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Swill Bill: Corkage Uncorked

By Debra Meiburg MW

With Hong Kong’s fine wine auction market rocketing to global prominence and private collections bursting at the seams, where-oh-where are we going to drink these fabulous wines? For the culinary-challenged, brown bagging wine into a restaurant is the only way to do your wine cellar justice. But just what is the modern corkage etiquette? Is it welcomed or despised? Is it a cheapskate’s trick or a connoisseur’s privilege?

Not all restaurants allow to bring your own bottle (BYOB), so when visiting for the first time it is a good idea to call ahead to check their corkage policy. Corkage is the fee charged by a restaurant to open and serve a bottle of wine brought in by a customer. Fees can run as high as $400 per bottle, so make sure the wine is worth the cost. Corkage is negotiable or often waived for regulars and many restaurants have adopted a “one for one” policy, whereby they will reduce or waive the corkage fee if you buy a bottle off their list.

Most restaurants prefer that you DOYB (drop-off your bottle) at the restaurant in advance. Frank Sun, owner of Tribute, suggests depositing your bottle “at least one day ahead so we have time to make sure the wines are at correct temperatures for serving.” When it comes to older vintages, DOYB at least two days in advance to allow the sediment to settle into the base of the bottle.

If you chose to carry the bottle into the restaurant on the evening itself, hand it to the maitre d’ on arrival or simply set it on your table. As the bottle may need chilling or decanting, this is the time to give the server your preferences. Expect that inexperienced servers will look a touch flustered when you pull out your own bottle and a few moments later will return to inform you of the corkage charge. When hosting a table, it might be best to arrive a few minutes early to sort out the financial discussion so as not to embarrass the guests.

Nobody likes a cheapskate, so make the wine count. Brown bagging wine into a restaurant is not about saving money, but the chance to drink your valued wines in the company of excellent food. Bring wine that is suitable for the level of restaurant and the occasion. BYOB wines should be special – such as wine from your anniversary year — or rare. Bringing a bottle that is already on the restaurant’s wine list is a no-no, so before arrival, check whether the restaurant already carries your special bottle. If so, buy it off the list or bring a different selection.

With advance arrangements, many restaurants will devise a tasting menu to match your wine. In this case, always offer a glass to the chef. If bringing multiple bottles for a wine tasting dinner, it is best to meet with the sommeliers or service staff in advance in order to arrange sufficient glassware, decanters and other service needs. Corkage fees for a formal tasting are likely to be substantial as they consume a considerable amount of glassware and staff attention, detracting from other patrons. Though you brought the bottle from your private cellar, your server or sommelier will treat it as if purchased off the list, so tip accordingly. It is good form to offer a small serving to the sommelier and a glass sent to the chef is always appreciated.

Comments 10 Comments for “Swill Bill: Corkage Uncorked”
  1. Stan Doric on 09.13.11 at 19:07

    Courtesy and educational sharing with fellow hospitality industry colleagues should be the international etiquette standard.

  2. 自帶葡萄酒的禮儀 | Applied Wine on 09.14.11 at 11:42

    […] 當我們自帶葡萄酒到餐廳用膳,究竟有什麼禮儀要注意?葡萄酒大師Debra Meiburg告訴我們,自備酒到餐廳享用不是為了省錢,而是為了帶一些比較特殊、有紀念性的葡萄酒在就餐時和朋友分享。到此閱讀更多有關資訊。 « Previous Article   /   Next Article » Be the first to Leave a Reply! […]

  3. Bring your own bottle (BYOB) : Modern corkage etiquette | Applied Wine on 09.27.11 at 11:40

    […] corkage. Debra Meiburg, Master of Wine, talks about modern corkage etiquette in restaurants. Click here to read this article. « Previous Article   /   Next Article » […]

  4. John Jefferson on 10.04.11 at 01:14

    Really insightful cheers, I do think your followers may perhaps want a great deal more reviews like this keep up the good effort.

  5. Kenneth Leung on 10.12.11 at 16:12

    What is most frustrating is when a restaurant has the weakest wine list and the highest corkage charge in Hong Kong! I had to put up with it because of the fine food and the good people there. The management of this grand hotel in TST need to shape up!

    Corkage charge needs to be reasonable and BYOB should not be discouraged. In Piedmont, certain restaurants allow you to bring your own white truffle!

  6. Cyril Lam on 12.01.11 at 10:47

    One would expect corkage to reflect (fairly) the cost of cleaning wine glasses, decanters, and cover any breakages. Hotels and top restaurants expectedly have higher costs, but increasingly the majority of inventory management can now be outsourced.

    For myself and friends interested in wines, corkage with respect to food bill beyond a certain point (e.g. price of a glass of house wine per head) becomes a disincentive to order any wines at all. It is a lose-lose outcome as restautants not only miss out on opportunities to improve their overall margins (without doing all that much), but also possibilities for increased covers (i.e. greater income) for not putting off potential customers taking their business elsewhere.

  7. Bring your own bottle (BYOB) : Modern corkage etiquette | Applied Wine on 04.11.12 at 12:40

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  8. Bill Lawrence on 06.02.12 at 08:49

    BYOB is not about saving money? And why not? I hate subsidizing others food by paying the outrageous prices restaurants demand for wine. The trade promised to lower prices when duty was cut from 80% to zero a few years back. It did not happen. Indeed in a couple of venues I frequent prices went up.

  9. Denny Wang on 10.21.12 at 18:05

    BYOB takes 70% of the romance and hence the satifaction of dining out. Don’t you want to be surprised? The only good reason to lug bottles into a decent eatery is its wine list is really poor and markup an insult. In those cases, why eat there at all? love their food? How about takeouts instead?

  10. Debra Meiburg MW on 10.21.12 at 18:45

    Agreed, but keep in mind that many people in HK have wine collections, but homes too small for entertaining…

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