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By Katie McCann
What’s better than enjoying a bottle of wine with dinner?
How about enjoying your favorite bottle of wine alongside the ambiance, company, and food of a great restaurant experience?
Some restaurants allow customers to bring their own bottles of wine (and sometimes beer or liquor) to consume with their meal. Many establishments that allow BYOB (“bring your own bottle”) charge customers a corkage fee to cover the cost of serving the wine and to recoup revenue lost by the diners not purchasing wine from the restaurant.
We’re unbottling everything you need to know about BYOB laws and corkage fees so that you can maximize on these offerings if you decide to implement them at your restaurant.
In this guide to BYOBs and corkage fees, you’ll learn:
Cheers to making smart business decisions!
BYOB restaurants let their customers bring their own bottle of wine to consume with their meals. Some of these restaurants make customers who bring their own bottles pay a corkage fee to consume their outside alcoholic beverages on site. But what does a corkage fee cover, how much is the average corkage fee, and is it even legal to charge one?
Keep reading for the answers to these BYOB FAQs!
Part of the reason why restaurants charge a corkage fee is to cover the cost and time associated with serving a bottle of wine.
While the most basic service that restaurants provide is removing the cork from the bottle, you also supply customers with stemware (anything from a basic wine glass to a glass appropriate for that specific type of wine), refill glasses, and (potentially) chill the wine. The complexity of services provided for BYOB customers depends on the restaurant’s sophistication and the cost of the corkage fee.
Many restaurants charge between a $10 and $40 corkage fee per bottle of wine. In New York City, for example, the average corkage fee is $36 per bottle. However, some corkage fees can be upwards of $100.
Usually, the more expensive a restaurant, the more expensive the corkage fee. High-end restaurants offer an exceptional level of service and wine-related amenities, which is why they can charge a higher corkage fee than your favorite neighborhood takeout spot.
If you’re implementing a corkage fee for the first time and don’t know where to start, make it equivalent to the cheapest bottle of wine available on your menu. You can charge per bottle or per person (a.k.a. “per stem”).
While most municipalities don’t control how much restaurants can charge for corkage fees, many regulate most other factors surrounding corkage fees. This includes regulations around which establishments can allow customers to consume alcohol on premise, when they can charge for alcohol, and whether or not they can allow BYOB practices.
We’ll get into the specifics of BYOB and corkage fee laws deeper into this article, so keep reading!
So what kind of restaurants are natural fits for BYOB and which aren’t?
Here are several scenarios in which you may want to allow customers to bring their own bottle of booze:
By offering BYOB at these kinds of establishments, you can attract more wine-loving customers.
Perhaps your restaurant is the kind of place that would be a good fit for BYOB, but you’re on the fence about whether or not to offer it. We’ve contemplated the pros and cons of allowing BYOB to help you reach an informed decision more quickly.
If you ultimately decide to allow BYOB at your restaurant, you’re going to have to do a little bit more research to ensure that you’re doing it legally and that it makes financial sense for your business.
Here are some considerations to take into mind as you implement BYOB at your restaurant.
The first thing you need to think about when it comes to introducing a BYOB policy at your restaurant is how to do it legally. Do your research so that you can understand whether or not you can let customers bring in and consume a bottle of wine at your restaurant, whether or not you can charge for this, and whether or not your restaurant needs a liquor license or BYOB permit to allow this.
Here’s a sampling of BYOB and corkage fee laws in major cities around the U.S. and Canada:
Consult a lawyer or fellow restaurateurs to find out how your area regulates liquor licenses, BYOB permits, and corkage fees.
If you decide to add a corkage fee for BYOB diners, how much should you charge?
Ask yourself these two questions:
1) What are your competitors charging? This will give you a good idea of what charges diners are used to. If you’re charging a significantly higher corkage fee than the restaurant down the street, diners will likely bring their bottle – and business – somewhere else. You want to remain competitive.
2) What level of service will you give guests who bring in their own wine? Will you just provide a corkscrew and plastic cups, or will you provide pouring service and an ice bucket? If you already have a sommelier and impressive wine list, you can charge upwards of $100 for corkage.
If you have a corkage fee, there may be a few cases in which you may not want to charge it.
If your restaurant serves wine, you could eliminate the corkage fee for customers who bring their own bottle but also buy a bottle from your list.
You could try out a no-fee day as a weekly promotion! Pick a day that’s less busy, like a Monday or Tuesday, and offer no corkage fee to get customers in the door.
Some fine dining establishments forego a corkage fee completely when customers bring in a rare or expensive wine to let the sommelier or bar manager taste it.
Wine and a delicious meal are a classic combination. When you let customers bring in their own bottle and charge a corkage fee, you let them enjoy a special bottle while recouping resources spent on service or from losing a sale. If you decide to offer BYOB at your restaurant, check your local laws to ensure you won’t get into any trouble. Cheers!
Katie is a former Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro where she writes about food and restaurant experiences. She doesn’t shy away from the finer things in life, but no matter how much success she continues to acquire, she stays true to her roots and still considers imitation crab as gourmet. If she isn’t writing, you can find her on a patio with friends and a pitcher of white wine sangria.
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