No Corkage Fee Restaurants--Dozen Best.

Tom Fitzmorris July 09, 2012 15:48

Creme De La Creme

With No Corkage Fee
Dozen Best Places To BYOB

Go To The List

Like a Champagne cork--which can never be replaced once it's removed from the bottle--the practice of bringing one's own wine to a restaurant has become acceptable among most restaurateurs.

Which is not to say that they like the idea.

The practice began among oenophiles. They has many bottles of extraordinary wines, many of which would never be seen on restaurant wine lists. They wanted to drink their finest stock with food better than they could (or wanted to) cook at home. Since these wine buffs were usually good restaurant customers, the restaurateurs would allow them to bring in their special bottles, but kept it hush-hush.

That was twenty years ago. But the word got out, and now lots of people want to bring their own wines. The motivation was different: these new bottle-carriers were more interested in saving the tens of dollars that restaurants charge above retail wine prices. These customers thought it was only fair, and a reasonable competitive pressure. Why should a restaurant charge so much for wine, anyway?

There's a perfectly good answer to that question. But, like most tensions between restaurateurs and diners, it involves a difference of perspective.

The main unrecognized issues:

1. It costs much more for a restaurant to sell a bottle of wine than it does for a retail store. Wine stores don't have staffers fetching, opening, and pouring wine. Their distribution vehicle is a paper bag, not a potentially expensive wineglass.

B. The license to serve alcoholic beverages on site is expensive, and not easily available.

iii. Traditionally, the sale of wine (and all other drinks) contributes a disproportionately large percentage of a restaurant's profits. Whether that's a good idea or not is irrelevant: that's the way the deal between a restaurant and its customers is structured. If the outsize profit on drinks were lowered, food prices would have to rise for the restaurant to maintain its income.

When the Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) trend began, a lot of restaurants disallowed it. Now you can BYOB almost anywhere. But to keep the lid on--and to recover some of the lost margin on the bottles that do arrive--most restaurants charged a "corkage fee." There is no uniformity as to its amount. Some places charge little or nothing--particularly to their regular customers. Any corkage below $10 a bottle can be considered a bargain. The range from $10 to $25 per bottle is typical. A few restaurants don't charge a corkage as long as you buy something from their wine list for every bottle you bring in.

It's important to find out what the corkage policy is before you go to the restaurant. The perfect time is when you make the reservation. There are some restaurants with prohibitive corkage fees--some in three figures. Finding that out when you arrive is guaranteed to ruin a dinner before it starts.

Some restaurants have no choice: they can't serve alcohol, either for religious or legal reasons. However, they are probably (but not always!) okay with your bringing your own wine. Such restaurants rarely charge corkage fees, although a few of them do. Such restaurants often tout this as an advantage to their customers.

Another reason BYOB has caught on in recent times is that the price of wine has risen disproportionately compared with the prices on the food menu. The blame for this lands at the feet of the wine industry. Restaurants charge the same markups they always have--usually two and a half to three times what they pay for the wine, or about double the retail price.

One more point must be made. If you bring your own bottle, consider the waiter. Your BYOB act potentially lessens his gratuity, without any lessening of his service to you. Mentally add what you would have paid for the bottle at restaurant prices (after subtracting the corkage fee) before you figure his percentage.

Here are the best restaurants around town that collect no corkage fees on wine brought in.

1. Restaurant August. CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas. 504-299-9777. Although they don't parade the fact, none of John Besh's restaurants charge corkage fees at all. This is utterly unique in the fine-dining segment. August is the group's flagship and best restaurants, with a consistent five-star rating.

2. La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662. Founding chef Chris Kerageorgiou--no fan of BYOB--would shake his head at what his protege John Besh is doing in that regard. He'd like the direction and execution of the menu, though.

3. Lüke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave. 504-378-2840. John Besh's Alsatian bistro downtown is corkage-free at dinner, lunch, and even breakfast.

4. Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020. Pizza, salumi, Italian dishes rarely seen in this hemisphere, and free corkage.

5. Martin Wine Cellar Deli. Metairie: 714 Elmeer. 504-896-7350. The bottles you bring have to be bought somewhere, right? And if you buy a bottle from Martin's retail bins, you're welcome to have it with your lunch or supper from the deli. No corkage.

6. Lebanon's Cafe. Riverbend: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200. The best of the corkage-free Middle Eastern places is a bargain in other ways, and with consistently excellent food.

7. Babylon Cafe. Riverbend: 7724 Maple. 504-314-0010. Babylon bakes its own bread--reason enough to go right there. The rest of the Middle Easter menu is good too. Bring your wine or even beer.

8. Mona's Cafe. Mid-City: 3901 Banks. 504-482-7743. ||Marigny: 504 Frenchmen. 504-949-4115. ||Carrollton: 1120 S Carrollton Ave. 504-861-8174. ||Uptown: 4126 Magazine. 504-894-9800. None of Mona's locations charge you anything for your bringing wine. The best of them is the Banks Street flagship.

9. Eat. French Quarter: 900 Dumaine. 504-522-7222 . Eat--a neighborhood-style restaurant serving all three meals--gives you a free ride on your first carried-in bottle. After that, it's $15 per bottle.

10. Singha Song. Riverbend: 7708 Maple St. . 504-866-4411. Nice looking place, excellent Thai food, and zero corkage.

11. Pupuseria La Macarena. Riverbend: 8120 Hampson. 504-862-5252. The food is Central American, lusty and delicious. Bring your own alcoholic beverages. Bring cash, too--no credit cards.

12. Pyramids Cafe . Broadmoor: 3149 Calhoun. 504-861-9602 . This very inexpensive Middle Eastern place is very popular with the Tulane crowd, and good, too. Free corkage.

The restaurants below are widely perceived as having no corkage fee, most because at one time they didn't. However, all of these charge only $5 per bottle, which is almost nothing.

Baru Bistro & Tapas. Uptown: 3700 Magazine. 504-895-2225. A delightful little Colombian cafe whose location will probably never allow it to serve wine. Up to you: $5 corkage.

Lola's. Esplanade Ridge: 3312 Esplanade. 504-488-6946. Lola's is where the New Orleans BYOB craze began. For most of its history, it was unable to get a liquor license, and allowed free corkage. That was such a novelty that the restaurant became tremendously popular. Now they do serve wine (and take credit cards, at last)/ You can still bring your own, but it will incur a $5 corkage.

Sukho Thai. Marigny: 1913 Royal. 504-948-9309. Another building penalized by Orleans Parish's byzantine rules about liquor licenses. Great Thai food, $5 corkage for anything from wine to beer to the hard stuff.


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