BYO Wine Do’s & Don’ts

  • Wine
  • on FEBRUARY 2, 2009
  • 70
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By Courtney Cochran

As the economy continues its sobering slide, there are a few things in which we can all take comfort.  First, the obvious: we have a new president in office who has vowed to tackle the faltering economy head-on.  Second: the crisis is bringing friends and families together like never before for mutual comfort and support.  And third, cha ching!: we can all look forward to saving a little cash during these tough times by bringing our own wine to restaurants.  

Read on for some of our top tips on how to BYO in style, as well as hints on what not to do when you decide to bring you own.  Because in times like these, who wouldn’t want to drink great wine while paying less?
DO: Do Your Research
Some restaurants offer reduced price or free corkage on certain nights of the week or in special circumstances – like a flagging economy.  You can learn more about restaurants in your area that offer deals and discounts in newspapers, online and at times just by paying attention: some restaurants post reduced price or free corkage nights on their premises.  If in doubt – pick up the phone and call.

DON’T: Take a Bottle On the List
It may sound obvious, but many a BYO’er has been bummed to discover her selection is off-limits since it’s already on a restaurant’s wine list.  After all, the point in bringing your own is – ostensibly, at least – to enjoy something that you couldn’t enjoy otherwise because it’s not on the list.  To make sure not to make this faux pas, call in advance, consult a wine list online or request that someone fax you a copy.  

DO: Call Ahead to Clarify Corkage Policy
Though allowing guests to bring their own is the norm in most quality restaurants, some still prohibit the practice for a variety of reasons.  To avoid lugging heavy bottles to a meal only to hear that you’ll have to lug them all the way home, too, do yourself a favor and verify that bringing your own is okay before you go.  Many restaurants post this information online, and – as you well know – you can always call and double check.

DON’T: Take Something Widely Available
Diners bring their own bottles for a variety of reasons (hello, saving money!), but etiquette calls for at least the appearance of doing so for the sake of the wine itself.  In other words, the bottle you’re bringing is supposed to be special – why else would you bother? – a fact that precludes bringing something you plucked off of the shelf at the nearest Safeway.  The bottom line is to be polite: take something at least a touch esoteric.

DO: Ask – Don’t Tell – If You Can BYO
Managers and sommeliers at most quality restaurants spend no small amount of time compiling wine lists, and it’s their expectation that guests will be selecting wines from these much-thought-about lists (not to mention paying restaurants’ significant beverage mark-up).  This is why bringing your own is a privilege, not a right, and it’s also why it’s good form to inquire – even as you present the bottle – if you may enjoy your own in lieu of one of theirs.  A smile often helps here, too.  

DON’T: Take Something Far Cheaper Than What’s On the List
This one may sound obvious, but in a column about saving money when bringing your own it merits a mention.  Essentially, any bottle you take to a restaurant should be – more or less – on par in terms of price with at least a portion of the wines on the spot’s list (this need only apply to the other bottles’ retail price – which is typically lower than their list price).  If you feel the need to bring a truly inexpensive bottle, it’s best to do so at a comparably inexpensive restaurant.  

DO: Ask for Special Treatment If Also Buying from the List
Most restaurants charge corkage as a means of covering costs associated with providing wine service, which includes everything from a sommelier or waiter’s wages to stemware maintenance and upkeep.  As a result of these costs, restaurants rarely make money when you bring your own, though they’re often willing to waive your corkage if you buy a bottle or two from their list.  Be sure to inquire.

DON’T: Assume You Can BYO In Large Quantities
Remember: restaurants – like all businesses – need to turn a profit to keep their doors open, and it just so happens that margins on beer, wine and liquor sales far outstrip those these establishments make on anything else that they sell.  Bringing your own means a restaurant will take home less on your table than it would were a non-BYO’er seated there – so be wary of the number of bottles you bring (two to three is often the tacit cap for bringing your own).

DO: Offer the Sommelier a Taste
When bringing a truly unique wine – whether it’s particularly pricey or not – it’s good form to offer your sommelier or server a taste.  Most will refuse, but some – particularly at establishments with well-cultivated wine programs – will gladly accept your offer, and the gesture will go a long way towards easing any strain bringing your own may have caused.  Bonus: come the end of your meal, you might just find that your corkage has been waived altogether.  

DON’T: Hesitate to Ask for Proper Stemware and Service
Bringing your own doesn’t make you a second-class citizen, and a restaurant shouldn’t make you feel that way, either.  If you find you’ve been given sub-par stemware, your wine wasn’t decanted (if appropriate) or your wine hasn’t been served at the proper temperature, speak up and request – politely, of course – that you receive proper wine service.  After all, you’re paying for it when you bring your own – that’s what corkage was created for in the first place.


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