What is Corkage?

Christopher Pitts

In F&B, Food Musings Posted

The hot topic among chefs and restaurateurs recently has been how to properly handle wine corkage charges when a guest brings their own bottle of wine to a restaurant. From a legal standpoint, there can no longer be a direct “corkage fee” charged to a guest, but what exactly are we charging for anyway?

Let’s look at what is required when you bring your own. First, it’s the cost of servicing the wine – a white wine may need to be immediately chilled on ice with a bucket and perhaps a stand. A red wine may require a decanter, depending on the wine’s specific properties. Both types will be going into nice glasses that have been polished and will need to be cleaned and polished after they have been used. All of these items cost the restaurant.

“Staffs that possess desirable skills do not come cheap, nor should they.”

Next, let’s consider staffing. All staff are not created equal – in skill, personality or knowledge. Staffs that possess desirable skills do not come cheap, nor should they.

We’ll use my F&B manager for example, an all-star French man with more than 30 years in London running restaurants for chefs like Marco Pierre White and serving the likes of Madonna to the Queen of England. He knows his wines like the back of his hand. The thing is, when he is standing beside you describing the smells of the pain au chocolat off the Main Street and the texture of the crumbling facade of Moët & Chandon’s Chateau, he is not only selling you champagne, he is selling you an experience. Would you walk into a theater production of Mamma Mia, bust out your iPad and watch the movie instead? Both will tell you the same story, but only one will give you a truly memorable experience.

Perhaps Robuchon’s wine list doesn’t match up to that bottle Yao Ming gave you from his personal winery, but the story is what you want to tell with the bottle in question. This we can understand, but Robuchon still has five sommeliers that need to be paid.

There is a compromise. My personal favorite is “bring a bottle, buy a bottle.” Show respect to the restaurant. So by all means BYOB, but do have the courtesy to support the restaurant by buying a bottle. Show them consideration and I promise you will receive better service than you ever imagined.

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