Want to save up to half of your bill the next time you go out to eat? Try a BYOB spot and bringing your own wine or beer. To find good places, try the Zagat dining guide, which has conveniently added “BYOB” to the “special features” section. Additionally, the website Chowhound can also yield results. Some restaurants even have a sign in the window inviting people to bring their own beverages.
Navigating these BYOB joints can be tricky, though, from corkage fees to etiquette rules. Here's the scoop:
1. Transport The Goods
Remember to chill your white wine, beer, or sparkling wine so it is ready to drink when you arrive. Transport the drink in a bag, preferably an insulated one. Walking in with a naked bottle in a plastic bag is totally tacky. I write my initials on the neck label of white wine as a proactive step—some restaurants use a communal ice bath, and if a fellow guest has brought an identical bottle, I want to protect my investment.
2. What To Bring?
When choosing wine from a list, you have the advantage of selecting wine and food in tandem. Similarly, if the BYO restaurant’s menu is online, you can get an idea of what you may be eating. If, however, you’re walking in blind, stick with wines that go with everything. Loire Valley Reds and German Spatlese are good catch-all wines. Err on the side of bringing an extra bottle. As long as you direct the staff as to when to open each wine, you can bring home unused bottles.
3. Consider The Corkage Fee
Don’t bring ordinary wine to a spot with a list. Not only is it an insult to the restaurant, but it’s also a waste of your money. However, there are certain occasions in which it's appropriate to bring wine to a restaurant even though it has a list. Perhaps it’s your anniversary and you’d like to drink the wine you drank at your wedding, or you have a bottle that is mature and you want to drink it when you reunite with your childhood friends at dinner. It’s polite to inform the restaurant if you decide to bring your own, so call ahead and ask about the corkage policy. They'll tell you the fee for bringing your own bottle, which can run anywhere from $5 to $50.
4. Understand The Service And BYO Etiquette
Your server will open your wine and keep it on ice, but don’t expect traditional wine service like when you order off the list—your server is not going to pour you a taste. (See my post on the restaurant wine ritual.) If your wine is left on the table, feel free to pour your own. Remember to tip generously, as if the wine bill was part of the check, since the staff is still maintaining your wine. It is also savvy to offer your server or the manager a “taste” of your special wine…sometimes it will even result in the corkage fee being waived! To show you understand restaurant culture: If you do bring wine to a restaurant with a license, make sure to order a cocktail, one of your bottles of wine, or an after dinner drink from the restaurant's selections.