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May 1, 2013

When to Pay the Corkage

 For the uninitiated, corkage is the fee a restaurant charges for the service it provides when a customer chooses to bring his or her own wine rather than order off the restaurant's wine list. In my experience, corkage fees can range anywhere from $5 to $50, usually depending upon the star power of the restaurant.

The fee is intended to cover the cost of the restaurant's wine service. It will provide stemware, which it then has to bus and wash, which requires a certain level of paid manpower. During the course of the meal, the server should also provide the same level of attentiveness the diner would receive if the wine had been purchased from the wine list.

Then there is the loss of potential revenue the restaurant must absorb when a diner brings in a bottle.

These are all of the reasons that validate the necessity of a corkage fee when diners bring in their own wine, yet even knowing all of the above, many customers chafe at the charge. They shouldn't. I frequently take my own wine into a restaurant and never object to the corkage fee, although I am delighted whenever it is waived.

Your experience with corkage need not be awkward or unpleasant if you let common sense be your guide. I have a few rules (hardly anything official) that guide me:

* Check with the restaurant in advance, and learn its corkage policy.

* Don't bring a bottle of wine simply to save money. Make it something a little special.

* Whenever possible (depending upon the size of your party), order a bottle of wine off the restaurant's list, or wines by the glass around the table.

* Tip the server on the fair value of the wine.

* Appreciate the fact that even with corkage and gratuity, you're probably still saving a few bucks that you could apply to an after-dinner wine or cocktail.

That said, there are times when the server or restaurant owner will deem it appropriate to waive the corkage fee. This happens most often when the party of diners purchases additional wines from the restaurant list.

Always remember that a restaurant is a business. Selling wine is an essential component of the profit structure in most restaurants. So when presented a bill that includes a fee for corkage, try to smile as you pay up. You're helping a restaurant you obviously like keep its lights on. And that is a good thing.
Posted by Robert Whitley at 1:05 PM