Friday, August 05, 2005 | What exactly is a corkage fee? Why do restaurants charge corkage fees? Why do people want to bring their own wine to restaurants? These are questions that plague restaurants on a daily basis. A corkage fee is a dollar amount charged by a restaurant to a customer who brings in his own wine to drink while dining at the restaurant. It is called a corkage fee because a restaurant staff member must uncork and serve each bottle of wine that is served in the restaurant whether it is purchased in the restaurant or brought in from a private source.
Restaurants charge corkage fees because they want to discourage customers from bringing in their own wine. Restaurants make most of their profits on bar sales and would much prefer to have guests purchasing wine from their wine lists.
People bring wine to restaurants for a variety of reasons. Some have saved wines which commemorate special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, which are often celebrated in restaurants. Some simply like to show off their cellars to friends. Some like the food at particular restaurants but don’t much care for the wine selection. And some like sharing a particular bottle with a sommelier at a restaurant who has given consistently good service and wine advice.
I can only remember bringing wine to a restaurant once in San Diego. It was 20 years ago and the restaurant was Gustaf Anders in La Jolla. This was a restaurant that prided itself on its excellent food and wine, but was also interested in wines not on their list. What I remember most about the experience was the waiter joining us to taste whatever the bottle was and the fascinating wine discussion that followed. There was no corkage fee. I doubt that would happen here today mainly because waiters are not allowed to sample wine while working and would be terminated for such an offense.
I did a bunch of calling last week to find out just what local restaurants are charging for corkage fees these days. The average corkage fee is $20 for wines not on the restaurant’s list. The restaurants are listed in no particular order, but in the order of my phone calls:
Oceanaire, $20, any wine.
Asia-Vous, $20, any wine.
Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, $15, any wine not on their list.
Chive, $15, any wine.
Laurel, $20, any wine.
George’s at the Cove, $25, any wine not on their list; 50 percent of list price for any wine on their list.
Sante, $15, any wine.
Marine Room, $20, any wine not on their list.
Star of the Sea, $25, any wine not on their list; cannot bring in a wine on their list.
Mille Fleurs, $30, any wine not on their list; 50 percent of list price for any wine on their list.
Pamplemousse, $25, any wine; double corkage for magnums.
Roppongi, $20, any wine.
Sbicca, $12, any wine except on Wednesdays when corkage is free for multiple bottles.
El Bizcocho, $25, any wine.
The Veranda at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, $15, any wine.
Nine-Ten, $20 or 50 percent of list price for any wine on their list.
Terra, $18, any bottle not on their list; corkage is waived if one bottle from their list is purchased.
Pamela J. Wischkaemper is a local food consultant and is the founder of San Diego Gastronomically Correct, a group that goes on the road twice a year to promote the San Diego restaurant industry. The only criterion for membership is having cooked at the James Beard House in New York. Nineteen chefs in San Diego are members.