Corkage Etiquette in Restaurants

What to know when you want to BYO
Feb 17, 2011

Certain etiquette questions arise when you’re faced with a restaurant’s BYOB or corkage policy: Do you call ahead? Offer a sip to the sommelier? Francesco Grosso, who has been wine director at Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence-winning restaurant Marea in New York since its opening, in 2009, offers the dos and don’ts of bringing your own.

Wine Spectator: How often do clients bring their own wine into Marea, and what type of customers—members of the industry, collectors, general patrons—are doing it?
Francesco Grosso: I see a bottle brought in at least every other night. I would say it’s 90 percent collectors. We get the odd person who thought it would be a good idea to stop at the liquor store and buy something, and then they come in and find it’s a $50 fee to open said bottle; the fee dissuades people from bringing in things like that.

WS: What are some of the key points of corkage etiquette when bringing wine into a restaurant?
FG: Well, I don’t think there are steadfast rules, but there are definitely things that are appreciated. Our rule used to be one bottle per table, but now it’s two, just because so many collectors are coming in, and I don’t want to stop them from bringing their wonderful bottles. As far as etiquette, I really appreciate when if someone brings in an older bottle of Bordeaux, they will start with a white Burgundy or a bottle of Champagne from our list. I hesitate to call that etiquette, it’s just appreciated.

WS: Is it important for people to call a restaurant before showing up with a bottle?
FG: In certain cases, yes—if they are not familiar with the policy and call to ask, or if it’s a larger group and they want to bring in something that exceeds the policy. Calling ahead is something I would say is definitely etiquette.

WS: Do you feel that it is inappropriate to bring a wine that is on the restaurant’s current wine list?
FG: I do. I think that, if the wine is on the list, it should not be brought in. I have worked at restaurants where that was the case; we wouldn’t open bottles that were on the list. But, since Marea’s list unfortunately is not online at present, there is no way for someone to find out [if their selected wine is on the list] before they get here, other than me faxing or e-mailing them the list right now. So I will open anything.

WS: Do people usually offer you a taste of what they bring?
FG: Certainly, it happens, nine times out of 10, but I do not consider it something necessary. It is very nice and appreciated, but not expected.

WS: What are some of your pet peeves on corkage?
FG: If it is your bottle, it is my responsibility to serve it correctly, but the temperature of the bottle is something that is kind of a slippery slope. People bring in wines (that should be cellared) at extremely warm temperatures and then get a bit angry at the temperature that they brought it in. I’ll do everything in my power to do something, but to take an older bottle of Bordeaux that comes into the restaurant hot and shock it in ice? I feel like I’m almost adding to the problem with the bottle being stored at improper temperatures and then shocking it in cold water.

WS: Do you find that people have a negative reaction to you if the wine they brought in is faulty or disappointing?
FG: Yes. I have collectors that dine here often that look to me for my opinion on their wines, but it’s something that I do not offer if I don’t know the guest. In fact, often a guest that I am not familiar with will ask, “Did you taste this?” and, while I do taste and make sure that every bottle that I serve from our cellar is sound, that is not something that I feel comfortable doing with someone else’s bottle. I’m here to open it for you, provide you with the proper glassware and serve you the wine as I would any other wine. That is what the $50 charge is for; it’s not my responsibility to give you an opinion on the soundness of the bottle unless it is asked.

WS: Any final comments on bringing your own wine to restaurants?
FG: I think there would be a lot more etiquette for something that was done for free. I don’t think there is anything that I would ask of the guest beyond common courtesy and just understand the outside factors of the bottle.

Dining Out Corkage Fees