Virginia is about to become the latest state to allow us customers to bring our own bottle to a restaurant, otherwise known as corkage or BYOB (bring your own bottle). The question for me is, why are there any states where this is not permitted? According to a Wine Spectator survey, only 25 states specifically allow corkage without restriction.
Although 15 states out-and-out forbid the practice, it should be noted that no state requires establishments to let their customers bring in a bottle. It's entirely up to the restaurants whether they want to. In practice, most do, some grudgingly, many enthusiastically, especially when people bring in cool wines. It fills the seats with people who enjoy good food and wine.
Along with Virginia, Maryland is also considering a law permitting the practice. The presence of Washington, D.C., where corkage has long been OK, seems to have pretty much forced Virginia's and Maryland's hand. Many D.C. restaurantgoers come into town from their homes in Virginia or Maryland. Seems stupid that a line on a map (and a straight line, at that) should make something illegal on one side and not on the other. More to the point, it puts the suburban restaurants at a disadvantage.
It would be sweet if these two states were to start a juggernaut that would bring the rest of the country together on this, but I am not holding my breath. Political opposition, often unreasoning, is too strong. Objections from wholesalers to the changes in Virginia make no sense to me. Isn't it reasonable to assume most of the wines people bring in to a restaurant were purchased locally, sold to local retailers by those self-same wholesalers, and for the same price?
As always happens when politics meets alcoholic beverages, some advocates tried to instill fear, suggesting that minors might smuggle in moonshine.
The point is, why do we have to go through the same arguments every time this comes up? We have 25 states, including the ones with the most successful restaurants (hello California, New York, Nevada, Texas and Illinois), where people have been bringing in their own wines for years without legal restriction. We have precedent. The social contract remains intact there.
Here in California, where I live, BYOB is so prevalent that many people snatch a bottle from their cellar to take to dinner without even bothering to call the restaurant first. It's just common courtesy to ask first. But most restaurateurs just shrug, pocketing the $15 to $35 corkage fee in lieu of whatever markup they might have gotten on a bottle sold.
I also spend several weeks every summer in Colorado, where corkage is specifically prohibited. It should say something that I end up dining out less often there than I do at home.
[Follow Harvey Steiman on twitter at twitter.com/harveywine.]
James T Vitelli — CT — March 1, 2011 4:16pm ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — March 1, 2011 4:18pm ET
Todd Shreve — Cincinnati, OH — March 1, 2011 4:58pm ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — March 1, 2011 5:25pm ET
Fred Brown — Maryland — March 1, 2011 9:05pm ET
Tom Gutting — Houston, — March 1, 2011 9:48pm ET
John Kmiecik — Chicago, IL — March 2, 2011 8:39am ET
John Kmiecik — Chicago, IL — March 2, 2011 8:41am ET
Mrs Tom Behr — Kentucky — March 3, 2011 3:21pm ET
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — March 3, 2011 8:39pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions