The Sip

An archive of notes from 2015—2019

How to BYOB to a restaurant and not be a total ass

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Okay, so I’ve worked in restaurants for years, and when a wine director puts a wine program together, they’re usually pretty ego-busted when you bring your bottle of two-buck Chuck in and ask them (us, who am I kidding) to open it with your $40 steaks. Of course they’re going to charge you. Bringing a bottle is a double edged sword – if you bring a cheap grocery store bottle with an orange price tag stuck to the side, you’re going to get the stink eye. But, if you’re bringing in an awesome bottle to savor, most chill Somms will think of it as an honor to open your special gem. And if you offer to share it with the staff, you’re a hero.

In my experience on the other side of the restaurant fence, a good move is to order wine from the restaurant you’re at – trust their program and just have the full experience. But, there are a few exceptions – and even some perfect opportunities, to bring your own wine.

Here’s a quick road map to navigating the whole BYOB thing:

  1. Call ahead to find out the corkage policy – corkage fee is what it will cost you to have them allow you to bring in outside wine.  If they’re going to charge you $30 to open a bottle that you paid $20 for, it’s not worth it. Save the bottle for a night in.
  2. If you do decide to bring your own bottle, don’t complain about the corkage – they’re charging you because you’re bringing outside product in and serve it to you, not the physical act of opening it. Can you imagine what a chef would do if you brought in your own special celebratory chicken and asked him to roast it for you? Accept the corkage fee with grace if you go this route, it’s part of the etiquette.
  3. The best guests usually offer a taste to the Somm or the person opening the bottle at restaurants that have their own wine list (the list you shunned). It’s not mandatory, and many service staffers will politely decline anyway, but it’s a gesture of community and goes a long way.
  4. Make sure you do not bring a bottle that’s on their list already usually a restaurant won’t open something they have.
  5. Sometimes, if you order one bottle from their list, restaurants will even waive the corkage on your bottle. Either way, it’s a nice gesture as well, to order from their list, too. It says, “hey, I brought my own bottle because it’s got special meaning, but I’m excited to experience your restaurant, too.” Rather than the “Nope nope nope, not even gonna look at your list” kind of vibe. Bad juju.
  6. In my opinion, the absolute best places to bring your own wine are Thai, Korean, Chinese, Indian food and Sushi spots. These places are a slam dunk for a few reasons: usually have pretty bare wine lists (and a ho-hum selection). They tend to charge minimally for your bottle to be opened, if at all. And, this is a fantastic opportunity to elevate your meal because, with a great wine, these kinds of foods are so. much. better. 
  7. Just know this when you bring a delicious cake from outside to your dinner reservation, they’ll cut it and serve it for you and your guests, and two pieces will go to the staff in the kitchen. Guaranteed. It’s an informal tax of sorts, saying, hey, our cooking isn’t good enough, we’re gonna what you think is better. Same applies to the good bottles even if you don’t wanna share.

Side note: Jam on this.