Waxingandwayneing’s Weblog

July 25, 2011

Put a Cork In It!

Filed under: Food,Luxury — waxingandwayneing @ 2:48 pm
Tags: , , ,

“Would you like to order wine with dinner?”  YIKES!!!!  Most restaurants are confusing enough  to me to have to complicate my decision-making with which wine to select.  Even after passing the introductory sommelier certification at the Culinary Institute of America, I still find all those pages in a wine list to be overwhelming.  And at some of those fancy places, the wine list isn’t a list…it’s a freakin’ 3-ring binder.  Excuse me, but why didn’t someone warn me there would be an assignment to complete before I could get my drink on?  Just give me a Grey Goose on the rocks and let’s move on to the appetizer round:  Wayne-1, Restaurant-0!!

But when you do want to have wine with dinner (hey, the vodka was just a warm-up round!), why can’t you just bring in your own bottle to drink?  Grab one out of your cellar/fridge/glove box or pick up a bottle on your way at your local wine shop/grocery store.  Not only do you save a few bucks (or a whole pile of them!), you get to drink a bottle you know, not some wine the restaurant put on their list that you probably can’t pronounce (do the French have any clue how many letters they waste in almost every word they have ever invented?).

The one drawback in bringing in your own wine is corkage, a word invented by the food industry, loosely translated by a restaurant as, “a fee we charge the asshole who refuses to pay our exorbitant mark-up on the wines we sell.”  After all, why should the patron be allowed to bring in a bottle of wine that sells down the street for $75, when the restaurant can sell it for $300?  Now, I am certainly not denying the restaurant a chance to earn a profit.  Making it in the restaurant business is tough.  But they brought this problem on themselves.  The day they decided to extract a pound of flesh out of us on wine mark-ups (of up to 4 times retail) was the day we decided BYOB was the way to go.  And so, the battle began.  Unable to resist the demand by patrons to bring along their own vino, the restaurant industry invented the concept of corkage as a way to recoup a bit of the lost profits.

The current issue of Wine Spectator (http://www.winespectator.com/)  focuses on restaurant lists.  This issue is appropriately named, “The List”.  Boy, those editors are working overtime at Wine Spectator, aren’t they?  The issue provides a comprehensive listing of the most well-endowed wine collections in the world, including Don Alfonso 1890, located in Macao, only one of 74 restaurants worldwide in 2011 to receive the pinnacle Grand Award from Wine Spectator.  (By the way, they charge a $50 corkage fee.)

Not surprising to any of us, New York restaurants charge some of the highest corkage of any restaurants, further cementing their premise that, regardless of what you order (or don’t order), it’s going to be very, very expensive.  In scanning the recent Wine Spectator issue, Per Se (http://www.perseny.com/) grabs the prize for “What the hell did you say?” with a $90 corkage.  However, I understand Jean Georges (http://www.jean-georges.com/) charges $150 (I couldn’t verify that because they don’t seem to answer their phone.)  So, whether it’s $90 or $150 for corkage, you had better bring in a nice bottle of wine to offset that cost.  In defense of some New York City restaurants, several other “Award of Excellence” restaurants in Manhattan charge just $15-25 for corkage, with Michael’s New York (http://www.michaelsnewyork.com/) charging NO CORKAGE.  They should be shut down for such gauche behavior!

Now, while the amount of corkage a restaurant charges could discourage brown bagging your beverage into a restaurant, I simply do not understand the policy of a restaurant in not allowing you to ever bring your own wine into the establishment.  What is the restaurant saying: “You will never know as much as we do about wine, so just back off” or maybe “Charging you a corkage to open your wine isn’t enough for us to recoup lost profits, so just put down your bottle and no one will get hurt”.

We recently had this experience at a hidden gem of a restaurant last Saturday night in, of all places, Stanton, California.  For those of you not familiar with Southern California, Stanton is to Beverly Hills as Cabramatta is to Sydney.  Not exactly, but you get my drift.  The restaurant, Park Avenue Restaurant (http://www.parkavedining.com) is truly an oasis on a boulevard of spa stores and massage parlors (two activities that seem to go hand-in-hand!).  I urge you to never visit the restaurant, as they already have more business that they can handle.  The food is fresh and tasty, and will undoubtedly change your opinion of Stanton and force you to relocate to Cypress or Midway City.  Depression will soon set in.  But….back to the wine.

Toting along a great bottle of Rose, perfect for a summer dinner outside in the garden at Park Avenue, I cheerfully opened the door into the restaurant, only to be abruptly told by the hostess that outside wine is not permitted.  “Huh??”, I replied.  “Why is that?”  Her reply was bizarre, obviously some corporate spin meant to fool most people as sounding reasonable.  She said that their insurance carrier no longer allowed them to have guests bring in their own wine.  Now, I may not be the quickest pot of water to boil, but I do know a thing or two about business (http://primemarkgroup.com/).  Perhaps what the insurance company said to the owners was something like, “Your profits are lower than they need to be.  Find ways to increase your margins.”  If that hostess said that me, I would have at least thought they were being honest.

Not surprisingly, our waitress was pushing the house wine, produced by their Executive Chef, David Slay.  Now that’s how you increase profits!!  Our dinner guests  suggested we try the Pinot Noir, which we did.  It was just OK……passable…..obviously with nice margins for the restaurant.  Not allowing me to bring my own wine in and pay a reasonable corkage was just plain silly and unnecessary.  I suggest Park Avenue take their lead from some of the big boys, like Michael’s, who not only allows outside wine, they charge no corkage.  Imagine the goodwill that engenders!  Otherwise, I just say, “Put a cork in it!!”

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