I defy you to check out the wine list at the white-hot LA restaurant Sotto and not salivate.  (That is, unless you’re Steve Cuozzo, the easily and proudly stultified critic for the New York Post. Steve would find this horribly snobbish and over his head. Fortunately, you’re not Steve.  This is a wine list put together with a beautiful mission: to pair seamlessly with the cuisine, to offer new explorations for diners, to inspire new understanding of Italian wine.

(Full disclosure: Sotto’s Wine Director, Jeremy Parzen, is a good friend. But only because I first respected his wine knowledge and blogging.)

Now, imagine dining at Sotto with a group of friends. You peruse the wine list—and then you notice your friend smirking as he pulls a bottle out of a brown paper bag. He didn’t warn you that he was going to bring his own and pay the corkage fee. That might be annoying enough, but then you notice that the bottle is Two Buck Chuck.

This has actually happened. Now try to imagine how people like Parzen feel; these are people who have spent many hours carefully building a wine list that is special. And a customer brings TBC.

“Someone did do that, and we opened it,” Parzen explains. “And every week, we get people who stop at the Ralph’s Supermarket across the street and buy Kendall Jackson and similar bottles. We always politely open it, requesting only that they observe the 1.5 liter maximum.”

Parzen, who is not afraid to bare his soul when talking about Italian wine and restaurant etiquette, adds, “One of the things that people don’t understand is how hurtful it is to the restaurant or wine director. It’s like saying, ‘I don’t find that you have anything suitable to drink—with your chef’s menu—and so I just had to bring my own.'”

This is the reason that some high-end restaurants have abandoned corkage entirely. Daniel Boulud’s establishments do not allow guests to bring their own bottles. Michael Madrigale, the outstanding Head Sommelier for Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud in New York City, says, “I have seen an explosion of people coming in with their own bottles over the last three months. I have no idea why.” Several other restaurant general managers confirm the same trend to me, some pointing to the stagnant economy. This leaves some customers in an awkward spot; corkage policies vary from restaurant to restaurant. What should we expect?

Let’s start with this: If you’re the type to bring Two Buck Chuck to a fine dining establishment, this is not aimed at you. In fact, stop reading now, and think about how insulting your behavior is. Maybe sit in the corner for a while. Wear the tallest cap you can find and scribble the word “dunce” on it.

Some of the hostility that restaurants show toward customers regarding corkage is justified. It only takes so many customers bringing Charles Krug to push a sommelier into a state of constant corkage suspicion. So we should acknowledge that some of the recent corkage guidelines for diners are appropriate and ought to be bookmarked. In particular, Parzen’s list on his blog Do Bianchi is essential.

But with that out of the way, it’s fair to ask: What should diners expect of restaurants regarding corkage? We’ve seen the guidelines for customers; what about guidelines for the establishments serving us?

Guidelines for Corkage Etiquette on the Restaurant Side

Don’t make your customers feel guilty for bringing a bottle.

This is aimed at you, Mario Batali. In April a customer of Batali’s asked him on Twitter, “What’s up with the $50 corkage fee? Outrageous!”

Batali, tone deaf and dumb as ever, replied, “We sell wine. Would you bring a steak??”

I contacted Batali’s PR team to request an interview on the subject. I never received a response.

An excellent discussion ensued on the Wine Berserkers wine talk board;  the best point came from Keith Levenberg, who wrote of Batali, “An old, silly argument. That might be valid as a justification for not allowing corkage altogether. But in this case he allows it—for $50. Presumably there is no similar steak age fee. So he recognizes that there is a material difference between a bottle of wine and a steak.”

And then there’s the matter of allowing corkage—but making your customers feel like jerks for bringing their own bottles. That is, essentially, Batali’s approach. To which Levenberg replies, “A high fee is fine—you can choose to pay it or not. What’s not fine is when the fee is high because the restaurant doesn’t like corkage and will express that dislike to you in some obnoxious or passive-aggressive way. It would be better not to allow corkage at all.”

Batali’s arrogant comeback also provoked some of his potential clientele to pore over his wine lists. They discovered that the markups tend to be rather outrageous. To wit, a bottle of 1999 Flaccianello, which can be had for $100 through Wine Searcher, goes for nearly $300 at Batali’s B&B Ristorante. A bottle of 2005 Traviglini Gattinara could be found for $24 online, but Batali’s restaurant has it for exactly five times that price. Which brings us to our next guideline.

Don’t be surprised to see more customers bring bottles if your markups are excessive.

Everyone has a different definition of excessive. But generally, your high-end bottles should not be marked up at the same percentage as your lower-end bottles. We don’t mind paying $40 for a wine that retails for $18. But we do mind being asked to pay $200 for a wine that retails for $85.

If you lazily use the big distributors to create a “fine wine” list, expect more customers to bring their own.

Just as Parzen is absolutely right to feel offended when customers bring mass-produced wine to Sotto, I have a right to feel offended when restaurants want me to drop $68 on Charles Krug as if it’s special or hard to get. And don’t get me started on the prices I’ve seen for Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc or Robert Mondavi “Private Reserve” Cabernet. If this is your idea of a nice by-the-bottle list, I’m going to send a message by never ordering off of it. I hope that message gets through.

Use your website to communicate with us about your wine list.

These days it’s unacceptable to decline to include your wine list on your website. (The exception is Bern’s in Tampa, which is an entirely different animal, and is exempt from these criticisms.) Keep it current; I recently ordered a 2001 Col D’Orcia Brunello after seeing the wine on the restaurant’s website. The server brought me a 2002, then seemed furious when I sent it back. Yes, this is a problem of staff education, but also of website maintenance.

We’ll be much less tempted to bring our own bottles if we can get excited about the wines you offer before we arrive.

If your website doesn’t include your corkage policy, educate your staff. Especially those who answer the phones.

The best plan is to follow Sotto’s lead by spelling out your corkage policy right there on your website. Here’s the Sotto explanation:

Corkage: $25 / 750 ml
Maximum of two 750 ml bottles
$25 corkage fee waived for each bottle purchased from Sotto’s list.

Perfect. Now we know the ground rules. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

But if you don’t want to do that, then please, make sure your staff knows what’s going on. I’m always baffled when I call a restaurant seeking corkage information and the person answering the phone isn’t even aware of what corkage is.

In the end, it’s all about respect. As customers, we’ll respect the work you do in putting thoughtful lists together; we won’t bring Two Buck Chuck and its ilk. And we hope you’ll respect us by treating our special bottles as special, perhaps even enjoying a taste with us instead of treating every corkage pour as if it’s—perish the thought—Two Buck Chuck.

45 Responses

  1. Kristina Anderson

    I’m of two thoughts on this topic. I kind of agree with Batali: you don’t bring outside food into a restaurant–unless it’s a special occasion, or you’re under 2 years old. Maybe you’ve been saving that special bottle for your 25th anniversary, or you want to bring in a special cake for your best friend’s birthday. Fine. But to stop by your convenience mart to grab a cheap bottle on the way…that seems as low class as grabbing dessert at Dunkin Donuts and bringing it with you.

    That said, I have always thought restaurant markups were out of control, but now I know it to be true: on a recent trip to Europe, even at the most high end establishment, a glass of wine averaged 2-3 euros ($3.50-$5) and a bottle about 20 euros ($30). I get the 3-tier system, and I get that liquor is a big cash cow for restaurants…but isn’t there a happy middle ground? Maybe when prices are a little better, people won’t insist on bringing their own wine with them.

    • Evan Dawson

      Kristina – My biggest issue with Batali is that he treats all customers the same if they bring wine, whether it’s a special 25th anniversary bottle or a 2BC. That’s unacceptable. If you want to treat people poorly for bringing wine, just do what Boulud restaurants do: Bar the practice entirely.

      • Kristina Anderson

        Yes, at the end of the day, even if I personally feel it most always inappropriate to bring in wine / food from outside, the customer is ALWAYS right and should be always and without question be treated with respect. In NYC there is a snobbery in these high-end restaurants; my husband and I particularly can’t stand to be made to feel “lesser than” because we order a bottle on the cheaper end of the wine list, or skip an appetizer, or share a dessert. We still end up spending quite a bit. I think now we’re just talking about poor customer service. And yet, I think it’s somehow related to how one is treated for bringing in wine. If you don’t really want to allow people to bring in wine from outside, just ban it, as you say.

      • sarah

        No, the customer isn’t always right. They can on occasion be rude to staff, cheap and inconsiderate (which is never ok either). I have been to Europe as well and when I had a normal American request it was seen as very picky to them. This was in many different parts of Europe, not one crappy tourist trap.

  2. W. Thompson

    So much to respond to here. The idea that a wine director would take it personally if I brought my own bottle of wine, as if that indicates his hard work and knowledge isn’t up to my standards is hilarious, and it misses the point entirely. Yes, some people will use a corkage policy as a method to get out of paying restaurant prices for their alcohol. That’s their choice. But they’re still ordering food, right? You (the restaurant) are making $25 just for the 30 seconds it takes to open a bottle for me and place it down on the table. Look at a local place like Jojo, which waives their corkage fee on Monday nights. Traditionally the slowest night (by far) in the restaurant business, especially in a smaller market like Rochester, Jojo is packed on Mondays with people enjoying the bottles they’ve brought. Yes, some of them are drinking bottles a sommelier would turn his or her nose up at, while others are enjoying bottles much higher in cost and quality. But the common denominator is that virtually everyone is eating, whether a full meal at a table, or a couple of smaller plates from the bar. On a Monday night. With others waiting for a seat to open up. That’s smart business. And when a restaurant earns a reputation for being friendly to wine lovers, regardless of whether or not those wine lovers are drinking first-growth Bordeaux or Two Buck Chuck, the word spreads organically, and business grows.

    It’s been done before, but a reminder of the responsibilities for diners bringing their own wine would be a good follow-up article to this post. It’s a two-way street, after all, and it’s about form. For example, it’s bad form to bring a bottle that is already on the restaurant’s wine list. You just shouldn’t do it. I like ordering a beer, cocktail or glass of wine before tucking into whatever bottle I’ve brought. It’s a simple gesture that says you’re not taking the restaurant’s willingness to offer a corkage policy for granted. I like offering the sommelier and/or server a healthy taste of whatever I’ve brought. You’d be surprised how far that goes, and how many times I’ve had a corkage fee waived because of it. It’s a good idea to tip the server above and beyond whatever your final bill. You would have spent a lot more on wine if you’d bought off of the restaurant’s list, so acknowledge that with a couple of extra bucks. There are more, but you get the idea.

    A little respect between both parties is what makes the whole concept work.

    • Evan Dawson

      Whit – You’re spot on with your second paragraph. Where you and I disagree is on the first graph, but I’m not sure we’re talking about the same things. When you say it’s hilarious for a som to get offended, keep in mind we’re talking about a very, very different kind of restaurant than Jojo. In fact, Jojo is a perfect example of the kind of restaurant that ought never complain when a customer brings a bottle. The list is boring, essentially laid out by big brands. No som at a place like that would ever be offended. Sotto, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. I understand Jeremy’s sensitivity.

      • adrian reynolds

        One guideline not mentioned, unless I glossed over too quickly: a lot of restaurants don’t allow corkage on outside bottles brought if also on the wine list.

  3. Beau

    $40 for an $18 (retail) bottle of wine is pathetic, because the wholesale cost of that $18 is probably close to $11-12. I wouldn’t pay that because the wine is not worth $40. Now, if the $18 (retail) was $30-35, I feel that’s almost fair. If there’s a $35 (retail) that I see for $65 on a restaurant list, that makes a good impression on me because the wine is probably quite good. My differentiation comes from the quality levels associated with the price segments we’re talking about.

    Marking up bottles 3 or 4 times their wholesale OR retail price is gouging, plain and simple. I suspect that’s another reason why so many people do prefer to bring their own bottles, so they aren’t gouged.

  4. Blake Gray

    Evan: Sotto’s wine list makes the same mistake as the list that irritated Cuozzo, and the same mistake many sommeliers make. What are these wines? What grapes are in them? What do they taste like? What foods do they go with?

    It’s a price list, not a wine list.

  5. Viviane Bauquet Farre

    Evan, Thank you for another brilliant and thoughtful article… and thank you for the good laughs too!

    One of my favorite things is to spend time reading the wine lists assembled by talented sommeliers like your friend Steve. There’s something utterly exciting about discovering a fantastic wine and enjoying it with great food – why would bringing a wine you know be more exciting than that?

    As for the horrid wine lists of certain establishments… when I’m faced with one of those, I order beer!

  6. Milt Gersh

    Hi, First let me say, that I’ve been in the wine business for over 30 yrs. .retail,som,and consultant. The abuse of wine lists iratates me no end. Every person who commented I just about agree with. Restauranturs need to be more consummer oriented. The absurb markups, and sometimes the arrongance is unbelievable. When a party of 4 come into a restaurant and order only 1 bottle of wine, when they could order 2 if the prices were reasonable. If the restaurant owner marksup 3, to 4, and sometimes 5 times wholesale , not retail. Most restaunturs use the markup from retail. Their isn’t any justification for the obscene markups. In bringing one’s own bottle, the reason I would do this , is because the wine list doesn’t have the bottle I bring on the list. Just one last .thought, When I was the the wine consultant for this particular rest. We had a retail store along w/ the rest. We charged $1.00 above retail, We sold more wine then any other rest. in Sarasota,Fl. The rest. was busy every night, their were no slow times, and we were open for lunch and dinner 7 days a wk. The consumer needs to take a stand aganist the high wine list prices. Thanks. Milt Gersh

  7. Anna Marie dos Remedios

    We have a wine bar near Yosemite and do not offer corkage. It irritates some customers when they come to listen to live music but come on, really?! They want to pay the $5 cover for music, take up one of our seats on the patio and not drink a bottle from our 80 bottle list?! I gently remind them that we are a wine bar/beer garden that only sells alcohol to keep the lights on. Would they bring a bottle of cuervo to a bar or a steak to a restaurant ? We mark up 1.5 x wholesale at most for wines wholesale $20 above, 2 times for wines wholesale $15 under…not outrageous…

  8. Jeremy Parzen

    Evan, thanks so much for the kind words and the shouts-out here… I think this post is great and I like how it brings together many different POVs and perspectives…

    In reading the post and the comment thread, it occurs to me how variegated corkage culture is throughout the U.S.

    In California, for example, corkage is practically considered a human right… In Texas, it’s practically illegal. In New York, most fine wine establishments do not allow it (in my experience).

    If Sotto were in NYC, we probably wouldn’t allow corkage… in California, it would be inappropriate not to… just some wine for thought here… thanks again and GREAT post! this is what wine blogging should be: exchanging ideas and impressions through community… 🙂

  9. Dan P

    1. Diners are not responsible for the feelings of chefs or wine directors.
    2. Food & Wine in all its commercial guises is simply Adult Disneyland. So pick your ride and shut up.
    3. Most of the comments here are the equivalent of saying: I can get a decent burger at Five Guys for $5, so it’s outrageous that Mozza charges $20 for a similar burger. Well, that’s an opinion….

    • Pedro Dias

      Well, no: the Mozza burger is not similar to the 5Guys burger, like Biondi Santi isn’t “similar” to some mass-produced “Super”-Tuscan plonk. Sure, some of the additional cost goes to overhead, but if there’s no substantive difference, people won’t pay, ultimately. Or that’s the theory, anyway.

      But what we’re talking about here is apples-to-apples gouging, basically – and the thing is, if there’s an “author” of the wine, someone whom the snub ought to offend, it’s *not* the sommelier, it’s the wine-maker. This “curatorial” surcharge we’re being fed to justify 200% to, sometimes, 400% markups just does not equate to the reason I’m willing to pay for the cooking: the chef cooks; no one at the restaurant makes wine, which is why the bottle of Biondi Santi I bring in can replace the bottle of Biondi Santi on the list.

      I live in Philly: at one time, we had the worst wine lists outside Utah. Then we got a BYOB restaurant culture driven by, on one side, the high price of liquor licenses, and, on the other, drinkers’ frustration. And you know what? Now we have restaurants who have lists I *love* paying for, like Vedge, with three cuvees of La Clarine, and a Pineau d’Aunis by the glass, and a bottle price sweet-spot around $55-$60. I truly enjoyed buying off their wine list, and told them so.

      Mind you, the goofy arguments I see made for restaurants here are *exactly* the arguments I used to be fed by those extortion specialists in the Bad Old Days. And not buy, not even a little, not even some times.

      Give me fair prices for interesting wines. Otherwise, if your food is really, really good, I’ll grit my teeth and resent what I have to do. But mostly, I’ll patronize the unlicensed restaurants, and bring my own.

  10. Sonoma William - Simple Hedonisms

    Actually I do mind paying $40 for a bottle that retails for $18 – THAT is excessive markup, and I’ll bring a bottle and pay corkage, at least in CA. Las Vegas, NY, it sucks but I will deal.

    Double retail when you bought it for 30-35% below that is gouging. Restaurants wish they made 1/4 that margin on food.

    I almost always bring a bottle. If the markup is modest, I may leave it in the bag, or buy one and open one.

    More than $20 corkage – likely I won’t eat there on principle.

    And even drinking Two Buck Chuck is enough to wear a dunce hat. Bringing it to a restaurant….really?

  11. Sin City

    At an un-named restaurant in Palo Alto (it starts with a Z), at the bar I was served a glass of red in a smallish glass, while finer glasses were right there on the barback. I asked why I wasn’t served the better glass, and the barman said: those glasses are for people who purchase a bottle. And then he walked away. I never went back.

    As for corkage, I think the “grin & smile no matter what” is how restaurants make friends. If you make the guest feel uncomfortable, kiss him goodbye on the way out because you will never see him again. If you make the guest feel welcome, you never know when, but he may show up again soon and spend money comfortably. It is not about the one-time sale. It is about the relaxation effect on the customer, which translates into repeat, annuity, business.

    And if a customer un-knowingly brings a bottle to a no-corkage place, take a look at it and see what they brought. If it deserves to be opened, go ahead and open it. Otherwise, make some suggestions from your list based on what the customer intended to drink. Nicely. Make a friend. Treat him like your mother or brother. Or get out of the HOSPITALITY business. After all, it is called HOSPITALITY, isn’t it???

  12. Randy Caparoso

    Speaking as a longtime restaurateur (over 30 years in the business), guests who bring their own wine are of two types:

    1. Ones who are cheap

    2. Those who bring bottles they genuinely love, which they want to enjoy with your food.

    Those belonging to group 2 — who still tend to make up the majority of BYOWers — are actually flattering a restaurant when they bring wine to enjoy with their food. For all the moaning and groaning you might hear from sommeliers, they also have to admit that many times they probably experienced some wines of fantastic quality and rarity, brought in by customers who usually love sharing a taste — and for that, sommeliers and restaurateurs should be thankful.

    Insofar as the cheapies: as much as I always found them offensive, I have to admit that there is a root cause of their existence. They’re there because restaurant markups are, in fact, by and large ridiculous: three times over wholesale cost being the average “normal” markup, and up to four or more times in many high-end restaurants (especially in Manhattan!).

    So even in this case, I have to side with the cheapie consumers: restaurateurs need to heal themselves if they think this corkage or BYOW thing is getting out of hand. As hard as it may be, they need to figure out their own costs and way of doing business to get rid of the perpetual image of “rip-off” that has dogged the restaurant industry, seemingly forever. It can be done, because many examples of restaurants implementing far kinder, enlightened markups, while retaining significant profitability, have been popping up all over the country.

    If others can do it, even high cost, hoity-toity operations in Manhattan can do it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way; and those who show know will are just being lazy.

    Until then, restaurateurs need to shut up and quit complaining whenever anyone feels the need to bring their own wine to make going out affordable.

  13. Diane Kenworthy

    Back in my youth when my parents first started drinking wine seriously and could finally afford to go to “nice” restaurants (ca 1970) the cost of wine in a restaurant was roughly equivalent to a main dish. So, if a couple bought one bottle of wine, first courses, desserts, and 2 main dishes, the cost of the meal (including wine) was roughly 1/4 wine, 3/4 food. They tipped on top of that for the service.

    Now, when my husband and I go out to dinner, if the main dishes are roughly $25 there is seldom a wine on the list for that price. Prices will usually start at $40-$50, and the wines at the bottom of the price range will tend to be mediocre and hugely marked up. So if we want to have a wine of roughly the same quality as the food, we are stuck paying upwards of $60, so we are paying 1/2 wine (or more!), 1/2 food.

    I think wine lovers are carrying too much of the burden for the restaurant’s bottom line, so I feel no compunction in taking a very good bottle of wine from my cellar and paying whatever corkage the restaurant charges. Often, the higher the corkage, the better value it turns out to be, because it is usually a sign they are truly gouging at the lower/moderate end of their wine list.

    • Kristina Anderson

      Spot on, Diane, and good that you note this. My husband and I, too, regularly scratch our heads when a bill arrives showing we’ve spent as much on wine (1 bottle or 4 individual glasses) as we did the food. By the glass is even worse, but we love to try different wines, experiment, etc. And I agree, people bring their own bottles because it’s worth the corkage in most instances.

  14. Warner Henry

    Looking at it from the customer’s side…[does anyone do that any more?], some people have extensive wine collections which they have collected for years (when you’re over 60, you ask, “will I get to all of these before I cash out?”[die or lose my palate]. I take ’82 Bordeaux, ’85 Cabernets, ’85 Burgundies, etc. If they were on the wine list, they’d be $500… they cost me $10 to $50 when I bought them. Sotto’s policy is balanced and thoughtful (I always buy my whites at the restaurant). REMEMBER THE CUSTOMER!

  15. David Honig

    Restaurants are to blame for people’s desire to bring reasonably-priced wines. The “standard mark-up” has gone from 3x wholesale to 3x retail. It is perfectly normal today to see a bottle of wine from the middle shelf in Krogers, Winn Dixie, Publix, etc., a bottle that not only retails for $9, but EVERY CUSTOMER KNOWS IT, marked at $25 or more. Unfortunately, restaurants are often the customers first interaction with fine wine. The result? The customers suspect the entire wine industry, they know they lack the knowledge to interact on an even keel with the sellers, they feel like they are going to get screwed no matter what they do, and they stick to beer. Restaurants obscene mark-up is not just an injustice to knowledgeable consumers, they drive an entire generation of potential wine lovers, and wine buyers, away from the entire industry. In the short term the restaurant may make a few more bucks. In the long term, though, they lose more than they gain, all the clients who never come back to the restaurant, and never buy wine in another restaurant, either.

  16. vinnie

    May I ask a simple question, please?

    Why is there so much “fuss” about being allowed to bring your own bottle of wine into a restaurant or not, yet nobody questions whether you can bring your own chicken nuggets or favorite bottle of gin to the restaurant??? What is so special about wine???
    There are many other similar situations that never get questioned…ie:
    ~ do you bring your own popcorn to the movies?
    ~ do you bring your own engine oil to the service station every 3000 miles?
    ~ do you bring your own eucharist to communion?

    thanx in advance for your enlightment

    • Evan Dawson

      Do you have a chicken nuggets cellar in your house? Do you have a collection of movie popcorn for which you’re waiting for the right occasion to open? It’s not that difficult to see the difference, right?

      • Jane Graft

        No, but like you said, it’s in your house. If you must enjoy that special bottle, order takeout or COOK! You’ll save everybody all the trouble

  17. John

    Dear People,

    When you guys can cook better than my chef, and select wine better than my somm, we’ll totally come over to your house and pay whatever you say, plus a generous tip. We won’t even ask what it cost you to put it all together, because a good experience is priceless.

    In fact, why don’t you just stay home… we’ll be over soon, promise.

    Love, Hospitality.

    • Beau

      The problem isn’t with the somm or chef, usually each are quite competent. The problem is with YOU the greedy owner/GM marking up wines at 3-5 times their retail cost. Savvy consumers can spot these markups a mile away and that is why they bring in their own bottles.

  18. Eric Lecours

    Imagine a restaurant like Sotto with a concept of selling no wine whatsoever but to provide exactly the same wine experience they do now with guests bringing in their own wine. A sommelier would be on hand. The staff would be trained to open the bottles with the same class and dignity. They would also be educated on how to handle wine, to have an understanding of the major wines of the world, their regions and wines that pair most appropriately with the restaurant’s cuisine. Each wine brought in would get its own round of appropriate high-end glassware and decanters as needed. The restaurant would be staffed so when servers are tied up opening and pouring bottles (often multiple) of wine and providing a glass for each wine, decanting, etc., attention to other diners would not be compromised. The staff would arrive early and stay late to meticulously wash and polish the glassware and decanters before and after service. The restaurant would of course make sure glassware and decanters were stocked and breakage replaced, the cost of which is in the thousands per year even for a small restaurant.

    Let’s assume at the end of the year they would like take home a nickel on a dollar of sales which is better than most restaurants. What would they need to charge for corkage? I can tell you from reviewing many P/L’s, without raising food prices, they’d lose money at $25/btl. Without raising food prices they’d probably need to charge $50/btl to still take home a nickel on a dollar of sales.

    The Batalis and Cheasecake Factories aside, small restaurants like Sotto with passionate chefs and wine staff work on very thin margins. Corkage is a misnomer. It is not the cost of pulling the cork out of the bottle. It is an overhead cost. Wine brought into a restaurant should of course be treated with the same respect and served at the same standard as wine purchased from the restaurant. However, even if a guest pays the corkage fee, they would not be able to enjoy their wine at such a low fee with such great food without benefiting from the more conventional diners at the tables around them.

    • David Honig
      David Honig


      Can you include the nickel/dollar ratio on wine that has service and glass costs, but no wholesale cost? Is it really true that the service on a bottle of wine, for a table already being served, would cost more than $25? This is a genuine question, not a challenge.

      • Eric Lecours

        David, lets assume a restaurant earns a nickel on a dollar at the end of the year, i.e. 5% net profit, wine represents 35% of sales, wine cost is 30% of wine sales and that a typical table for two spends $185, $120 on food and $65 on a bottle of wine. Net profit (5%) on this table is $9. Thus expenses and costs represent $176. If we take out the cost of the wine, $20 the expenses and costs are $156. So to earn the same $9 we need to charge $165, $120 on food and and $45 for corkage.

  19. clive

    Evan, Good stuff sorry I missed this when it first posted. Interesting points in Jeremy’s post on his blog as well. Here’s the thing, if your booze prices go to subsidize the rest of your operation they should be palatable (pardon the pun) to an educated consumer. If you’re not even willing to meet me in a good place why should I care about your costs and operation? If I know that I can buy the wine you’re selling for $68 dollars for $28 that’s a real problem for me. If you have demonstrated utter disdain for my common sense and are essentially gouging me, why is it somehow not okay for me to “take advantage” of your policy that lets me bring in a wine I paid for and pay you $20 to 25 to open it in about 30 seconds? Experience, service and thoughtful pairing aside, if you don’t care the least bit about your customers beyond what money you can make from them, why should they care about your business’ financial health, the cost of the “experience” etc?

  20. gabe

    it’s been said many times before, but I’ll say it again. If restaurant markups were reasonable, people wouldn’t bring their own bottles. When it is cheaper to buy the same wine at a wine shop and pay a $20 corkage, then that’s what people will do. it’s simple math. Charge less markup for wine and people will buy more. Charge a higher corkage fee and people will bring less. But don’t act all shocked and offended when people don’t want to pay double four or five times wholesale for their wine

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