Corkage (or “corkage fee” or “corkage money”) is the amount that a restaurant charges customers when they bring in their own bottles of wine. Customers may want to bring in their own wine because the restaurant doesn’t serve their favorite wine (or doesn’t serve wine at all). Several rules of etiquette have developed: calling the restaurant in advance, allowing the sommelier a taste, never bringing a wine already on the restaurant’s wine list, never bringing a cheap wine, buying at least one bottle of the restaurant’s wine as well, tipping as if the wine had been purchased at the restaurant, etc.
“Corkage” is cited in print from at least 1827; “corkage fee” is cited from 1919.
Fork & Bottle
All About Wine Corkage & Corkage Fees
The ABC’s and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Corkage
What is Corkage?
Corkage is a per bottle fee that a restaurant charges a customer who brings their own wine to be consumed at that restaurant. This isn’t allowed in the majority of restaurants in the country, but it’s very common/normal in Northern California.
Why do restaurants charge Corkage fees?
The corkage fee covers service (but not tips/service charge), wine glass breakage/rental and some of the lost revenue from not selling a wine off the restaurant’s list. Keep in mind that restaurants are in the business to make money and wine is perhaps their biggest profit center; in most circumstances, a $20 corkage fee is not at all unreasonable.
Typical Corkage Fee
Many restaurants charge $10-$20 but the actual range is everywhere from free (sometimes called BYOW restaurants) to $75 (very high end places, like The French Laundry). A high corkage fee is in place to discourage you from bringing wine and/or to make sure the restaurant profits when you do so.
What is a Corkage Fee?
A corkage fee is charged by a restaurant to patrons bringing their own wines to a meal. The corkage fee is usually minimal and is considered a convenience charge to the restaurant for opening and serving wines from outside their cellar. The use of a corkage fee is widespread in many parts of the United States, especially heavy wine producers such as Napa County in California. The corkage fee is not designed to be a penalty for the diner and should not be viewed that way.
Depending on location and sometimes wine, the corkage fee can vary widely, and it is a good idea to call ahead if you intend to bring your own wine to a restaurant. Some establishments do not allow outside wines, while others are happy to allow them. In some states, it may not be legal for patrons to bring their own wines to a restaurant.
When calling to make reservations, inquire about the corkage fee so that you are prepared upon your arrival. Many establishments offer scaled corkage fees depending on the type of wine brought in and how many bottles there are. Others may waive the corkage fee if customers order a bottle or two from the restaurant’s wine list as well. If the wine needs special care, such as chilling or extra breathing time, make appropriate arrangements.
Wine is a major source of markup for restaurants, and loss of wine sales can depress earnings. For this reason, most restaurants charge a corkage fee equivalent to their cheapest bottle, to recoup at least some of the potential lost revenue. As a general rule, bring in a wine that is at least as expensive as the restaurant’s cheapest offering. Restaurants that invest a great deal of time, energy, and money in developing a wine list may be offended by patrons who eschew their wines, especially as many chefs keep the wine list in mind when developing new dishes. Exploring a restaurant’s wine list and talking with the staff about their wines is sometimes a wonderful way to make new discoveries.
Epicurious.com: Wine Dictionary
A fee charged by some restaurants to open and serve a bottle of wine brought in by the patron. A quick call to the restaurant will confirm the amount of the corkage fee. Some restaurants charge a lower fee if the patron’s wine is not on the restaurant’s wine list, such as might be the case with an older wine or a particularly distinctive vintage.
Main Entry: cork·age
: a charge (as by a restaurant) for opening a bottle of wine bought elsewhere
(Oxford English Dictionary)
[f. CORK n.1 or v.1 + -AGE.]
The corking or uncorking of bottles: hence (= corkage-money) a charge made by hotel-keepers, waiters, etc. for every bottle of wine or other liquor uncorked and served, orig. when not supplied by themselves.
1838 SIR F. POLLOCK Remembrances (1887) I. 119 Corkage money on the number of bottles opened was paid to the tavern.
1884 C. ROGERS Soc. Life Scotland II. xiii. 312 The members used their own wine, allowing a ‘corkage’ to the innkeeper.
1887 Pall Mall G. 14 July 3/2 Even the waiters, in certain restaurants, levy a tax [on shippers of champagne] in the shape of ‘corkage,’ without which they may boycott a brand.
Elizabeth de Bruce
By Christian Isobel Johnstone
Edinburgh: William Blackwell
“While the Black-nebs wanted only the tea and sugar cheap, and a drap brandy at a reasonable rate, I was hand in glove wi’ them ; and ga’e them ben the house to meet in, free o’ a charge — save the natural corkage.”
The Americans, in Their Moral, Social, and Political Relations
by Francis Joseph Grund
Boston, MA: Marsh, Capen and Lyon
Gentlemen may also drink their own wine — in which case little or no charge is made for corkage.
25 January 1837, New Orleans (LA) Times Picayune, pg. 4 ad:
Richardson’s Hotel, Conti Street.
TERMS OF BOARDING.
Corkage on all wines brought to the dining room…$1.00
The United Service Magazine
By Arthur William Alsager Pollock
Published by H. Colburn, 1845
Item notes: v. 47
Formerly, officers drank their third of a bottle of wine (generally port); those that did not do so, and they were few, were then obliged to depart from the mess-room, and were invariably charged a certain sum for corkage, which in the long run amounted to something.
By Edmund Hodgson Yates, William Tinsley, William Croft, Edmund Downey
Published by Tinsley Brothers, 1873
Item notes: v. 12
‘Corkage’ is the peculiar vail of the superior of the establishment. You must, if you are the stranger within his gates, imbibe his very bad i&s. sherry at ...
The Slang Dictionary
By John Camden Hotten
London: Chatto and Windus, Publishers
Corkage, money charged when persons at an hotel provide their own wine — sixpence being charged for each “cork” drawn.
Manners and Social Usages
By Mrs. John Sherwood (Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood—ed.)
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
If ladies carry their own wine from the steamer to a lodging-house, and drink it there, or offer it to their friends, they are charged “corkage.” On asking the meaning of this now almost obsolete relic of barbarism, they are informed that the lodging-house keeper pays a tax of twenty pounds a year for the privilege of using wine or spirits on the premises, and seven shillings—equal to nearly two dollars of our money—was charged an invalid lady who opened one bottle of port and two little bottles of champagne of her own in a lodging-house in Half-moon Street. As it was left on the sidebaord and nearly all drunk up by the waiter, the lady demurred, but she had no redress. A friend told her afterwards that she should have uncorked her bottles in her bedroom, and called it medicine.
A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant
Compiled and edited by by Albert Barrère and Charles Godfrey Leland
London; The Ballantyne Press
Corkage (hotels), a sum charged per bottle to persons providing their own wine. This term can hardly be considered as slang, but as a word unrecognised by dictionaries.
22 July 1919, Modesto (CA) Evening News, “May Drink Own Rum in Cafes Ruling at S.F.,” pg. 4:
After July 1, a number of cafes served patrons their own liquor, charging them a “corkage” fee for handling it.
11 November 1919, Oregonian (Portland, OR), pg. 3:
$1 CHARGED FOR “CORKAGE”
NEW YORK HOTELS ADD LINE
TO MENU CARD.
Proprietor Tells Congress Women
Carry Cocktails in Tubes At-
tached to “Vanity Cases.”
NEW YORK, Nov. 10.—(Special.)—If you carry anything on the hip—or anywhere else about the person, for that matter—and you stop in the future at one of New York’s leading hotels, you’ll have to “nozzle” the liquid down or else pay “corkage.”
Walter Guzzardi, who conducts the Hotel Majestic restaurant, gave congress some aid in straining the joy out of life by announcing that he had placed on each menu the line “Corkage, $1.” Incidentally, it was said, the Pennyslvania, Waldorf-Astoria, Astor and Claridge already were making the charge.
Few realize, said Mr. Guzzardi, the extent of the flask among the diners. Then he cited the hip-pocket flask, the vest-pocket flask and the fact that women carry cocktails in little tubes attached to their vanity cases. Some even carry little handbags containing the cocktail ingredients inside, he added. many of the hotels find there is about as much drinking as ever, sans revenue. hence the “corkage” tax.