Corkage Explained | Utilizing Corkage Like A Pro
Dining out is almost always expensive when you consider the margins restaurant need to cover high overhead costs, and that’s before even considering tax and tip. But what about for us wine lovers? That’s where it can get prohibitively expensive, since the average restaurant charges between 2 – 4 times a wines retail price on their wine list.
Luckily, there’s a little thing called CORKAGE that every wine lover absolutely needs to know about – and most restaurants aren’t going to tell you about.
While the definition of corkage is the charge exacted by a restaurant for every bottle of wine served that was not actually purchased on the premises – what it really means to you is a tremendous cost savings when you want to enjoy a nice bottle of wine with dinner.
Simply put, utilizing corkage allows you to bring your own wine from home to enjoy at a restaurant and is an incredible way to enjoy wine and drink well for less! Follow these tips and you’ll know exactly what to expect and look like a pro while you’re at it!
Call Ahead – Know Before You Go | Utilizing the Corkage Fee
Before you have even decided on the wine you wish to enjoy, you need to call the restaurant. Ask the host what their corkage policy is. Simple as that. They should be well versed in it, but if they are not ask to speak to a manager.
The key points you should be learning about the restaurants corkage policy are:
- Do they even allow corkage? Not all restaurants do.
- If so, how much is it per bottle? The average corkage fees in my experience are between $15 – $25, but they range from absolutely free and go all the way up to $150 at the French Laundry in Napa Valley.
- Is there a bottle limit per party? Most restaurants will limit it to two 750ml bottles per party.
- Is it okay to bring a wine that is also offered on the wine list? Most restaurants will not allow this…more on this later.
How Much Can You Actually Save? | Utilizing the Corkage Fee
Buying at Retail
Quite a bit actually. Let’s say for example you were going to order a bottle of Caymus Cabernet with dinner. The retail cost you would pay at a wine shop is around $65, but the price on the average restaurant wine menu is say $130.
Even if the corkage fee is on the higher side of average at $25 your cost to bring the bottle is only $90 including the corkage fee, a savings of $40 versus ordering off of the wine list.
When you take into account the extra tax savings, the value proposition becomes even more compelling – especially in states like Maryland which charge a 9% alcohol tax. In this case, you would be saving an additional $5.85 bringing your total corkage savings to $45.85 – more than enough for a nice steak to enjoy with your wine!
Buying My Way | Be a Savvy Shopper!
You’ll save even more if you’re a savvy wine buyer to begin with. For example, I recently paid $29 shipped for this excellent Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that retailed for $50. My cost with a $25 corkage fee would only be $54, while the cost at the restaurant would be between $100 to $150! Check out my guide on where to buy wine for my favorite places to get similar deals.
**Keep in mind that it is considered proper etiquette to tip on the value of what the wine would be approximately on the restaurants wine list. The server is still having to open, decant and serve the wine and should be recognized for good service.
Taking Your Wine To The Restaurant | Utilizing the Corkage Fee
In case you’re wondering how to get the wine to the restaurant or if you’re going to look strange showing up with a bottle of wine – no need to worry. While some people like to bring their wine(s) in a fancy carrier that’s designed specifically for corkage – it is really not necessary and more a matter of convenience.
I have never had any trouble simply carrying a 750ml bottle or even the occasional magnum of wine right into the restaurant – just make sure it isn’t already open!
At The Restaurant – Keep it Classy | Utilizing the Corkage Fee
First – if the server hasn’t already notice, inform he or she that you have brought wine(s) to enjoy with dinner. They will ask if you would like them to open and decant the wine, and if you brought multiple wines you should take this opportunity to let the server when each should be served.
Let’s face it – by utilizing the corkage policy and bringing your own wine to a restaurant you’ve basically told the Sommelier that you’re not a fan of his wine program, so be as polite about it as possible. My suggestion is to offer the Sommelier a taste of the wine. Even if they don’t accept your offer, they will sincerely appreciate the gesture. I have also left a glass from great bottles to recognize really great service – over and above a standard tip.
It it also good to keep in mind that restaurant don’t actually make most of their money off of food – but rather the sales of alcohol, and wine. So by bringing your own wine, the restaurant is losing out on quite a bit of revenue.
Many wine enthusiasts agree that proper corkage etiquette dictates that for each bottle of wine that you bring to a restaurant, you should purchase one from the wine list. While I don’t always think this is absolutely necessary, if doing so I suggest purchasing a white with say appetizers as an aperitif while you enjoy your more expensive red wine with your entrees. Doing so will also give the wine proper time to decant if necessary.
In Summary | Key Points to Remember When Utilizing Corkage Policies
- Utilizing corkage is a great way to enjoy nice wines at your favorite restaurants without spending a fortune. They rarely advertise their corkage policy because it is far more profitable for them to sell you wine.
- Many restaurants, from casual to fine dining establishments, have corkage policies – just call and ask what their is.
- As a general rule – don’t bring cheap wines to a restaurant unless you’re at a very casual BYO establishment that doesn’t serve wine.
- I only bring quality wines from respected producers – and these don’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re following my blog and have taken advantage of my comprehensive guide on where to buy wine!
- Corkage is especially relevant and/or appropriate when you’re celebrating and want to open a very rare or expensive bottle – on these occasions you will be saving the most.
- Average corkage fees range from $15 to $25 but can vary from free to $150 per bottle.
- Most corkage fees are per 750ml bottle, so if you bring a magnum you will likely be charged twice the stated corkage fee.
- Sometimes the restaurant will waive corkage – remember to offer your sommelier a taste – this gesture goes a long way and you might end up with a new friend!
- In my experience many corporate casual restaurants such as Carrabba’s Italian Grill and California Pizza Kitchen do not allow corkage in their restaurants.
- Some of my personal favorite steakhouses with good corkage policies are:
- Bourbon Steak: $25 Corkage Fee, 2 Bottle Limit
- Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse: $25 Corkage Fee, 3 Bottle Limit
- The Capital Grille: $25 Corkage Fee, No Limit On Amount of Wines But Bottle Cannot Be on Wine List.
- Wildfire: $20 Corkage Fee, No Limit