Save on Your Restaurant Spend with Corkage

Analysts, solution providers, procurement professionals – all of us travel a lot, and we see the insides of a good number of restaurants. If only we could do something about surprisingly high bills at the end of the meal though. It turns out we can!

After a recent visit to a restaurant, having indulged in a tasty bottle of South African red (Chocolate Block by Boekenhoutskloof) and delicious food (although Jason would frown on the animal protein consumed), the bill was a bit steep. Thanks mostly to the price of the wine. The wine in question retails in the mid $20s, but in this case, the restaurant charged $75, or three times the retail price. As far as the restaurant business goes, 3X is actually not that high, as some use a 4X or 5X multiplier.

If you think that a good meal deserves a decent bottle of wine to go with it, the markup that restaurants charge can be discouraging. Why waste a great meal with inferior wine?

Then I thought of my time in New Haven, Connecticut, where many restaurants don’t have any alcohol permits. Great restaurants, many of them – and on a side note, some of the best pizza in the US can be had in New Haven. Modern Apizza was my favorite by far – better than Sally’s! Make sure to stop by there if you pass through.

Back to the topic of how to save on the restaurant bill. So, at the places without alcohol permits, you brought your own beer or wine and problem solved. It turns out you can do this at places where they serve adult beverages too, but with a catch: you have to pay corkage to the establishment. Meaning, a fixed fee assessed per bottle you uncork at the premises. The fee can vary from a few dollars up to $20 per bottle, at least in Atlanta. Some particularly fancy restaurants might have fees tied to the kind of wine you drink, and at those places I suggest voting with your feet. (Just as how having to pay e-invoicing fees tied to the amount on the check rather than the amount of checks tends to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.)

Since the fee is nearly always fixed, you can bring in a nice bottle of wine, and not get killed by the multiplier effect. In my example earlier, had I brought the Chocolate Block with me, I would have paid $25 for the bottle, $10 to $20 for corkage, and saved at least $30 dollars, maybe $40. Big difference.

Not all restaurants permit this practice – and it might also be against local or state ordinances in some parts of the country. Fear not, the Internet to the rescue! Go to GoBYO and do a search for your area. Search for restaurants in your zip code and you’ll get an idea of which ones are on record as corkage-friendly and what their fees are. You’ll even find a good number of restaurants that charge no corkage fees.

That said, I’d suggest calling ahead and verifying what you read on GoBYO, as it’s better to be certain than risk having an evening ruined by arguing your case at the door. That’ll also let you pin down the fee.

Another piece of advice – don't come across as a Cheap Charlie; bring a decent bottle if you go BYO! Bring something that complements the food you plan to enjoy – i.e. box wines and El Cheapo rotgut are no-go. Depending on how often you visit a restaurant and how courteous you want to be, making sure to buy a few things off the drink list makes for a happier restaurant sommelier.


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