BYOB Restaurants: Etiquette and Tips
This is the Etiquette and Tips post in our series: 'Favorite BYOB Restaurants in Cities Around the U.S.'.
BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) restaurants are an excellent way to dine out while avoiding the high markups found in restaurants that sell wine. If you’re intimidated or confused by sommeliers and wine lists, BYOBs will put your mind at ease. Best of all, these restaurants allow you to drink exactly what you want while paying more attention to your fellow diners and delicious meal. Read on to learn about some helpful considerations before your next BYOB visit.
Which Restaurants Have a BYOB Policy?
Depending on where you live, restaurants may choose to adopt a BYOB policy in lieu of, or in addition to, selling wine themselves. The easiest way to find out is to call the restaurant and ask or check their website.
If the restaurant supports BYOB, then the only thing you need to decide is which wine(s) to bring. Be aware, however, that it is disrespectful to bring a bottle that the restaurant also sells. If BYOB is not an option, it may be because the restaurant offers wine for sale or that it’s not permitted by law.
What’s a Corkage Fee?
Some BYOB restaurants may require corkage fees, which are an extra charge for the privilege of bringing your wine. Corkage fees vary from restaurant to restaurant - some are a flat fee, while others charge by the bottle. When applicable, this fee may be higher for large-format bottles, as well. If a restaurant has their own wine program but is willing to charge a corkage fee for BYOB, it’s reasonable to expect the same level of service for your bottle as you would receive when ordering one off of the wine list. If you are fortunate enough to find a good BYOB without a corkage fee, anticipate that the bottle service will be informal. Calling ahead to ask about a restaurant’s corkage policy is always wise, and will give you the opportunity to make specific requests in advance.
Bottle Service Tips
Casual BYOB restaurants will usually open the bottle and provide you with drinking glasses. They may pour the wine for you, or let you pour for yourself. If you require anything extra, such as a decanter, an osso, or particular stemware, contact the restaurant before your visit to find out if they can accommodate you.
Give serious consideration to the type of restaurant if you have special requests. For example, your corner pizza shop may have the best slice in town, but they probably don’t have premium-quality crystal wine glasses laying around in the back. If you need a bucket with ice for pre-chilled white, rosé, or sparkling wines, it’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure one is available. When dining in a more formal setting with a wine program, the standard of service should be the same, whether you bring your wine or purchase it from the restaurant.
Exceptions to Restaurants Without BYOB
While it’s important to comply with the individual policies of restaurants, there are extremely rare circumstances when those establishments that normally don’t allow BYOB may bend the rules. For instance, you may want to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary with a scarce, well-preserved bottle of first growth Bordeaux from the vintage of your marriage. If your favorite formal restaurant has an extensive wine program and doesn’t permit BYOB, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Contact the restaurant beforehand and explain the situation. They may make an exception for such a special occasion, but be prepared to pay a substantial corkage fee in return for this concession. Also, keep in mind that the wine you bring should not be available for purchase from the restaurant or any area retailer.
Whenever possible, check out the menu of a BYOB restaurant in advance to help you decide which wine(s) to bring. Ask the opinions of trusted wine retailers if you’re unsure of which wines to choose. At the end of the meal, if you have thoroughly enjoyed yourself and happen to have excess wine from a particularly fine bottle, the chef might appreciate a taste (though you are under no obligation to do this). Certain states and municipalities may allow you to take the remaining wine home, as well, but be sure to research the law thoroughly first.
Now that you’ve got the lowdown on BYOBs, you’ll be wining and dining like a pro in no time at all!