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regarding the comment in the article that typical mark-ups on wine of two to three times is no different than the mark-up on food, it seems to me that diners are correct in perceiving a difference. recognizing that there is some expense involved in gathering, storing and serving the wine, i would assume that there is significantly more cost involved in preparing the food, i.e, you don't pour someone's dinner out of a bottle.

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regarding the comment in the article that typical mark-ups on wine of two to three times is no different than the mark-up on food, it seems to me that diners are correct in perceiving a difference. recognizing that there is some expense involved in gathering, storing and serving the wine, i would assume that there is significantly more cost involved in preparing the food, i.e, you don't pour someone's dinner out of a bottle.

some of the other the cost of a good wine program:

countless hours of staff time evaluating wines, conducting general wine research, before selecting a bottle for the list

preparing detailed tasting notes to be reviewed with every member of the service team

opening each new bottle for the entire service team to taste

good stemware, assume breakage of 10-15% per month

decanters, assume breakage of 20% per year

opportunity cost of all of the money tied up in inventory

giant shrimp, you are correct in assuming that it costs more to make the food than it does to pour the wine, just not as much as most people think.

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What is always missing from the discussion on restaurant wine markups are the markups already taken by the broker, importer, supplier and distributor. The broker buys a bottle of wine from the winery in Italy for $1, sells it to the importer for $2, the importer sells it to the supplier for $4, the supplier sells it to the distributor for $8, the distributor sells it to the restaurant for $12. Voila! $30 on the winelist.

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There is quite a discussion going on about this article over on vinocellar.com right now. (and of course, I'm right in the middle of it) I am always amazed by people who assume that it is their right to bring a bottle into a restaurant (assuming it is legal in the state). While I am a big user of corkage policies, I also tend to buy off the list fairly regularly.

I would agree with starfish. There is a substantial opportunity cost to maintaining a good cellar in a restaurant. As an aside, I am also amazed by the folks who are upset when a restaurant doesn't break out the Reidels for them when they bring in a bottle of wine. Assuming even a 10% breakage rate, it adds up fast. Of course, that is why some of my wine geek friends also bring stemware when the bring a bottle from the cellar.

It is true that I am more likely to go to a restaurant where I can bring in a bottle of wine and pay a corkage fee than I am to go to one that doesn't permit corkage (of course I mean restaurants in DC, not MD or VA) I still make my decision on where to eat based on the food, service, and price more than anything else. Of course, there are over 100 restaurants in DC where I can pay a corkage fee.

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There is also a difference on markup of 3 times, say, on a bottle of clos du bois chardonnay which requires no thought and effort to put on a list (the more churlish might suggest that all it takes is contempt for your customer) with putting on a chardonnay from the Alto Adige or from some obscure and ahrd to get Brugundy producer where the restaurant actually needs to expend effort to, first, find the wine and, second, sell the wine.

I never mind people bringing in the special bottle out of the cellar. Recently we have had a 90 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello, a 97 Fanti, some amazing spanish and Aussie stuff. Some of these tables bought off my list and some did not.

What urked me was the table which brought in a magnum of yellow tail cabernet. They paid full corkage. I wish I had had see their choice before we opened it as I would ahve told them I would have to double the corkage for them.

I am in a position where anyone paying full retail and our $20 corkage is basically paying what I would charge for the wine on the list or more. Yet some continue to bring in their supermarket purchased wines thinking they are getting a deal. Too bad. I would love to have them discover another facet of the wine world.

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some of the other the cost of a good wine program:

countless hours of staff time evaluating wines, conducting general wine research, before selecting a bottle for the list

preparing detailed tasting notes to be reviewed with every member of the service team

opening each new bottle for the entire service team to taste

good stemware, assume breakage of 10-15% per month

decanters, assume breakage of 20% per year

opportunity cost of all of the money tied up in inventory

Danny, other than breakage, nothing you list here is any different than at a retail store.

What is always missing from the discussion on restaurant wine markups are the markups already taken by the broker, importer, supplier and distributor. The broker buys a bottle of wine from the winery in Italy for $1, sells it to the importer for $2, the importer sells it to the supplier for $4, the supplier sells it to the distributor for $8, the distributor sells it to the restaurant for $12. Voila! $30 on the winelist.

Mark, you're saying that for a wine that costs $1 ex-cellar:

Broker gets $1 profit

Importer gets $2 profit

Supplier gets $4 profit

Distributor gets $4 profit

Restaurant gets $18 profit! With all due respect, what type of justification are you possibly trying to advance here?

Cheers,

Rocks.

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other than breakage, nothing you list here is any different than at a retail store.

Don, the cost structure of a restaurant is so different...

Suppose you are talking about a bottle sold off a floor stack at retail. The case foot print is about 1.5 square feet and the sales floor is about 50% of the retail area, so say 3 square feet. Most retail shops have larger sales floors than back rooms (I am not talking about the long term cellars at places like Macarthurs or Schneiders) but say 6 square feet is needed to sell a wine selection.

At a restaurant, if there is a party of 2, the table is probably 2.5' wide and with chairs the space needed is something like 8 feet. So to sell a single bottle per turn, you are talking about 20 square feet. And a restaurant is much more likely to have more back of the house space relative to front, so make that, say, 24 square feet. Now I may seat a table 2.5 times on a busy night and may sell it on average a bottle per turn per two customers. At the wine shop down the street, they may sell from that wine stack several times in a day. But my rel estate cost in the restaurant is way higher!

Many restaurants maintian their wine under temperature controlled conditions. Very few retailers do.

Labor... I bet few wine shops have the same labor percentage that the typical fine dining restaurant does.

Having said all that, I still think triple markup for a wine list of easily available wines, no older selections, simple glasswear is highway robbery. And having a simple multplier, where the most costly wines have the same markup as the least, by percentage, is also robbery.

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Danny, other than breakage, nothing you list here is any different than at a retail store.

Mark, you're saying that for a wine that costs $1 ex-cellar:

Broker gets $1 profit

Importer gets $2 profit

Supplier gets $4 profit

Distributor gets $4 profit

Restaurant gets $18 profit!  With all due respect, what type of justification are you possibly trying to advance here?

Cheers,

Rocks.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

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Profit pays the bills. Period The owner of Staglin Winery made his fortune in windsheild repair. He then opened a winery that produces some great wine. He makes little if any profit from his wine business. He does it out of ego/pride to produce a great product. Having said that, one goes into business with the idea to make money. Yes if you want to pay $1.00 for a hamberger one goes to McDonalds. If you want to pay $10.00 you go to Palena.. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. Eating out and drinking wine is a OPTION, not a neccessity. I have great contempt for restaurants that place common, boring, substandard wines on their list at ridiculous markups. I feel a responsiblity to myself and my guests to design a thoughtful, well planned, fairly priced list of wines and drinks to my guest. This is my proffession. This is my specialty. I have issues with guests that blurt out "chardonnay" , "Shiraz" or "heinekin" without first looking at the list or asking what I offer before spewing forth preconceived notions of their expected comfort/limited wine knowledge. I feel that a great balance can be acheived when a restaurants wine/drinks program reflects time and effort put forth by the creator. I love to educate people and open them up to new wines/brands etc. Most people are savvy on this website to know when they are getting reamed when buying wine. If you drink yellow tail shiraz/Beringer Chardonnay that you pay $7.00 for in the store, and are willing to pay 3 times that ina restaurant-you deserve evrything in life that happens to you. A good restaurant, in my opinion, has the responsibility to provide the best dining/drinking experience that it can. It's pricing should be based on the quality of its products and services. A guest that brings in his own bottle should first and formost make sure that it is not already on the wine list. He should also be willing to pay whatever the corkage is for bringing his own bottle of wine in. PERIOD. One does not bring a head of lettuce in and tell the chef to makr him a salad. One does not bring a steak in and give it to the chef and say Medium-rare. But the sad fact is that if people could do this they probably would, and still complain about the mark up, or price being charged. So the million dollar question remains-What is a fair Markup/corkage Fee? THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE, IT"S LIKE PORNOGRAPHY-YOU KNOW IT WHEN YOU SEE IT. The alternative is simple. Stay home and cook yourself and drink your wine, and the only person you can blame for spending what you did is YOURSELF.

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I have issues with guests that blurt out "chardonnay" , "Shiraz" or "heinekin" without first looking at the list or asking what I offer before spewing forth preconceived notions of their expected comfort/limited wine knowledge.

Not saying this about Dino, but something like pretty much everywhere I go, high-end and low, the bartender is on any new patron, asking what they'll have and not offering a list of offerings (vinous or otherwise). It creates an expectation in the patron that they shouldn't be wasting the house's time poring over a list. It's yet another aspect of what seems to be the million ways restaurants and patrons go out of their way to make things awkward for the other (a phenomenon I've pontificated about before).

Sorry for topic drift. If there's a way to break this out, maybe we should.

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Not saying this about Dino, but something like pretty much everywhere I go, high-end and low, the bartender is on any new patron, asking what they'll have and not offering a list of offerings (vinous or otherwise).  It creates an expectation in the patron that they shouldn't be wasting the house's time poring over a list.  It's yet another aspect of what seems to be the million ways restaurants and patrons go out of their way to make things awkward for the other (a phenomenon I've pontificated about before).

Sorry for topic drift.  If there's a way to break this out, maybe we should.

We alwyas privide the list... we WANT people to see the thought we put in it.

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It has been interesting to read this thread (and participate) but what I'd really like to see is what restaurant owners/staff think about corkage. While I have taken a bottle with me to Dino, I have also gone and bought a bottle from the list. Why wouldn't I, it is a superb list and the prices are excellent. And if I go someplace like Citronelle that doesn't permit corkage and has a great list, I know that when I went and don't complain. I just buy something from the list and enjoy my meal

However, how do waiters/sommeliers/owners feel about corkage? I have standards I use when I bring a bottle to a restaurant:

Never one that is on the list, after all I only bring what I think is special and if it is on the list why bother, and if it is that special, they must have a good list so I should be buying something from it anyway.

Offer a glass to the server/sommelier, if they are into wine and want to try it, I love to share, heck, I've offered a glass to the folks at the table next to me on occasion.

Always leave an excellent tip to make up for what they didn't get because I brought instead of bought wine.

Whenever possible buy something from the list (not always an option if it is just the wife and I since she seldom has more than a glass) or at least a glass or two. Whenever there are more than just two or three of us, we always try to buy something from the list too.

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Unfortunately in Virginia, its against state regulations to allow a customer to bring in a wine to an establishment with intent of consumming the said beverage. Giving as a gift is ok, but not to consumme.

We have always had somewhat low prices in our Restaurant due to the 'wine-shop' affiliation.

As for corkage, bottom line, customers in the door is what restaurants want and need to survive. If they bring in a wine from the outside, so be it, at least they are in and enjoyng themselves with food and atmosphere. They may even become great regulars, and even better the kind of regulars that give wine stewards a taste of said wine.

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Josh,

It is unfortunate that VA law absolutely prohibits corkage. I had hoped that when they finally saw the light (abet in light of the Federal Court showing it to them) concerning shipping of wine that they would amend the ABC law as it pertains to corkage. Personally I do not understand why any state would prohibit corkage. The distributors should be all for it, after all the wine has to be purchased somewhere so the distributor gets a cut. The restaurant can decide whether or not to allow it, and the state isn't losing anything in taxes since the tax on a bottle of wine is the same whether it is sold in a retail store or to a restaurant. I guess it is just another of those archaic holdovers from the prohibition days and you know how things are in the Old Dominion, "if it is old it must be good."

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Its mostly the sales tax issue because the state is concerned that allowing this practice and for obvious reasons, that restaurants won't charge customers for the wine brought into the facility, thus losingout on taxable revenue

Oddly enough, Virginia does allow customers to cork a bottle if not finished and take it with you, further adding to the debate of control in my opinion. MADD is fighting hard against the rule but realize that customers will be more pressed into 'slamming' the last drops instead of controlled drinking.

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Two thoughts:

1) Personally, if I go to a restaurant that I know has a well thought-out wine menu at reasonable prices and are in line with the price of the food, then I would rarely bring in wine. As it is, I've only been learning about wine for a couple years and know the grapes well and the regions fairly well, though know little about specific wines or even really the "typical" prices for wines in each region. Part of this is my inexperience and part of this is that I have a poor memory and thus don't remember things until they become "ingrained" so-to-speak. Therefore many times when trying to decide on where to go for a dinner I'll look up the wine list for a restaurant and look for reviews of wines that sound interesting. When, in the course of that, I see wines that are selling at the restaurant for $60-$80 and I see I can obtain the same bottle retail for $15-$20... well, it discourages me from wanting to eat at that restaurant. When I see reasonably priced wine (don't know exactly what my definition of that is... maybe around a 50% or $20-$30 markup, whichever is greater) it definitely makes me more interested in dining there. When I see wines from regions that I'm unfamiliar with it definitately makes me think the program had some thought put into it and makes me more interested in dining there (assuming that after a bit of research the wine seems respectable...)

2) I'm a fan of the Virginia re-cork law. I wish that VA had corkage; it's unfortunate that it doesn't. Allowing patrons to take home un-drunk wine means that I'm much more likely to purchase a bottle of wine with dinner instead of sticking with by-the-glass. This generates more income for the restaurant and the state (through high taxes collected) and means I have a wider selection to choose from if I just don't think that I and my GF would finish a bottle with dinner (it happens occasionally, but not often :-) ). As well, it means I shouldn't feel the need to go ahead and finish the bottle since it's been paid for... I can drink what I wish and take the rest home.

Honestly, I'd more than likely be perfectly happy with most of the "fine dining" restaurants not having corkage as most of these restaurants put time into their wine list... Of course part of becoming a "fine dining" restaurant is offering a wine list that complements the food, so I realize that is partially circular. However, unfortunately, alot of my meals aren't spent at restaurants such as these. Alot of my meals are at places like California Pizza Kitchen, Legal's, Bertucci's, etc. where the wine service isn't as well thought out and if you ask for advice on a wine a blank stare may be forthcoming (though quite often not at the particular places I mentioned above). However, it's the places of this caliber where the wine selection is often a mine field and I would appreciate a reasonable corkage fee so I could bring in a bottle from home to have with dinner. It would mean that my truly special wines would stay at home, but that I'd probably bring in a decent wine that I know would match the meal.

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I had always heard that DC law limited the amount of corkage that a restaurant could charge, but I had never been able to find the law. This morning I was reading Tom Sietsema's article in this Sunday's WP Magazine and he quoted someone from the DC AG's office as saying that Title 23, Chapter 7 of the DC municipal regulations regarding alcohol state that "the holder of an on-premises retailer's license shall be permitted to charge a corking fee not to exceed twenty five dollars ($25)."

The article went on to say that diners who find restaurants charging fees in excess of $25 can submit complaints to the chief investigator of enforcement, Johnnie Jackson, at johnnie.jackson@dc.gov.

Well, well, I know a couple of high end places that have quoted me corkage charges that exceed $25.

Now let us be clear, I have no problem with restaurants that decide they do not want to charge corkage, but if they do decide to do so, they should follow the law.

I'd also add that in my experience almost all restaurants in DC that permit corkage charge $25 or less (and most charge less.)

Now if we could only get Virginia and Montgomery County to permit corkage.

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I had always heard that DC law limited the amount of corkage that a restaurant could charge, but I had never been able to find the law. This morning I was reading Tom Sietsema's article in this Sunday's WP Magazine and he quoted someone from the DC AG's office as saying that Title 23, Chapter 7 of the DC municipal regulations regarding alcohol state that "the holder of an on-premises retailer's license shall be permitted to charge a corking fee not to exceed twenty five dollars ($25)."

The article went on to say that diners who find restaurants charging fees in excess of $25 can submit complaints to the chief investigator of enforcement, Johnnie Jackson, at johnnie.jackson@dc.gov.

Well, well, I know a couple of high end places that have quoted me corkage charges that exceed $25.

Now let us be clear, I have no problem with restaurants that decide they do not want to charge corkage, but if they do decide to do so, they should follow the law.

Be careful there sheriff. I have known about this law, and the $25 statutory limit, for years. My guess is that if the authorities came down on the high end restaurants that charge in excess of $25, those restaurants will not lower their corkage fee, but rather will prohibit you from bringing in wine at all - which is perfectly permissible.

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Be careful there sheriff. I have known about this law, and the $25 statutory limit, for years. My guess is that if the authorities came down on the high end restaurants that charge in excess of $25, those restaurants will not lower their corkage fee, but rather will prohibit you from bringing in wine at all - which is perfectly permissible.

I agree.

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its amazing that they even created a law, or statute or whatever that prohibits an establishment from charging what they see fit for corkage, due to the loss of potential revenue from the diner bringing in their own bottle. the establishment should be able to charge whatever they want. go to French Laundry, and expect to pay 75.00. now alot of times it does get waved if you are the generous patron that likes to share, or understands they should also order something from the wine list out of courtesy and curiosity :P

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It's always best to call the restaurant in advance to discuss this sort of thing. No sense in being unpleasantly surprised at the end of the meal, or having a scene. All highly preventable.

It's always nice to order something off of the list to complement what you have brought. If you're bringing reds, order whites off of the list.

One bit of advice that a restaurant owner once gave to me is, "Please just take care of your server." The owner in question wasn't so concerned with forgone profits off of one or two bottles of wine, but they WERE concerned that this would penalize the server, who stands to gain from the gratuity. I've never forgotten that, and I've gently reminded others of this.

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While I don't doubt that some high end places might just do away with corkage instead of bringing it down to what the law says they can charge, I think it would be a bad idea in this economy. After all, the type of folks who typically bring a bottle to a high end place can go elsewhere instead. Better to have someone pay the corkage fee than to not patronize your place at all. Let's face it. The kind of folks who can bring in a really good bottle of wine on a regular basis also spend a lot of money in restaurants. My comment was that if the law sets a limit, the restaurant that wants to offer corkage should follow the law. In DC you have to have an alcohol license in order to be permitted to offer corkage. So they also set a limit on what you can charge. While it is the restaurant's right to decide if they want of offer corkage, it is DC government's right to set a limit on it as a condition of you license.

I also find that the kind of places that have really high corkage fees also tend to have very high priced wine lists. I'd much rather go someplace where the wine list is reasonably priced. That said, I always make sure my server gets a tip that reflects some extra because I decided to take advantage of the corkage policy. I also tend to buy something off the list if I can (let's face it, I'm not normally going to buy a bottle and bring a bottle if it is just my wife and I) and I am just as likely to take advantage of a reasonably priced wine list as I am to take advantage of corkage.

I never try to bring something that is on a restaurant's list, I always call first to make sure corkage is allowed (unless it is someplace that I frequent often and know corkage is permitted and they know me), I don't bring cheap or crappy wine, etc. I like corkage because I like to be able to have food that goes well with what I have in my cellar and most of what I bring is not available on any list in town, regardless of how good the restaurant is, because it is made in very small quantities. So if I want to have it with a meal that complements it, I either have to go someplace that permits corkage, or cook for myself. Honestly, I'd prefer to have a chef make the meal for me than eat my own cooking, even though I'm a pretty good cook.

Most of you wine nuts on this board know which restaurants have no problem with people bringing wine. There are quite a few restaurants in DC that are always glad to have the wine group that I belong to come in and make an effort to get our business. We always spend well, tip well, and share our wine. And if we are treated well, we come back and tell our friends. I noted that MoCo doesn't permit corkage. While I do eat in MoCo restaurants (hey I live there) I seldom buy wine in them because the county also makes it difficult to have a good wine list at reasonable prices. (there are exceptions, but they are few and far between) I'd much rather do downtown and bring something really good with me than buy something mediocre at an inflated price. So it is my practice to patronize restaurants that are wine friendly. That means I look for places that permit corkage, have good (and reasonably priced) wine lists, and make an effort to match their lists to the food they serve.

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its amazing that they even created a law, or statute or whatever that prohibits an establishment from charging what they see fit for corkage, due to the loss of potential revenue from the diner bringing in their own bottle. the establishment should be able to charge whatever they want. go to French Laundry, and expect to pay 75.00. now alot of times it does get waved if you are the generous patron that likes to share, or understands they should also order something from the wine list out of courtesy and curiosity :P

Wine Guy,

As I noted, restaurants can chose whether or not to permit corkage, but in DC, you can only do so if you have an alcohol license. The DC government makes the limit on corkage part of the condition for a license. In Virginia, the government doesn't permit corkage, period (well with some very few exceptions relating to private functions). In Montgomery County MD, they not only don't permit corkage, restaurants can't sell any wine that isn't purchased through the county. The county is the only legal wholesaler and they jack up the prices about 35% over what other wholesalers charge. Sell wine that was purchased elsewhere, and you get fined or lose your permit to sell alcohol.

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Dinwiddie, I'm sorry but we disagree on this. I totally agree with the comments above that if the corkage fee is not high enough the restaurants will simply do away with it altogether. I believe that at a certain level a restaurant will use 12 year old balsamic, "vintage" olive oil, violane nano arborio, Reggiano and many, many other costly ingredients that they can cut corners on knowing that a significant percentage of the people who come in will not know the difference. (Some Alba truffle dinners have more shavings of truffle than others...) These restaurants also depend on a margin from the wine they sell. That margin is necessary to offset what they charge for food.

I've posted for years about outrageously expensive wine lists from The Inn at Little Washington to the French Laundry. I remember once paying $125 or 130 for Terrabianco Campaccio (sp?) at The Inn. A few months later I picked up a bottle of the same wine at Costco for around $25. As I type this I am drinking a bottle of 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve which I just bought from Cecile's for $29.95. Internet prices start around $27 but with shipping it's still close to what Cecile's charges. The WS gave this 95 points and said that it listed for less than I paid. Can we guess what a restaurant will charge for this in, say, five years? $125? $150? A good argument to buy it, cellar it and then bring it to dinner and pay corkage several years down the road. Later tonight we are going to open a bottle of Leonetti 2005 cab ($65 from the winery) and see how it compares. The Leonetti is already $150 to 200 in restaurants where you can find it.

I think these are exactly the kind of wines you are talking about. I would certainly like to be opening them if I am paying $125 to 150 prix fixe and am willing to pay a corkage charge of $25 rather than $150 for a bottle to compliment the food. Especially considering what restaurants like The Inn and the FL will otherwise charge.

The problem is that the restaurant's margin is really small on the $125 prix fixe. I believe they really do need to sell the bottle for a lot more than they are going to make from a $25 corkage charge. (Well, maybe not as much as The Inn or the FL but they feel they can get it and what choice do we have if we really want to eat there?) If they can't make it then they are going to cut corners with the components of what they serve-which is exactly what I fear. Regardless of how well Keller might be doing at The Inn I've resigned myself to the fact that I am going to have to pay his price to eat there. I do NOT want him to cut a corner to subsidize the bottle I bring. Nor O'Connell. Nor...

Like yourself I drink a lot of wine-I have over 1,000 bottles now and if I had my way I would bring my own bottle to EVERY dinner that I have. But I believe that I can't. Occasionally, yes. But most times I'll order off of the restaurant's wine list. I may "drink down" to "afford" the restaurant but I still feel that I should be buying wine from them.

Last: there are some wines I CANNOT IMAGINE DRINKING WITH A MEAL. Dal Forno Amarone. Masseto. 2000 Lafite. '85 Solaia. I would and have drank Dal Forno Valpolicella with a meal. I've drank Clos Apalta. But not the Amarone. Not the '05 which was WS #1. I want to taste these by themselves.

I'm sorry we disagree on this. As far as the wine dinners which your group organizes I am certain that the menus are tailored to allow the margin the restaurant needs. Or, the price of the dinner is going to reflect the absence of a margin on wine to suppliment food. I've organized dinners, too. For myself the absolute priority of those/these meals is the food. The wine is secondary. I'm not willing to give an inch to compromise a single ingredient or a single course. I believe a "wine dinner" has different priorities. The wine is AS important or MORE important-even the commaraderie-than the meal. For this reason the menu is designed to compliment the wine or to ALLOW a significant number of bottles for corkage.

But if I am going to go with a group to, say, CityZen, Citronelle, Komi or a number of others I want the absolute best dinner that they can serve. That is my priority. I'll "drink down" or limit corkage if I need to in order to accomplish this.

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In Virginia, the government doesn't permit corkage, period (well with some very few exceptions relating to private functions).

They don't? Because I know I've definitely paid corkage fees to bring my own wine when I lived in Charlottesville.

Did it change in the past 4 years?

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Dinwiddie, I'm sorry but we disagree on this. I totally agree with the comments above that if the corkage fee is not high enough the restaurants will simply do away with it altogether. I believe that at a certain level a restaurant will use 12 year old balsamic, "vintage" olive oil, violane nano arborio, Reggiano and many, many other costly ingredients that they can cut corners on knowing that a significant percentage of the people who come in will not know the difference. (Some Alba truffle dinners have more shavings of truffle than others...) These restaurants also depend on a margin from the wine they sell. That margin is necessary to offset what they charge for food.

I've posted for years about outrageously expensive wine lists from The Inn at Little Washington to the French Laundry. I remember once paying $125 or 130 for Terrabianco Campaccio (sp?) at The Inn. A few months later I picked up a bottle of the same wine at Costco for around $25. As I type this I am drinking a bottle of 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve which I just bought from Cecile's for $29.95. Internet prices start around $27 but with shipping it's still close to what Cecile's charges. The WS gave this 95 points and said that it listed for less than I paid. Can we guess what a restaurant will charge for this in, say, five years? $125? $150? A good argument to buy it, cellar it and then bring it to dinner and pay corkage several years down the road. Later tonight we are going to open a bottle of Leonetti 2005 cab ($65 from the winery) and see how it compares. The Leonetti is already $150 to 200 in restaurants where you can find it.

I think these are exactly the kind of wines you are talking about. I would certainly like to be opening them if I am paying $125 to 150 prix fixe and am willing to pay a corkage charge of $25 rather than $150 for a bottle to compliment the food. Especially considering what restaurants like The Inn and the FL will otherwise charge.

The problem is that the restaurant's margin is really small on the $125 prix fixe. I believe they really do need to sell the bottle for a lot more than they are going to make from a $25 corkage charge. (Well, maybe not as much as The Inn or the FL but they feel they can get it and what choice do we have if we really want to eat there?) If they can't make it then they are going to cut corners with the components of what they serve-which is exactly what I fear. Regardless of how well Keller might be doing at The Inn I've resigned myself to the fact that I am going to have to pay his price to eat there. I do NOT want him to cut a corner to subsidize the bottle I bring. Nor O'Connell. Nor...

Like yourself I drink a lot of wine-I have over 1,000 bottles now and if I had my way I would bring my own bottle to EVERY dinner that I have. But I believe that I can't. Occasionally, yes. But most times I'll order off of the restaurant's wine list. I may "drink down" to "afford" the restaurant but I still feel that I should be buying wine from them.

Last: there are some wines I CANNOT IMAGINE DRINKING WITH A MEAL. Dal Forno Amarone. Masseto. 2000 Lafite. '85 Solaia. I would and have drank Dal Forno Valpolicella with a meal. I've drank Clos Apalta. But not the Amarone. Not the '05 which was WS #1. I want to taste these by themselves.

I'm sorry we disagree on this. As far as the wine dinners which your group organizes I am certain that the menus are tailored to allow the margin the restaurant needs. Or, the price of the dinner is going to reflect the absence of a margin on wine to suppliment food. I've organized dinners, too. For myself the absolute priority of those/these meals is the food. The wine is secondary. I'm not willing to give an inch to compromise a single ingredient or a single course. I believe a "wine dinner" has different priorities. The wine is AS important or MORE important-even the commaraderie-than the meal. For this reason the menu is designed to compliment the wine or to ALLOW a significant number of bottles for corkage.

But if I am going to go with a group to, say, CityZen, Citronelle, Komi or a number of others I want the absolute best dinner that they can serve. That is my priority. I'll "drink down" or limit corkage if I need to in order to accomplish this.

Joe,

You make a reasonable argument. I agree, I don't go to Komi, Citronelle, or CityZen for any reason other than to have a great meal. But I don't go to those restaurants on a regular basis. My point however is that it is better to charge a reasonable corkage fee, and have someone come in to dine, than to overprice your list and charge a very high corkage fee, and have them go somewhere else. Empty tables cost money, and they make as much from a diner who brings a bottle and buys a meal as they do from the diner who comes in and looks at the list and decides to forgo wine altogether because of the cost.

On the other hand, many restaurants that I do go to regularly have reasonable lists and reasonable corkage fees. Like I said, I often (in fact more often than I take advantage of corkage) buy from the list, but I do like to take a bottle with me when I go if I can. Of course, I'm normally bringing something like a Kosta Browne, Littorai, Match, or Karl Lawrence to these. Wines that I can't normally find on a list, even though I could afford to pay for them if they were.

I am lucky enough to know several of the chefs at the restaurants that we frequent for our wine dinners. They have told me that they try to make sure we really enjoy our meal so that we will return on our own later, and tell our friends that we did so and recommend the restaurant to them. They want to showcase their talents and more often than not appreciate good wine and come out to share what we bring. It is only good business to have people who enjoy good wine, and thus are more likely to be 1) folks who appreciate good food, and 2) able to afford to eat out in "expensive" places, be impressed and want to return. And while we negotiate a price, it is not normally cheap, we pay for a good meal and usually get it.

Last point, I don't mind paying a reasonable corkage fee, and do so willingly, however, I will forgo wine altogether if the list is so oiver priced as to be obscene, and the corkage fee is $90 (like it is at Restaurant Daniel.) Yes, I've paid way too much for wine at TIALW, but the meal deserved a good wine. And yes, there are wines I'd much prefer to drink by themselves, but for the most part, a good bottle of wine is better with a good meal, good company, and the time to appreciate it properly.

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They don't? Because I know I've definitely paid corkage fees to bring my own wine when I lived in Charlottesville.

Did it change in the past 4 years?

Corkage is technically illegal in VA. The same in MoCo, but that doesn't mean that I don't know places where they will let me bring in my bottle, but I'm not telling the state about those places. I'm not sure how [shhhhh...] does it, as it is well known that they permit corkage. It may be something that is grandfathered in.

Edited by DonRocks
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Corkage is technically illegal in VA. The same in MoCo, but that doesn't mean that I don't know places where they will let me bring in my bottle, but I'm not telling the state about those places. I'm not sure how [shhhhh...] does it, as it is well known that they permit corkage. It may be something that is grandfathered in.

Actually [shhhh....] is one of Robert Parker's favorite places.

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It's always best to call the restaurant in advance to discuss this sort of thing. No sense in being unpleasantly surprised at the end of the meal, or having a scene. All highly preventable.

It's always nice to order something off of the list to complement what you have brought. If you're bringing reds, order whites off of the list.

One bit of advice that a restaurant owner once gave to me is, "Please just take care of your server." The owner in question wasn't so concerned with forgone profits off of one or two bottles of wine, but they WERE concerned that this would penalize the server, who stands to gain from the gratuity. I've never forgotten that, and I've gently reminded others of this.

Yep, I would add to make sure you are not bringing wine that's on the venue's list. Also, in general, no everyday quaffers. Of course, there are restaurants such as Dino where corkage is allowed and encouraged but the list is so good and fairly priced that BYOB, in my case, rarely occurs. I do think that if the law in DC is no more than $25pb, it should be obeyed-it is the law after all. That said, I think a 2 bottle limit per table is reasonable unless special arrangements are made. Above all, as Joe says, tip well!!! Send a glass of the best wine to the chef.

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such as Dino where corkage is allowed and encouraged ..... Send a glass of the best wine to the chef.
The other night we had a table bring a magnum of Yellowtail merlot and then ask for a wine doggie bag. I wanted to quote them the line from the Sweeney Todd song A Little Priest:
Order something to follow, as no one should have to swallow it twice....

As to the last sentiment, especially if it's a pre 1983 Barolo! :P

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Yep, I would add to make sure you are not bringing wine that's on the venue's list. Also, in general, no everyday quaffers. Of course, there are restaurants such as Dino where corkage is allowed and encouraged but the list is so good and fairly priced that BYOB, in my case, rarely occurs. I do think that if the law in DC is no more than $25pb, it should be obeyed-it is the law after all. That said, I think a 2 bottle limit per table is reasonable unless special arrangements are made. Above all, as Joe says, tip well!!! Send a glass of the best wine to the chef.

Dino is very wine friendly. I've often taken a bottle (or 4) there, and we have held several wine dinners there. However, since he has such a great, and well priced list, I don't think I've ever been there when I didn't also buy a bottle from the list, usually one that Dean recommended. In my opinion, it is one of the very best restaurants in the country to go to if you are "into" wine.

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The corkage fee at Minibar is $40. http://cafeatlantico.com/miniBar/FAQ.htm I believe this is fair. At this price point I have no problem bringing my own bottle-and am tentatively considering doing this. We go early in February. Real question here is what bottle would someone bring to Minibar? Especially considering that Cafe Atlantico has an outstanding wine list...

"Café Atlántico has an award winning wine list that is sure to accommodate all tastes and wallets. Our sommelier Jill Zimorski has specifically created an additional minibar wine list designed to partner with the minibar dining experience. If, however, you do have a special bottle of wine you want to enjoy with your minibar experience and prefer to bring your own, you are welcome to do so. Please note we will assess a corkage fee of $40 at minibar."

...honestly, when my wife and I went to Sant Celoni seven years ago and bought a bottle nearby this would be the time to have it.

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The other night we had a table bring a magnum of Yellowtail merlot and then ask for a wine doggie bag. I wanted to quote them the line from the Sweeney Todd song A Little Priest:

As to the last sentiment, especially if it's a pre 1983 Barolo! :o

this is why places charge so much for corkage, even if it is 10.00-90.00, it helps weed out the dimwitted people that thing they are pulling one over on you buy bringing in their own wine. for example, Sterling Vineyards Cabernet is what like 15-20.00, then you have to add the average 25.00 corkage on top of that , so you are already paying more for a bottle of swill when you could have saved your 45.00 and gotten a great bottle in its place at the restaurant of choice... go figure. I use that reference because I had to go buy 3 bottles of said wine once for a guest, bc we did not carry it, then we marked it up on the list for the guest 3 more times, so ended up at 60.00 by the end of the day. : ) all in the good spirit of drinking the same wine, everyday of the week... NOT! :D I think the biggest thing that would help eliviate the corkage dislikes, or surprises in a lot of cases on the check at the end of the night is fair wine list pricing. the days of 300% mark ups need to come to an end. a 2.0 to 2.6 is what I employ out here in LV, where you will find one of the most high priced lists, and wines at purchase from distributors in the country. go figure, call us "care to be fair" :P

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The party of 4 in question spent $160 or so on a night when the table would not have changed my guest count at the end of the evening. Let them drink Yellowtail. I usually pour a free taste of our cheapest wine on the list to folk who bring in commercial beverage alcohol to entice them for a return trip sans whatever cute animal their local grocery store has stacked to the roof. In this case, I did not do a spit take ummm.... see the Yellowtail till they had finished.

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The party of 4 in question spent $160 or so on a night when the table would not have changed my guest count at the end of the evening. Let them drink Yellowtail. I usually pour a free taste of our cheapest wine on the list to folk who bring in commercial beverage alcohol to entice them for a return trip sans whatever cute animal their local grocery store has stacked to the roof. In this case, I did not do a spit take ummm.... see the Yellowtail till they had finished.

Dean: off topic, where do you go to buy better wine in Venice? I've tried a number of places all over the area but is there one place that has a better stock and more competitive pricing than others? Generally, I've found MUCH better pricing in Soave, Vicenza, Padua than I've found in Venice. Thanks.

Joe

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Dean: off topic, where do you go to buy better wine in Venice? I've tried a number of places all over the area but is there one place that has a better stock and more competitive pricing than others? Generally, I've found MUCH better pricing in Soave, Vicenza, Padua than I've found in Venice. Thanks.

Joe

Bar La Marca, La Cantina, Banco Giro and Vitus Venezia have the best pricing. Even though thesespots are on premise, they will sell wine to go at great pricing for Venezia.

I too prefer to buy outside of La Serinissima, my favorite spot being a nameless wine shop in Bardolino Old Town on the water side. Great Amarone & Valpolicella selection.

But in all, pricing in Italy varies from ridiculously great to ridiculously stupid. Having a good sense of the US current market is key. I mean I bought 2 bottles of Brunello 97 from Enotecca Can Grande in Verona for €20 or 25 in 1003 (at $1.10 to the euro). I also got a bottle of Dal Forno 97 Valpolicella at €205 on the same trip at Enotecca di Valpolicella/ I think I paid €30 for 1990 Vaio Amaron Serego Aligheri Amarone in Bardolino. All of those prices were a fraction of wha they would have been here.

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Bar La Marca, La Cantina, Banco Giro and Vitus Venezia have the best pricing. Even though thesespots are on premise, they will sell wine to go at great pricing for Venezia.

I too prefer to buy outside of La Serinissima, my favorite spot being a nameless wine shop in Bardolino Old Town on the water side. Great Amarone & Valpolicella selection.

But in all, pricing in Italy varies from ridiculously great to ridiculously stupid. Having a good sense of the US current market is key. I mean I bought 2 bottles of Brunello 97 from Enotecca Can Grande in Verona for €20 or 25 in 1003 (at $1.10 to the euro). I also got a bottle of Dal Forno 97 Valpolicella at €205 on the same trip at Enotecca di Valpolicella/ I think I paid €30 for 1990 Vaio Amaron Serego Aligheri Amarone in Bardolino. All of those prices were a fraction of wha they would have been here.

Thanks, Dean.

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It's always best to call the restaurant in advance to discuss this sort of thing. No sense in being unpleasantly surprised at the end of the meal, or having a scene. All highly preventable.

It's always nice to order something off of the list to complement what you have brought. If you're bringing reds, order whites off of the list.

One bit of advice that a restaurant owner once gave to me is, "Please just take care of your server." The owner in question wasn't so concerned with forgone profits off of one or two bottles of wine, but they WERE concerned that this would penalize the server, who stands to gain from the gratuity. I've never forgotten that, and I've gently reminded others of this.

All excellent advice on this matter! I also offer a taste (half glass pour) of my wine to the Sommelier.

Regarding the corkage fee, from a practical standpoint, an establishment should only charge the margin they make on their house bottle of wine, or the cheapest bottle on their wine list. That is essentially what the restaurant loses when someone brings in their own bottle. In DC, if that lost margin is greater than $25, then the restaurant just should not bother permitting corkage in the first place.

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All excellent advice on this matter! I also offer a taste (half glass pour) of my wine to the Sommelier.

Regarding the corkage fee, from a practical standpoint, an establishment should only charge the margin they make on their house bottle of wine, or the cheapest bottle on their wine list. That is essentially what the restaurant loses when someone brings in their own bottle. In DC, if that lost margin is greater than $25, then the restaurant just should not bother permitting corkage in the first place.

Actually, by your logic, they should charge the weighted average of the markups of all the bottles sold, since that's a much closer estimate of the revenue lost over time, possible further weighted by day of the week, on the assumption that average price per bottle sold increases at a predictable rate from Monday to Saturday.

Indeed, they might even multiply that figure by some fraction>1, given the propensity of bottle-bringers to be higher-end consumers and thus the loss per bottle being somewhat greater when corkage fees are substituted for restaurant markups. Perhaps there's a correlation as well between entree price or total food expenditures and wine expenditures that might be explored, allowing fees to calculated by table at the end of each meal, although this would give the savvy customer a chance to game the system by ordering cheaper food in order to get the lower corkage and may also have the unintended consequences of encouraging the kind of people who tip poorly as well and probably should be introduced only secretly, if at all.

Of course, then you'd have to correct for the propensity of a person bringing a bottle of Bordeaux to stay home or go elsewhere as the corkage charge rises or falls, and correct again for the probability that their seat would have been filled by another, non-corkage customer anyway, to determine if low fees should prove to be a net revenue -- and, given high hospitality industry fixed costs -- even a net profit enhancer or merely a loss-leader expected to pay off over time.

If only there was an engineer with an interest in wine on this board to help us create an apt and accurate statistical model.

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Actually, by your logic, they should charge the weighted average of the markups of all the bottles sold, since that's a much closer estimate of the revenue lost over time, possible further weighted by day of the week, on the assumption that average price per bottle sold increases at a predictable rate from Monday to Saturday.

Indeed, they might even multiply that figure by some fraction>1, given the propensity of bottle-bringers to be higher-end consumers and thus the loss per bottle being somewhat greater when corkage fees are substituted for restaurant markups. Perhaps there's a correlation as well between entree price or total food expenditures and wine expenditures that might be explored, allowing fees to calculated by table at the end of each meal, although this would give the savvy customer a chance to game the system by ordering cheaper food in order to get the lower corkage and may also have the unintended consequences of encouraging the kind of people who tip poorly as well and probably should be introduced only secretly, if at all.

Of course, then you'd have to correct for the propensity of a person bringing a bottle of Bordeaux to stay home or go elsewhere as the corkage charge rises or falls, and correct again for the probability that their seat would have been filled by another, non-corkage customer anyway, to determine if low fees should prove to be a net revenue -- and, given high hospitality industry fixed costs -- even a net profit enhancer or merely a loss-leader expected to pay off over time.

If only there was an engineer with an interest in wine on this board to help us create an apt and accurate statistical model.

It sounds like you are proposing the development of a corkage model. That is kind of like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but ok.

Actually, by your logic, they should charge the weighted average of the markups of all the bottles sold, since that's a much closer estimate of the revenue lost over time, possible further weighted by day of the week, on the assumption that average price per bottle sold increases at a predictable rate from Monday to Saturday.

We should first figure out how we would apply weights to the markups of bottles sold. Do you propose applying different weights to the margins of the most frequently sold bottles, most expensive bottles, bottles with the highest margins, lowest margins and so on? Keep in mind that restaurants normally experience a decline in margin percentage as the price (to them) of a bottle of wine increases. Regarding further weighting by day of the week, how would you propose reconciling weighting the difference between average price/bottle and, would you take into account the average number of bottles sold from Monday to Saturday?

Indeed, they might even multiply that figure by some fraction>1, given the propensity of bottle-bringers to be higher-end consumers and thus the loss per bottle being somewhat greater when corkage fees are substituted for restaurant markups.

Margin is margin. Again, most fine restaurants experience a drop (sometimes significant, sometimes less so) in margin percentage as consumers move up the price curve on a restaurants wine list. If your model focused on high-end consumers under the belief that they will buy expensive wines, then the corkage would have to be based on a lower margin than the margin gained on lower priced wine.

Perhaps there's a correlation as well between entree price or total food expenditures and wine expenditures that might be explored, allowing fees to calculated by table at the end of each meal, although this would give the savvy customer a chance to game the system by ordering cheaper food in order to get the lower corkage and may also have the unintended consequences of encouraging the kind of people who tip poorly as well and probably should be introduced only secretly, if at all.

I would assume that most people on this board are not trying to game any systems and also typically order the food on the menu that suits them instead of ALWAYS ordering the chicken. But since you raised the question, do you think the correlation is an inverse correlation, and also would it be linear? Do you assume that those consumers that do exercise corkage also spend less on their meal because they are cheap overall, or would you assume that they exercise corkage so they can spend more on their meal? If you are really looking for model accuracy, perhaps we could introduce a separate model that could help predict total expenditures which could then be used as a factor in the optimal corkage algorithm. Your last point on tipping is also very interesting. I think anyone would be hard pressed to prove a positive relationship exists between consumers who exercise corkage and consumers who are cheap when it comes to the gratuity, especially as you originally asserted that the bottle-bringers are usually higher-end consumers.

Of course, then you'd have to correct for the propensity of a person bringing a bottle of Bordeaux to stay home or go elsewhere as the corkage charge rises or falls, and correct again for the probability that their seat would have been filled by another, non-corkage customer anyway, to determine if low fees should prove to be a net revenue -- and, given high hospitality industry fixed costs -- even a net profit enhancer or merely a loss-leader expected to pay off over time.

Here we risk introducing noise into our model as I dont really think it makes any difference since the number of consumers exercising corkage in restaurants is a small percentage of total diners. I think the better question is how much of an incentive is it for a restaurant to offer a low, law-abiding corkage fee in order to realize an expected food and beverage margin.

If only there was an engineer with an interest in wine on this board to help us create an apt and accurate statistical model.

There are too many variables and spurious assumptions to get into any sort of meaningful modeling. Rules of thumb are useful and generally simpler when they focus on the things that matter. It is not necessary to boil the ocean when the practical issue is that restaurants cant legally charge a corkage in excess of $25 in DC. And in this case, what matters for a business is margin.

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I thought I'd update my observations. In this market, I'm finding that more and more restaurants are lowering their corkage fees, or doing away with them all together for certain nights, in order to attract more customers. I recently dined at a restaurant that I'd never been to before for Restaurant Week. When I called and asked about corkage, I was told that they had lowered the corkage fee from $20 to $10 for RW. I then asked whether there was a limit to the number of bottles as we were a party of 8, and I had planned to bring 4 bottles with me. I was then offered a deal. Bring as many bottles as I wanted, and they would charge me $20 total corkage. We had a wonderful time and a great meal. Appropriate glasses were provided for each bottle of wine - we opened 4 bottles (a 2004 Peay Chard., a 2006 Radio-Coteau Savoy PN, a 2005 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast PN, and a 2001 Karl Lawrence Napa Cab, along with a 375 of a 1998 Thirty Bench icewine) We left about 3 ounces of wine in each bottle for the staff to finish. (The server and chef were offered a glass during the meal but felt it was probably not a good idea to drink until the dinner rush was over.) And BTW, we left a VERY healthy tip for the server.

As a result, several of the folks at dinner that evening have returned in the following month.

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Weygandt Wines as well as Wide World of Wines are both maintaining corkage lists now on their websites. I can't vouch for the accuracy or currency of either (it's a heroic effort, arguably a 20-hour-a-week job to maintain lists such as this correctly), but before just now, I had no idea Weygandt had such a list (with prices). Kudos to both.

This thread is nice, but these two should be your resources of first resort for now. Needless to say, call the restaurants first to confirm.

Cheers,

Rocks

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