BYO Etiquette - Advice?

This is probably not applicable for most of the posters on this board, but I was curious about BYO etiquette at your standard fare restaurant, say around $17-$25/entree (i.e., not a very expensive steakhouse or the like). If the restaurant allows BYO and/or charges corkage, what is proper etiquette regarding the wine that I bring?

I recognize that it wouldn’t be classy to bring a wine that is already offered on the wine list, but I like the idea of BYO to save money and drink better wine than I’d otherwise get. We generally purchase at the bottom end of the wine list (think $25-40) at a restaurant, and we hardly ever pay more than $20/btl for wines we drink at home. Would bringing a $20 bottle be seen as a breach of etiquette? newhere

If so, bring something that isn’t readily available in chain stores.

yes IMHO it would seem lowbrow.
The purpose of corkage is to bring better wine than they have on the list.
if you want to drink a $20.00 bottle eat at home.

If the restaurant charges corkage and has no policy on what wines are acceptable, bring whatever you want.

At the true BYOs in NJ at least, most diners bring cheapo wine.

Unless it’s CULT!!!

Then again, only Bill Landreth can get that one.

Actually, the purpose of the corkage program is not written in stone anyplace. It’s whatever you want it to be – to drink wines that the restaurant doesn’t carry, or to save yourself money. Or both.

To stay on the right side of things, just bring something that the restaurant doesn’t have on their list – don’t let anyone who drinks at a higher price-point than you look down their nose at you for bringing something “too cheap”, either. That’s hogwash.

LOL @ eat at home! Bring some Next of Kyn and call it a day… [stirthepothal.gif]

In all seriousness, one of the beauties of a byo is to be able to drink something nice without the inflated price tag. That said, go out and splurge on a $50 bottle and treat the wife to something a little nicer than what you are accustomed to drinking. Just my two yen. -mJ

I deviate from many with my stance on this one. If the restaurant has a publicly stated BYO or Corkage policy, bring what you wish and pay the fee. It’s better to make sure you are not bringing something on their list, but if you have a $10 bottle you’ve been wanting to try, bring it. For the same reason it’s not uncouth to order the least expensive entree it shouldn’t be frowned upon to bring your own wine, so long as the policy clearly allows it. If a restaurant doesn’t want you to bring wine, then it should forbid it or charge a higher fee to make it worth its while. I agree that picking up something at the Safeway and bringing it again probably goes against the purpose of corkage policies, but I don’t think this is the typical scenario.

That said, it’s obvious that bringing an interesting or higher-end bottle may get you more attention from the manager/sommelier/waiter and, therefore, better service. But of course, so will ordering a $400 bottle off the list. As a corrollary to this point, one might feel uncomfortable bringing an inexpensive, widely available wine to an expensive restaurant.

I’m less certain of my position when a restaurant does not publish their corkage (i.e., you have to call and ask/beg). In that situation, the policy seems to imply that they allow it but it’s meant to be used for special occasions/special bottles.

Mostly depends on the place.

However, I generally only bring something relatively special, so I wouldn’t do a low-end wine.

Agreed, in general.

However, most BYO situations around here are quiet “favors”, so if the restaurant is cutting you some slack on the legalities, then make sure it’s a good/special bottle. What you want to avoid is looking like you are resisting buying essentially the same bottle from them.

Like Ed said, if BYO is part of their overt, well know appeal AND they charge corkage, then bring whatever you want.



I should clarify…most/many restaurants in NJ are strictly BYO due to high cost of a liquor license (well into the 6 figures)

It’s a pride issue. I don’t think you’ll have any issues bringing a $20 wine to Ruby Tuesdays. But bring one to Ruth’s Chris or Fleming’s, and you’ll definitely get some looks from the staff, especially if it’s a wine that is highly recognizable. And they will be talking about you in the kitchen.

Bring something fun and special and you’ll be fine. Doesn’t have to be expensive.

As long as you don’t bring a bottle on the wine list, you’re fine.

Price of the bottle shouldn’t matter at all. I once brought a '03 Leroy Bourgogne that only cost me $25 to a restaurant (price tag still on the bottle), and I felt no embarrassment nor was I shown any derision. And that is how it should be.

I especially think license has to be given when the wine in question (1) is cellared or (2) is off-beat and hard to find, no matter the price of the wine.

A thought and a question:

Is it permissible to bring a significantly older version of something they’ve got on the list? IE, a 10 year old vintage when they’ve got the current release on the list? I think I’ve done this and didn’t really care, but now I’m ex post curious.

My wife was a server in school, and they had something like “no corkage Tuesdays”. More than a few people would go to the liquor store across the street and bring in $10 bottles of plonk. The staff thought there were cheap and certainly didn’t fight over those tables, but there was no further repercussion.

My understanding is the traditional reason for high restaurant markups on wine is to deal with cellaring/aging and to offset the cost of bad/returned bottles. In this scenario, BYO/corkage is to bring in that very special bottle e.g. popping a 25 year old bottle on your 25th anniversary.

Just my opinion on this - when you start talking about low- to mid-end restaurants, entrees in the $15-30 range, at least the ones around me, the wine lists are typically what’s currently available at retail, low risk of a bad bottle and probably few returns, yet these still mark up the wines typically 100%. My opinion on these type of places, the corkage is simply paying the restaurant a reasonable markup on your bottle, and I bring whatever I’m in the mood to drink or I feel is appropriate for that markup, something not on the list and probably fairly obscure.

As for etiquette, if the waiter/somm shows interest in the bottle then I’ll offer a taste. I’ll tip based on the price of the wine & corkage since I don’t want the waiter to suffer reduced wages from a table that’s not ordering wine.

My answer to your first question would be a “yes,” it’s just fine–with the caveat that you should use your judgment. If they have 2005 premier cru Burgundy and you want to bring the 1995, i see no problem at all. If they have a $10 2007 Cotes du Rhone and you want to bring the 2008… questionable.

When in doubt, ask the restaurant.

“That said, it’s obvious that bringing an interesting or higher-end bottle may get you more attention from the manager/sommelier/waiter and, therefore, better service.”

How is that obvious? My long time in restaurants saw a LOT of situations where the wait staff was less than enthused by ballers throwing around expensive wines and, from THEIR perspective, a taste offered them (in lieu of money) often drew a big “so what?” or even “I’m working here, I don’t need to (or, often, aren’t allowed to) drink”.

I should have emphasized the “more interesting.” I’ve had many times where bringing something the somm doesn’t see every day, small-production burgundy, etc. draws interest. In other words, something that shows some sort of knowledge and taste. I’m not talking about guys bringing magnums of Opus One and the latest vintage of Cristal.

I think this is totally dependent on your environment. As Ed & Mark have said, a moderately-priced BYO in NJ, where most restaurants in general are BYO, sees plenty of White Zin and Coors Light cans coming through the door. In that environment, a $20 bottle is not a biggie.

If you’re at a BYO-no corkage place that has a list, you should be bringing something better than what they have.