The SF Chronicle has an interesting article on corkage fees that ran today. In it the author interviews many differing opinions both in support of it and against it. Basically, restaurateurs seem to argue that people bringing in their own bottles eats into their profits. In fact, they’ve built their business models around a certain amount of wine being bought off the list and they’re not meeting those quotas because of so many patrons brining in their own wine. Their second argument is that the wine list is specially designed to go with their food. Part of the ambiance – like a painting or the lighting. This second argument I dismiss completely because I have been at places where the wine-paired tasting menu (thats when the wine is selected for you and the food is actually designed around the wine) doesn’t even have good pairings. I went to a French restaurant in SF one night, got the wine pairing and they came to the table with a Frei Brothers cabernet that I KNOW goes for $15 in the store. That wouldn’t be a problem if this wasn’t one of the top eateries in SF and I wasn’t paying $185 for the meal!
Anyway, back to the first argument – its part of the business model and bringing your own wine is “starving” them out. If your business environment is that your competitors all over the city/state all allow corkage fees and you do even the smallest amount of homework before opening your business you should have a better gauge of the percentage of wine that is drunk that will be off the list. Period. End of story. Why would one believe that behavior will be different for their place over the other high-end place down the street? I think this is an amazingly idiotic thing to say. Your lack of preparation doesn’t create an emergency for others. Know what you’re getting into before you open the business. The article interviews a former CA restaurateur that opened a place in Boulder, CO. He talks about how much money you make in CO because it’s illegal to BYOW. Apples and oranges. Thanks for nothing there. Different business environments and different parameters.
Now, the one issue I will side with restaurateurs on is stating this (and I’ve never known anyone who does this but…): apparently they are experience a high frequency of customers bringing in CASES of wine. CASES?!?! That is ghetto. Not illegal, just ghetto. Bring a bottle or two. Something special for a nice date or maybe a couple more for a birthday party. Buddy of mine had his 40th b-day party at place in SF and we brought 3 bottles of Opus One that he had saved for 5 years for his 40th. They gave us a hard time about three when their limit was two (bad move – this was a group of heavy drinkers who subsequently bought nothing else from this restaurant – dude, pick you battles). Anyway – bringing a CASE of wine is f’in ridiculous and I do feel sorry for restaurateurs who have to deal with that mess.
Wine program at the Fifth Floor (love that place – ate there as a celebration when we found out we were having a baby girl last summer) designed by Emily Wines (I wonder if thats her real name or if she’s a branding nut?) apparently charges a graduated scale – more corkage for every bottle you bring. This seems fair to me. Ultimately it comes down to civility. Strolling into a place, cracking open a case of wine and paying only corkage is just bogus. But underestimating the percentage of your covers that will be paying corkage is lack of planning.