With more and more consumers reluctant to pay the high markups that are inherent to many wine lists, BYO has become more prevalent than ever. Restaurants tend to mark up wines anywhere from 2-4 times the retail price that you will find at your local wine shop, not to mention the mark up from their cost. While the convenience and selection is well worth the price to some, others prefer to select from their own collection then the restaurant’s wine cellar. Below are 5 simple rules to help determine the appropriate scenario to bring your own bottle and some guidelines for restaurant etiquette if you choose to do so.
- Free is for me! – If there is no corkage fee, than there is no reason NOT to bring your own bottle. Even if restaurants charge a nominal (under $10) corkage fee it still makes all the sense in the world. You could choose to bring a moderately priced bottle and it will still be a lot less at your local wine shop then at the restaurant.
- Big names = Big Corkage Fees – If you are going to a top tier steakhouse or a popular French bistro, you are probably looking at a corkage fee of $35-75. For these eateries you’re probably better off sticking with their wine list.
- Make it worthwhile – You certainly could bring an inexpensive bottle, but that would defeat the purpose. Mark ups are typically higher on the reserve selection wines, especially from older vintages, so the better bottle you bring the more you are saving.
- Tip on the service – The server should provide the same service on the bottle of wine whether it is purchased from the restaurant or not, so be sure to include something in the tip for that bottle. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the retail cost of the wine times 2 or 3 and add that to the total bill before calculating the tip.
- Buy an additional bottle from the wine list – If you’re dining with a large group, doing this shows you appreciate their hospitality and would like to thank them for it…that is of course if you are enjoying the meal and the experience!
Maybe it’s me, but it seems the thrill and excitement of HVRW has fizzled. There are certainly some great restaurants participating and I am sure I will probably even check one or two out, but the whole promotion has sort of lost its luster. I remember it being such a huge deal to be able to go and check out these fantastic restaurants for $30 per person for a 3 course meal! But now… I feel like I could take it or leave it. Is it just me? Could be, but in speaking with a few fellow food & wine peeps and restaurant insiders I think this is the general consensus. Here’s my take on why…
There is a noticeable lack of choices and smaller portions for the special Restaurant Week menu items. Yes, I know there are restaurants where this is not the case. But overall you are given an option of 1 or 2 apps, 2 entrees and 2 desserts. I can remember when it used to be 3 options for each course and the portions were just about the same size as the non Restaurant Week menu items. I was pretty disappointed in not only the portion size last year, but the selections offered. If you are going to offer something that is not on the regular menu, don’t serve sole or cod as your fish when you typically serve Chilean sea bass or tuna…not cool.
It also just doesn’t seem to be a great deal anymore. Over the last couple of years I have left the restaurants spending almost as much as I would with a non Restaurant Week meal. Of course there is wine involved which is not included… but there’s more to it than that. The Restaurant Week menu has all three courses included. Very rarely do I get both an app and a dessert, usually it would be one or the other. Or maybe the table would share a couple of apps and desserts. So unless it is a super expensive restaurant, that same $30 would cover an entree and a shared app or dessert. Plus, you get the full size entree when ordering off the standard menu which is really the focus of the meal when dining out.
Lastly, I can’t stand when restaurants participate in Restaurant Week but give you the disapproving nod when you ask to see the Restaurant Week menu. If you are participating, keep that menu in plain sight so everyone can see it. Let’s be honest, it’s the only reason many patrons are coming to your restaurant over the next two weeks, so don’t make them feel cheap by forcing them to ask for the less expensive menu! Again, not cool…
With this said, I have had some very enjoyable Restaurant Week meals over the last couple of years… namely at Hudson House in Nyack, 42 in White Plains and The TapHouse in Tuckahoe . If you are looking to try out a place that would normally be out of your price range to sample some of their food, then this is a great opportunity to do so. But if you are thinking that you are going to be able to go out for an inexpensive night out just because it’s Restaurant Week, you may want to rethink that plan.