THOUGH HIS RESTAURANT has a well-chosen wine list, Don Saunders, executive chef and owner of Fugaise, doesn’t mind if patrons bring their own wine to dinner. Saunders lists a few situations in which he, in fact, encourages the practice: “An older vintage wine that has been pulled from a cellar or a special occasion wine like a vintage champagne,” he says, “We love to cook for that.”
But Fugaise’s proximity to Surdyk’s (it’s right across the street) is a reminder that bringing wine into an upscale restaurant must remain a mutually respectful practice for it to continue. “Wine is a big part of the overall experience that a small chef-driven restaurant can offer,” Saunders says. “I would hate to see the trend of bringing your own bottle go in the wrong direction.”
Keep the following tips in mind to get the most out of your BYO bottle experience:
• Call ahead to make sure the restaurant allows outside bottles and that the wine you have in mind isn’t similar to what’s on the restaurant’s list. Bring-your-own should never be an act of frugality. Small, independent restaurants run on thin margins, and wines are an important way for them to make money. It’s considered gauche to bring in a wine that costs less than the cheapest bottle on the list.
• Most restaurants charge a corkage fee to cover the cost of serving the wine, generally between $15 and $30. Ask if the corkage fee is per bottle, or if there is a discount for subsequent bottles.
• When you arrive at the restaurant, hand the wine to the host or sommelier. If you would like to have your wine decanted upon arrival or served, if available, in top-quality stemware such as Riedel, do not hesitate to make a request. After all, if you’ve selected a special wine, you should give it its due.
• Expect to tip your server as if you had purchased the wine from the restaurant’s list. For example, a wine that would retail for $100 on the wine list would have theoretically made your bill at the end of the evening much higher than your $15 corking fee. The corkage fee compensates the restaurant for the profit it would have made had you purchased an inexpensive bottle from their list, and the tip covers the server’s efforts to open and pour the bottle.
Corking Fees for a Few BYO Bottle-Friendly Restaurants
À Rebours: $15
Fuji Ya: $15
Jax Café: $15.95
jP American Bistro: $15
King & I Thai: $10
Mancini’s Char House: $10
St. Paul Grill: $15