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If your restaurant offers bring-your-own-beer (BYOB) or bring-your-own-wine (BYOW) service, you may want to charge a corkage fee. What does that entail? Why would you do it in the first place, and what would you charge?
In this article, we’ll answer those questions to help you decide whether a corkage fee is right for your business.
At its most basic, a corkage fee (or just “corkage” for short) is the amount a restaurant might charge a diner if they were to bring their own bottle of alcohol — typically wine — into the establishment to consume during the meal.
Seems simple enough, right? But let’s back up a bit and examine the details of these carry-in policies so you understand what it means to charge a corkage fee.
A restaurant might institute bring-your-own-beer (BYOB) or bring-your-own-wine (BYOW) policies for any number of reasons (some of which we’ll discuss in the next section).
But just because guests can carry in their own alcohol doesn’t mean the restaurant will charge a corkage fee.
If a restaurant is BYOB, they’ll allow you to carry in your own adult beverage — they’ll even open it and pour it for you — and won’t charge you for it.
If BYOW, the restaurant will allow you to carry in your own adult beverage — again, providing opening and pouring service — but they’ll charge you a few dollars for the server’s time and effort.
Though it may seem similar, this latter case is not a real corkage fee. For that, we have to look at a different case.
A true corkage fee is a term used exclusively by bars and restaurants that adhere to the established steps of properly serving the beverage (typically wine), including, but not limited to:
In a bar or restaurant with true corkage, there is much more involved in handling the beverage than just opening the bottle and setting it on the table. That’s why some establishments charge 10 times or more what another restaurant would charge for the basic BYOB or BYOW service.
If your restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol (and doesn’t intend to) or doesn’t serve alcohol yet, you might consider implementing a BYOW policy.
In any of those cases, you could charge anywhere from $5 to $50 or more depending on the level of service you offer. We’ll discuss what to charge for corkage later on in this article.
Be sure to check your local regulations to make sure you have everything you need if you plan to allow alcohol in your restaurant.
Imagine this: You and your partner are celebrating your anniversary at your favorite local restaurant and want to mark the occasion by sharing a bottle of that delightful Riesling Auslese you found on your cruise down the Rhine all those years ago.
Unfortunately, the restaurant or bar doesn’t offer that variety of wine. You’ll either have to go somewhere that does offer the wine (you’ve already checked and none in your area do) or settle for another variety.
But what if you could bring a bottle from your private collection and enjoy it with your favorite food? What an experience that would be!
This situation illustrates another reason why your restaurant might want to charge a corkage fee. Allowing patrons to carry in their favorite wine — perhaps one you don’t offer — is a great way to keep people coming back.
A lot goes into the proper wine service, and your restaurant is proud of what it has to offer.
Whether you allow BYOW or not, your wine service involves:
As you can see, this service is more than just simply pouring glasses at the table. And it needs to be done right to be effective.
If your restaurant goes to these lengths to provide the best dining experience, it’s worth charging for.
In most cases, when diners order wine — or bring it in themselves — they’ll spend more time at the table than diners who don’t order wine.
Long turnover times can seriously affect the low margins under which your restaurant is already operating. A corkage fee helps control turnover time by preventing patrons from bringing in a cheap bottle just so they can occupy the table longer.
No one wants to spend $40 for corkage on a $10 bottle of wine for the privilege of sitting in your restaurant for 10 or 20 extra minutes.
Beverage costs help keep your bar or restaurant in the black, and a BYOB or BYOW policy can cut into those profits.
Charging a fee for the service you offer on carry-in wine helps your business recoup the loss you’ll see on your receipts.
Building a wine program is generally not a cheap endeavor. In many cases, it requires that your restaurant:
Charging a corkage fee makes it possible to allow wine enthusiasts to bring their own bottle, while, at the same time, allowing your restaurant to put money aside to build or maintain its wine program.
The average corkage fee falls somewhere between $10 and $40 and depends, in large part, on the state in which your restaurant operates.
Here are several examples from major cities:
If you want to encourage patrons to bring their own bottle, set a price on the lower end of the scale. But if you want to discourage patrons from bringing their own bottle, set a price on the higher end of the scale.
This latter option — charging a $100 corkage fee, for example — would make it extremely clear that your restaurant would prefer that guests choose a beverage from the in-house wine list.
Before you decide to implement a corkage fee — or even a BYOB or BYOW policy — be sure to consult an attorney who is familiar with the restaurant industry in your area and the liquor laws that apply to it.
Do your research and make sure any policies you enact for your bar or restaurant are legal.
Whether you choose to charge a corkage fee or not, your bar or restaurant can benefit from a robust workforce management (WFM) program. For true, 21st-century WFM, implement the Sling suite of tools in your workflow.
The sole purpose of Sling is to streamline and simplify every aspect of your workforce management so that your entire team can work smoothly and efficiently, and you can have more time to make your business run better.
You, your team, and your business can accomplish so much when you use one integrated tool, like Sling, for all your workforce management activities.
For more free resources to help you improve the way your business operates, organize and schedule your workforce, and track and calculate labor costs, visit GetSling.com today.
One last thing: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.