Bringing your own bottle of wine to restaurants is now legal in many provinces and states, but what are the rules of engagement?
I shared some tips on CBC radio this week on the etiquette of doing so, including the types of wines to bring, corkage fees and tipping. You can listen to that conversation below …
Does the thought of bringing your own wine to a restaurant make you feel cheap and arrogant? Get over it by practicing good BYOB etiquette.
1. Even when the practice is legal, check if the restaurant allows or encourages it. When you make the reservation, ask if you can bring a special bottle to celebrate your birthday—even if it was four months ago and you’ve celebrated it weekly ever since.
2. Although you may not get a flat-out no, you may sense some resistance in the tone of voice or in the cheery information that you certainly can, but the corkage fee is $100. Then it’s best to take your bottle elsewhere.
3. Sometimes a restaurant will have no problem if you bring one bottle to drink—but they’ll look askance at two or a whole case. It’s best to check about this beforehand too.
Still, you may want to bring a spare bottle just in case the one you open happens to be corked: otherwise what will you do, send it back?
4. Take wines that can handle some jostling and won’t be traumatized by the trip. Some older wines are fragile and those with a lot of sediment could take several hours to settle down to a drinkable state again.
You can still enjoy a mature wine, just be sure that it can take a bit of jostling. As well, be extra careful with sparkling wine—spraying the other diners is considered bad form, even in a BYOB establishment.
5. Don’t take your best wines if the restaurant has poor glassware—it’s an injustice to a great wine to be suffocated in one of those golf-ball-sized glasses. If the place allows it, bring your own stemware.
6. Take several half bottles of wine so you can match different wines and dishes. Have compassion for the dishwasher though and don’t bring a ridiculous number, especially for large groups.
7. What if you’re not sure just what you’ll feel like eating when you get to the restaurant? Two of the most versatile and food-friendly wines to take with you are riesling and pinot noir: lots of flavor and great acidity to refresh the palate between bites.
8. Avoid taking bottles that are already on the restaurant’s list, unless you have a much older vintage that they don’t stock. And unless you’re an award-winning amateur, skip the homemade wine.
9. Most BYOB restaurants allow only table wine—beer, spirits and fortified wines are mostly discouraged or even illegal. Check to see what types of alcohol are permitted.
10. Consider buying an insulated wine case. It will protect the wine and keep it at the right temperature. Some even have compartments for glasses, which is helpful if the restaurant doesn’t have good stemware.
11. If the restaurant is casual, and if there are just two of you, put one bottle on the table; leave any others in your case under the table. Larger groups can set out enough bottles for everyone to start with a glass of wine.
12. Sometimes it’s possible to ask the server to store your wine in the kitchen—more formal restaurants may prefer this, finding your bag under the table a tad inelegant no matter how chic the design.
There are drawbacks to this. One is that your precious Pétrus could be accidentally substituted for plonk. And often small operations don’t have the space or proper conditions to store your wine.
13. In casual restaurants, topping up your wine is usually acceptable, but may be discouraged in more formal settings.
14. Unless the restaurant’s wine list is horrible, consider buying a glass to whet your appetite—if only as a goodwill gesture. A sparkling aperitif is ideal—and the wise diner wouldn’t try transporting such an unstable wine.
15. It’s also good form to offer a glass of your wine to the server. He or she can drink it, decline it or accept it to share with the chef.
16. When it comes time to tip, remember that your server has done just as much work opening and pouring your bottle as one from the restaurant’s list.
Give what you would have if you had bought the bottle there. You save money on your total bill, not by stiffing the servers, most of whom make 80 per cent of their income from tips.
17. Don’t abuse BYOB establishments by treating them as a cheap place to drink, ordering very little food and drinking lots of your own wine.
Bringing your own wine to a restaurant is a privilege, not a right; and BYOB restaurants won’t last unless we support them honorably.
Here are several excellent articles on BYOB:
BYOB in BC Restaurants – Mari Kane
BYOB in San Francisco – East Bay Express
BYOB Etiquette – Wall Street Journal Smart Money