Wine Notes from the Clubhouse

By Bryan Albers
Bringing a bottle of your own wine to a nice restaurant can be a great way to enhance your dining experience. It can also make you look like a snob, or worse yet, a cheapskate.
1017 wine bottleThis topic has been argued by patrons and restaurant owners since the beginning of time. The general consensus is that when handled properly everyone benefits from a good corkage fee policy. Patron’s get to enjoy special bottles of wine at their favorite establishments and restaurants get more diners.
Most good restaurants allow customers to bring a bottle of their own wine and pay corkage fees that range from zero to $50. In fact, some high-end restaurants, like The French Laundry in Napa Valley, charge up to $150 for the service. One of my favorite amenities at Lake Quivira is that we can bring a bottle of wine to the clubhouse and only pay a $10 corkage fee.
I have come up with the following helpful tips for ensuring your corkage fee experience is a positive one, whether you are dining at Lake Quivira or somewhere else:
Present the bottle to your server upon arrival
To avoid any possible confusion, it is always best to let your server know you have brought a bottle and you are aware of the restaurant’s corkage fee policy. Oftentimes the wait staff will be unfamiliar with the policy, so this helps get things off on the right track.
Bring something special
If the restaurant has a good wine list it is always encouraged to pick wines from their list. Unfortunately, if you frequent a restaurant regularly ,any list can get boring so bringing a unique bottle makes perfect sense. It is also more and more common that all wine lists look the same because local distributors are normally picking the wines. Bringing something different is always appreciated. Another rule of thumb is to only bring bottles that, when combined with the corkage fee, cost more than wines available on the list. Bottles that retail for $25 or more generally meet this criteria.
Order food
Never bring a bottle of wine to a restaurant unless you intend on eating a meal. Restaurants have a lot of overhead and corking fees only work when food sales increase because of them.
Don’t bring wines that are on the restaurants list already
This is the easiest way to show everyone you are just being cheap. If you aren’t sure if the wine you are bringing is on the list, call and ask. Most restaurants also post their menus online.
Offer a taste to the sommelier or wait staff
While not a requirement, this is a great way to show that you brought a wine you are proud of and don’t mind sharing. Don’t be offended if they refuse. It may be against their policies. Justremember, you get credit for asking.
Order additional wine from the menu
The chances of receiving negative treatment for bringing your own bottle decrease exponentially when you buy additional bottles from the restaurant list. You can always take unfinished bottles home with you. Regardless, you should make sure that over time you are buying more bottles from the restaurant than you are bringing.
You should always tip your wait staff based on your bill PLUS the cost of the bottle that you brought. If the corking fee is low, it is recommended to tip a little more than normal to show you appreciate the ability to bring your own wine.
Following these simple guidelines will go a long way in ensuring your dining experience is the best it can be when you choose to bring your own wine. Cheers!