Saturday, April 22, 2006


At last there's help! Now there's a website that invites users to log information on the site about what their favorite restaurants are charging for corkage fees. It's light on data right now, but over time this could be a great resource.

Why does this get me so excited? I've written before about the relatively common restaurant practice of charging exorbitant corkage fees when patrons bring their own bottles of wine. We all know that corkage fees are meant to discourage customers from bringing wine at all because restaurants make so much on the mark-up of alcoholic beverages.

In fact, I've heard restaurateurs argue they need these mark-ups because of the high overhead costs of running restaurants these days. I don't deny that they face expense challenges -- it's a tough business. But by forcing wine to shoulder a disproportionate share of the cost burden, restaurants have helped slow the development of a wine culture here in the U.S. Of course, there are many reasons why an awful lot of Americans don't have wine with meals. But high wine mark-ups don't help.

I just think the process should be more honest. If restaurants don't want patrons bringing their own wine, then let them prohibit the practice -- and see how they fare vs. the competition. But if patrons are allowed to bring their own bottles, corkage fees should be no more than $10 a bottle, in my opinion. Otherwise, they should call it an overhead tax or even a sin tax. Same net effect.

Of course, the practice of allowing patrons to bring their own bottles is really meant to accommodate special bottles and special occasions. So patrons have a responsibility not to bring cheap wines and wines already on the wine list. But if patrons play by the rules, they should not be penalized financially.

At last there's a website that can help.


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