Opinion: The BYO Debate

Drinks: Wines
Other: Opinion, Service

An interesting debate has sprung up among friends in the business.  The question asked was, where do you stand on BYO and corkage?

There was a time when I would have been mortified by a customer requesting to bring their own wine to the restaurant. After all no-one would ever have the temerity to ask to bring their own food. And what about all the effort I put into creating the perfect winelist to match and enhance the food the chef produces?

However my stance has mellowed as I have aged and as I have realised what the main functions of a restaurant are. And that is to make a profit and to give the customer a great night of food, wine and service.

There does seem to be a stance taken in (for wont of a better phrase) upper class restaurants that BYO and Corkage is a negative thing. That somehow it cheapens the establishment, but in all the times I have allowed people to bring in their own wine, no-one has yet turned up with a bottle of Jacobs Creek or Bin 35 (Not that I would refuse the customer that option). Indeed these wines are usually ‘special wines’ or ‘celebratory wines’ and The sommelier’s tip is usually a glass of said wines. So thank you very much for the glass of 61 Margaux, or 76 Riesling Auslese from Prum, and various other wines I would find hard to source or list with any degree of cost effectiveness, provided by my generous customers over the years. Not only is it a personal bonus, but they actually pay me (and my boss) for the privilege in the form of corkage.

Corkage will vary from restaurant to restaurant (if they allow it), but my pricing is simple. If the customer phones ahead to ask to bring wine I charge them the price of our cheapest bottle of wine on my list, and if champagne then the same rules apply(i.e. the cheapest Champagne). It is pure G.P. and quite often may better or match cash margin for wines in the higher price brackets. In the end I was almost looking forward to people paying corkage. But here’s the thing; because people were generally in celebratory mood they would hit the winelist as well in most cases. The truth is, that if done properly it is a win win situation. The percentage of customers that request the service is so small that it is easily accommodated and it cements their perception of your restaurant as a place geared up to enjoy good food and wine and that you are customer focussed. 

About Author

Mark Deamer

A first job as a sommelier at Maggiore's restaurant paved the way for a glittering career for Mark Deamer, who has now been involved with the wine and spirits world for 20 years. From there he went on to become an Executive Sommelier at two award winning gastropub chains, and now he's venturing into the world of consultancy. The less eloquent might say he has a gob he finds hard to keep shut. He would say it's because he speaks with a passion that is heartfelt. Hopefully with some wit and interest too.

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