To BYOB or not to be? How much will it cost you?

July 23, 2010


Ruxbin's dining room. BYOB will cost you (photo by Steve Dolinsky)

I was entranced by Ruxbin last night. The room, the crowd...the whole vibe had me almost from the start. My friend told me it was BYOB, since they didn't have a liquor license, so I brought a refreshingly crisp syrah rosé from Carneros. It had one of those menus - like Nightwood or Naha - where everything sounded pretty good, so we ordered more than we could possibly eat - Korean-influenced empanadas, jicama and lardons with blue cheese, fried eggplant slices dressed with yogurt, cukes and dill; not to mention pitch-perfect entrees of crispy-skinned trout with bulgur and spot-on med-rare sliced hangar steak with pureed cauliflower. The chef - I was told - had worked for Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York (ah, that explains the cookbooks from Keller, Waters and Child all displayed high above the tables). Then, at the bottom of the menu I noticed a small notation: there would be a $5 per table corkage charge if you decided to bring your own wine.

Now $5 isn't really that much to ask, especially since they provided nice glasses (albeit stemless ones) and gave us a large bucket to chill our wine in. But I found it odd that if they didn't have a liquor license, why would they still charge people to bring their own wine? Isn't that one of the sweet things about finding BYOBs? If you find a great place, you get to save money on the alcohol and bring your best stuff? I wasn't really sure if I was off-base or just being a cheap curmudgeon, so I sent the question out on Twitter. Here were some of the instantaneous responses:

"if it's a good resto and it allows them to survive, I'm ok with the $5 corkage."

"too much. A couple $ okay if they are provided glasses, ice, ice bucket, use of fridge. Otherwise BYO shd be voluntary."

"how's the food, service and glassware? All worth a extra tax these days..." "technically, you need a liquor license to charge a corkage."

"If a restaurant doesn't allow to purchase wine then then shouldn't charge for bringing your own."

This last comment was the one that really resonated (it was from a local restaurateur, by the way). I didn't want to sound cheap and come off as being a dick for asking if this policy was, indeed, illegal, so I just sucked it up and paid the $5. But should there be limits to what restaurants can charge for corkage if they don't have a liquor license? Aren't corkage fees supposed to be for people who bring their own wines, despite the fact that a restaurant has a liquor license (and therefore pays tax and insurance and makes a large percentage of its money off of alcohol)? It wasn't as if I was taking away profits from the restaurant in this case by bringing my own wine. They didn't really leave me a choice.

I'm so curious to hear what you all have to say on this matter.