What are Corkage Fees

What are Corkage Fees

What are Corkage Fees

Corkage Fees Explained

Corkage is a nominal fee for service charged by a restaurant when a guest brings in a bottle of wine. There are restaurants that have a rigid NO corkage policy; that is, they won't permit a guest to bring in his own bottle of wine, even if it is one that they don't have on their list, or if it is a special old bottle from the guest's personal cellar that the restaurant could not provide even upon request. These restaurants are offended that guests would seek to deprive them of revenue. However, most restaurants are customer friendly and will permit guests to bring in their own bottle of wine. Usually a set fee has been established by the house, somewhere in the range of 8 to 15 dollars. Still, some restaurants seek to discourage people from bringing their own wine by attempting to charge a sliding scale fee for corkage that is, the more valuable the bottle the higher the fee. But this is arbitrary and not very defensible since the corkage fee has to do with service, not list revenue from wine sales, another topic that could be discussed at length another time.

Why do restaurants charge corkage? Here's an analogy that helps explain it. Your car is due for an oil change. You buy the oil and then go to the garage with the oil. Would you expect them to do the job for free, just because you brought the oil? I think not. Remember, you pay more for gasoline if the attendant fills your tank and wipes your windshield. It's called service.

Here's another example. What if you decide to give a big party but don't have enough china and glassware. You pay a rental fee for the glasses and china that is almost as much as you would pay if you bought them brand new at a store. Why? Because they are delivered to your house clean. And they are picked up, dirty. It's called service.

Now, you go to a restaurant and you bring in a nice bottle of wine. They say, oh, that's a wonderful wine, but we will have to charge you corkage. Some customers are taken aback and slightly offended. "But I brought the wine!!" Perhaps the restaurant would decline to charge you corkage if you retrieved the wine glasses from the shelf, polished them with a soft cloth, carried them to the table, opened the wine with acorkscrew,poured it throughout the meal, then brought the dirty glasses to the kitchen, washed and dried them, returned them to the shelf and found an adequatewine stopperto preserve your wine and take it home. But it's unlikely that you'd want to do this. You see, it is a matter of service and one of the reasons they are in the restaurant business and you are not.

Under certain circumstances a restaurant will waive corkage fees. Obviously, this is likely to occur if you are an owner of a winery or a wine salesperson and the restaurant carries your wine. Or if you have donated wine for special events or wine tastings held at the restaurant. However, the restaurant will often waive corkage for guests who dine there frequently and who usually order good wine with regularity. In other words, if you are a wine and dine "regular." Another instance when corkage may be waived as a thank you for patronage, is when a guest buys a few bottles of wine at dinner and has brought in a special bottle that the restaurant cannot provide. (And if you are planning a special party and want to bring in cases of your own wine you can understand that corkage is not an outrageous request and it would be good manners to also buy some wine from the restaurant as well.)

There are similar instances with birthday cakes, although I don't know if this is commonly called "cakeage." The guest brings in a cake and expects the restaurant to provide a platter from pastry, birthday candles, present it at table, return to the kitchen to have someone apportion the cake, place it on clean plates, serve it and clear it, wash the plates and wrap the leftovers carefully. This is still service and a small fee may be charged without anyone taking offense.

Years ago many people entertained at home. While they shopped, cooked the meal, and provided the wine; they often hired service personnel to serve, pour, clear and do the dishes so they could relax and enjoy their own party. As fewer people do this today, they have chosen to entertain at restaurants. They expect to pay for the food and the service. But if they bring part of the meal from home or a store, the care of these additional items becomes part of the restaurant's service responsibility, even though they derive no income from their sale. Corkage or cakeage are but a small price to pay for a total, gracious meal.