommelier will probably snub you if you ask him to open a bottle of Sutter Home, so be smart about your selection. If you do happen to be a big-time wine collector and are bringing in an exciting bottle from Burgundy, it’s customary to invite the sommelier or wine director of the restaurant to taste your wine. Give her a pour!
It never hurts to call the restaurant. If you have specific questions about the corkage fee, ask to speak with the manager or sommelier. A good restaurant that is respectful of its diners' needs will chat with you or return your call. If you book the reservation well in advance, you can try emailing, as well.