Bringing your own bottle of wine to a restaurant is routine in Napa and Sonoma, but it's not so easy if you live in Ohio or Colorado or nearly half the other states in the union. The alcohol laws in this country are kooky and outdated, but you've probably figured that out by now.
Even where it's legal, restaurateurs have mixed feelings about BYOB, or as it's sometimes called "brown bagging" or corkage. Like it or not, the profit margin is thin in the restaurant business and wine sales help balance the books.
There's a time-honored etiquette to BYOB that newcomers should learn, but even veterans need the occasional refresher course on the subject. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
Know the laws where you live. Every state has its own rules. Some ban BYOB outright, while there are varying degrees of regulation in other states. Some states allow cities and counties to have the final say. Do your research.
Know the restaurant's rules. Even if BYOB is legal, some restaurants don't allow it. If it does, what's the corkage fee, or the cost it passes along to open and serve your wine? It varies widely, but $15 to $25 a bottle is the average.
Familiarize yourself with the wine list. If you're not a regular at the restaurant, make sure the wine you're bringing is not on the list. Call ahead or check the website. Wine lists now are often posted alongside the menu online. Never bring a wine the restaurant serves.
It shouldn't be about saving money. Don't bring just any wine or, god forbid, stop by a discount retailer along the way. It should be a special bottle, a rarity or something from the cellar.
Consider buying from the list, too. It's a polite gesture (although not essential) to order a glass of wine or an additional bottle from the list. A party of two could start with a glass of bubbly, for example, or a larger party might order a bottle of white to compliment the red they brought. Many restaurants waive the corkage fee of your BYOB if you buy a second bottle.
Share a taste. Offer a taste to the sommelier or server who opens your bottle and he or she will pour a small glass if interested. Also, you can simply leave a portion in the bottle for the staff to try later. Both are considered good form.
If you follow these suggestions, your next BYOB experience will be painless.
Do you frequently bring your own wine to restaurants, and if so, what etiquette do you follow? Have your experiences been mostly positive or negative? What changes would you like to see in the laws where you live?