Restaurant Wining And Dining Is Back In The Bay Area. But Please Don't Byob

Posted: Apr 03, 2021

Lately, I’ve been returning to a ritual that I’d practiced only sparingly since the start of the pandemic: going out to restaurants.

It’s been wonderful. The weather has made outdoor dining so appealing. And things are starting to feel just a little bit safer, now that 45% of San Francisco residents 16 and older have received at least one vaccination dose, according to city data — though it’s important to remember that plenty of safety concerns remain, possibly even for people who have been vaccinated, as my colleague Janelle Bitker has reported.

But with this new era of in-person dining comes a new set of etiquette rules, especially when it comes to wine. And I have one specific plea to make to all of you who are going out to restaurants right now.

Please, please do not BYOB.

Unlike many states, California makes it very easy for people to bring their own wine to restaurants. As long as the place has a liquor license, customers can just pay a corkage fee and ask the restaurant staff to pop open a bottle they carried from home. It’s a generous thing for restaurants to allow, since many of them generate a significant portion of their income through alcohol, and letting customers bring their own wine means they may miss out on some lucrative sales.

Corkage fees help compensate for some of those lost sales, but they rarely make up the difference entirely. (A possible exception to that would be the French Laundry, where corkage is $150 per bottle.) That’s partly why I thought a Wall Street Journal article this week by Rob Arnott missed the point: He suggested that restaurants ought to be more lenient in their corkage policies, or at least more lenient with serious wine collectors, because, he says, “wine collectors are desirable customers” who will spend lots of money and bring their big-spender friends to the restaurant.

Putting aside the garish sense of “wine collector” entitlement, that’s a perspective just doesn’t do justice to restaurants’ economic reality. Corkage is a privilege for customers, not a right.

By Esther Mobley
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