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Michigan Passes "Doggy Bag" Law for Wine

Restaurants can now send diners home with a bottle they didn't finish

Jim Clarke
Posted: May 13, 2005

Michigan restaurant-goers may soon be tempted to order a bottle of wine more often, now that the pressure is off to drink it all. On May 11, the state legislature presented Gov. Jennifer Granholm with Senate Bill 199, which would allow diners to take unfinished bottles of wine home with them at the end of their meal.

A spokesperson said that the governor intends to sign the legislation, which would go into effect immediately.

The measure originated with the Michigan Restaurant Association, which enlisted the support of state Sen. Judson Gilbert (R). Legislative aide Scott Starr said Gilbert felt the bill offered a win-win scenario, encouraging more wine sales while also cutting down on drunk driving. The idea, according to the restaurant association and the senator's office, is that diners would be able to order a bottle of wine (probably something more expensive than the by-the-glass offerings) and not feel obligated to either leave some behind or overimbibe and drive home intoxicated.

The "doggy bag" law comes with some restrictions. Only a single, already opened bottle may leave the restaurant; the bottle must be purchased with a meal, and a restaurant employee must reinsert the cork so that it is even with the lip of the bottle prior to the customer's departure. (While screw caps are not addressed specifically, there is nothing in the bill's language that would prevent restaurants from using a cork from an emptied bottle of wine to reseal a screw-capped bottle.) To comply with the state's open-container laws, the bottle must be placed in the trunk or somewhere else inaccessible to a vehicle's occupants while driving.

At Tribute restaurant in Farmington Hills, which holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence for its wine list, wine director Antoine Przekop was optimistic that the law would help boost sales. "There will be at least one table every night where I can say, 'You know what, go for the bottle. If you don't want to finish it, you can always take it home with you.' That can make a difference," he said.

The benefits may actually be greater for middle-range eateries, Przekop conceded. While diners may already plan on buying a bottle of wine at a destination restaurant known for its cellar, they now may be more inclined to do so with casual meals.

Thirty states already allow diners to take home unfinished wine, according to the National Restaurant Association. New York passed a wine "doggy bag" law last year, and legislatures in New Mexico, Florida, and Nebraska are currently considering similar bills.

The Michigan legislature is considering other changes to the state's liquor laws. Pending Senate Bill 450 would allow retail sales of wine and liquor on Sundays, though individual cities and counties would be left to enact their own restrictions.

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