Bring Wine, Pay Double

Dear Helena,

My wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary at a ritzy restaurant. We brought in a grand cru Burgundy from the year we were married. Since it was a very special wine (and a special occasion), I assumed they would waive the corkage fee. They refused. Is it wrong to ask restaurants to waive or reduce corkage fees?—Old Skinflint

Dear Old Skinflint,

It’s never OK to wriggle out of the corkage fee. Yet customers regularly try to do so, says Christie Dufault, sommelier at the San Francisco restaurant Quince. According to Dufault, pressure from the local wine industry has made the practice of taking wine to restaurants increasingly common in California. (It’s far less common in other states, and in some it’s even illegal.)

People offer a variety of excuses for not paying corkage. Here’s why they don’t fly.

1. “I don’t see what I’m paying for.” The corkage fee isn’t punitive, like being fined for not wearing a tie. You’re being charged for wine service and stemware.

2. “We’ll serve ourselves.” You’re also compensating the restaurant for lost profits on the wine you’d otherwise have bought from the restaurant. Alcoholic beverages have a bigger profit margin than food, and they account for more of a restaurant’s revenues.

3. “I’ll buy a second bottle from the wine list.” If you’re buying a bottle (or more) of wine at the restaurant, why should you pay for lost beverage sales? Because you’re likely not spending as much as you otherwise would have.

4. “Pour yourself a glass.” Customers sometimes offer the server a glass in exchange for waiving the fee. Treats are nice, but servers work in exchange for money.

5. “I know the maitre d’.” Regular patrons, friends of restaurant employees, and industry VIPs sometimes expect the fee to be waived. But dropping the fee is a favor, not an obligation.

6. “This is a special wine.” You shouldn’t expect a break because you’re drinking a special wine, since you shouldn’t bring in any other kind. There’s no point in bringing in merely decent wine if the restaurant has its own list. You definitely shouldn’t bring a wine that the restaurant sells, just to save a few bucks on the markup. For one thing, once you’ve added on the corkage fee, you might find that you could have drunk a better wine at the restaurant for less.

Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena. Read more Table Manners.