Liquor Law in WA state Question

This issue came up at a pretty nice restaurant in the Seattle eastside area.
We sat down, had the tasting menu arranged ahead of time (it was a birthday dinner), and was told the wines we opened/decanted can not be served - as it violates a open container law in the state of WA.

I’ve heard of this once from one restaurant (and was then told it’s fine but just to be aware), the other couples have not ever heard of this from any place… and we all frequently bring wine (opened/decanted wine) to meals throughout WA/OR. Certainly can’t fault this restaurant for sticking by the letter of the law. My question is what IS the law… does someone have like the legal statue number or something so i can read it? i’m just now curious. Thanks!

What’s also interesting is, i have since called a few places that we frequent (and brought opened wine to), and asked if we can bring decanted wine, and have been told no way, must be unopened. YET those places have never blinked an eye when we were there in the past… so it sounds like over the phone they are by the books, but once in person, the Somms don’t really care / very flexible? so then how strictly enforced is this law in Seattle/WA area?

Anyhow, for this specific night, In the end it was at first a sour taste as we all got up and left b/c we weren’t leaving special bottles of wine open/unconsumed (even though the wine director suggested we can consume it the next day… [head-bang.gif]).
Turned out ok tho… we spent 1/10th the cost, got some good pizza to go, and had a great time at home. Restaurant lost out on a sizable bill from a table, and alienated a bunch of customers who loved their place… not really a win/win in my mind, but alas that’s life. [cheers.gif]

Just curious but did you bring in the wine in a decanter?

WAC 314-11-065 allows for:

(b) Restaurant licensees may allow patrons to bring wine into the premises for consumption with a meal; and

so if your wine is decanted and put back in the bottle and re-corked and you pull the cork when you arrive can’t imagine anyone having a problem with that.

I was the “other couple” at that dinner.

And that’s exactly what we did: double-decanted the wine 3 hours prior, poured it back into the original bottles, and put the corks back in.
Now, just for specificity’s sake, I did not push the corks ALL THE WAY in the bottles; the corks were only half-way in. Not that it should make any difference from a legal perspective, because the bottles were no longer intact, and there was no way to absolutely authenticate the content of the bottle besides my honest words. lol

Spot on Matt, that has been my experience on many occasions in Washington.You could just go to the bar at the restaurant an hour early, have a cocktail and have them decant the wine for you I suppose.We also have dropped bottles off ahead of time and have them decant for dinner 4-5 hours ahead of time.

I have only heard this once about 7 years ago, and it was part of a larger hostile service experience -so I never thought about it again. I guess moving forward if anyone is bringing something that need early decanting they should call ahead to confirm. Just out of curiosity, what was the wine and the restaurant? Perhaps a memo got sent from the liquor control board to restaurants, and they are just following the new rules.

We’ve brought bottles that had been decanted to restaurants before in Seattle with no issue but I could imagine with how moderately strict the rules are in WA the server could’ve just been engaging in a bit of CYA.

Curious where this happened? PM me if you don’t want to put the place on blast.

I did a little searching, and could find no statute forbidding bringing opened bottles to be poured at a restaurant. All I could find on the WSLCB website was a statement saying that BYOB/corkage was allowed.

Having pre-decanted and recorked bottles has never been an issue at any restaurant off-line I’ve attended. I suspect someone is either misinterpreting the regulations or simply making their own policy and blaming the state.

P Hickner

The what and the where are not what we wanted to discuss here, so if anyone is interested to know, I can pm you the details. But I do not wish to make this thread about any particular restaurant.

Thank you, Peter, for looking into that.

The most frustrating thing for us was the inconsistency of this execution. Just a week ago, I brought a decanted bottle to another restaurant we enjoy in Fremont, and was almost complimented by the waiter that I had done so.

But then jump back to the night in discussion here, right after we left the restaurant, we called several other restaurants for availability, specifically told them that we have pre-decanted bottles. And all of them told us that they can not serve pre-decanted bottles, which I had never heard before in the greater Seattle area.

So that brought us to think that maybe this execution is not specific to a restaurant.

Thanks for the feedback gang… looks like none of us posting here have heard much about that rule.

Calling around it’s clear it IS a law… at least the people follow it over the phone hahaha maybe not in person.

The other weird thing is this restaurant specifically, i’ve eaten at multiple times… brought wine multiple times (open/decanted/recorked)… and never been a problem, or even told that it’s not kosher BUT they are being flexible.

I’m quite disappointed in the wine director’s attitude and the lack of flexibility, but i’ve shared that feedback with the owner already…

I’d really wanna know what the legal statute is… since none of us have heard of it, but it’s apparently the LAwwwwww :slight_smile:

I had this happen here in California, a single time. Out of dozens I’ve brought wine to, often previously opened. But after that one time (unless it’s a restaurant we do routine wine dinners at, and always handle our own wines), if I think a wine needs earlier decanting, I’ll make sure to push the cork all the way back in, making it look unopened (except for capsule, which I rip off).

I found something else buried in the rules:
Finding—Intent—2011 c 66: “The legislature finds that some restaurants allow patrons to bring bottles of wine to the restaurant so long as restaurant personnel open and serve the beverage. In these cases, the restaurants often charge a fee known as a corkage fee. The legislature supports activities in the free market that facilitate local businesses in selling their products. One of the methods restaurants and wineries have found to be mutually beneficial is a waiver of corkage fees for local businesses. The legislature intends to allow wineries and restaurants the ability to make agreements as to whether to charge a corkage fee without restriction or regulation under the tied-house laws.” [ 2011 c 66 § 1.]

It’s technically illegal to bring an open bottle to restaurant. Push the cork all the way back in red side down. I have a couple corks lying around expressly for this. Most in Seattle don’t care, but as a matter of law it’s illegal.

Kris – do you know what part of the RCW or WAC prohibits bringing open bottles of alcohol to a restaurant? I have spent about 45 minutes searching both and could not find anything. This is not an area of law I know well – and I am not admitted in WA State – so I am not that familiar with WA law and maybe missing something. There are laws against having an open bottle of alcohol in a car (which is pretty standard in most, if not all, states).

On a slightly different note, I did find out Mark that you could be served wine while standing or even walking, unless the restaurant had a house rule requiring that you be seated. Here is the language:
It shall not be unlawful for a retail licensee whose premises are open to the general public to sell, supply, or serve liquor to a person for consumption on the licensed retail premises if said person is standing or walking, nor shall it be unlawful for such licensee to permit any said person so standing or walking to consume liquor on such premises: PROVIDED HOWEVER, That the retail licensee of such a premises may, at his or her discretion, promulgate a house rule that no person shall be served nor allowed to consume liquor unless said person is seated.I wonder what problem that provision was trying to solve?

I had a similar experience at a nice restaurant. I made a mistake of mentioning it to the host, who then made it a big deal (which is fine, their job isn’t to help sneak in these things). The host and server were pretty sure that it wasn’t going to be allowed, but apparently the somm decided to look the other way this time (I can only guess because of how good looking I am [shrug.gif]).

They kept saying it’s the WA law, which is fine, but the thing that got me was they were saying things like “you’re driving here with an open container” (who says I’m driving?/can’t I buy a bottle and take the rest of it home?) and “we don’t know if you put anything in it” (is that the big scare?). I was smart enough to not start arguing with them and maybe that helped us out in the end, but the main takeaway was that it’s a WA law.


I can ask out LCB rep for it. I believe it is considered an open container once it is opened and that is why you can’t bring it to any premises including an establishment with a liquor license. Also when it’s in your car it can’t be within reach of driver, so I always put my wine bag in my trunk so its out of reasonable reach.

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Yes, I even think you cannot have an open container anywhere in the passenger area of the car – so technically it should be in the trunk.

I wondered if the restaurant was piggy backing on that rule, as terrance.c just noted. But technically I have not found anything that makes an open container brought into a restaurant as illegal.

But I have not pored through the liquor regulations (as my spouse just noted to me), so there very well could be something there. I also wonder if Mark’s suspicion that there was a recent notice or crackdown may also have been at play.

It has always been a roller coaster in WA…sometimes it’s a big deal then years of no one caring.

I’ve been told this by one restaurant in Walla Walla, and implied occ in Seattle, but also told by winery staff that it’s baloney–no such rule in Washington. I’ve done it a number of times. however, it’s one of those things that bites you on occasion. Washington liquor control board folks sometimes come to restaurants unannounced, and restaurants get paranoid. So I always call ahead to be sure it’s OK. And I always hammer the cork all the way back in so the restaurant can fake it if needed.

Occasionally, I find a restaurant that offers to have you drop off the wines ahead of time and they’ll prep them. But, sorry, I don’t trust anyone to prep my wines for me. I’ve watched numerous places “decant” them for me, and, thanks, I’ll take care of it myself.

I’ll check again, but I don’t actually think there’s a statute that says it’s not legal.

I wonder if this might work. Instead of banging the cork back in, just transfer the wine to a screwcap bottle. The only minor drawback is remembering which wine is in which bottle…