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Thursday 18 April 2024

The pitfalls of BYO: always ask first

BYO has been popular with Australian diners for decades. While it may be an alien concept in many other countries, in Australia many eateries offer the option.

BYO stands for “bring your own”, and it means that you can bring your own wine, usually, to a restaurant, whether that business is licensed to sell alcohol or not.

In the 1970s, many small restaurants were able to open without having to pay thousands of dollars for a liquor license. Today, many restaurants do hold a liquor license but still offer diners the choice between BYO and purchasing from the house wine list.

Some offer this option for free, others impose a charge still known as "corkage", even though over 90% of wines in Australia are sold under screw caps.

But corkage can be a source of controversy.

A corkage charge covers the cost of the restaurant's glasses, ice bucket and the assistance of the waiting staff. 

BYO is particularly popular with members of the wine industry, who get to bring expensive wines to dinner without paying a restaurant list mark-up, and with collectors, who can bring older wines from their cellar that would be unlikely to feature on wine lists.

The problem is that restaurants set their own corkage rates and there are no industry guidelines. It may vary from a charge per person, or per bottle. Anything from a nominal $1.50 per person to as high as $50 per bottle in a top-end establishment.

But if you don't check first there can be unpleasant surprise when the bill arrives, as Hunter Valley wine industry personality Leigh Dryden posted on LinkedIn this week.

Dryden works for Hunter wine producers Hart & Hunter, so is familiar with the industry norms.

"We all love a good BYO and we don't mind paying a fair corkage fee especially if we have some quality wine in our cellars," Dryden said.

"A mate of mine and his wife went to a local restaurant here in Newcastle over the weekend, its a reasonable standard, so-so wine list but it had BYO but here is the kicker. "At the time of booking he discussed about bringing his own wine, no worries from the venue, no mention of the corkage fee, upon arrival no mention by the wait staff concerning the corkage fee, paying the bill once again no mention about the corkage fee - the assumption was they may not have one, or choose not to enforce it.

"Sadly this was not the case , after arriving home my mate thought the bill was a little heavy given they had taken their own wine and had not had a big lash out the bill was very overweight.

"On the bill was a fee for $38, so next day he rang the owner of the venue and he was told the fee was for corkage, wooooo this is pretty hot given the average fee in Sydney is around $6 per person.

"After much discussion it was admitted that there had been a mistake and [the restaurant] would reduce the fee to $25."

So a lesson there. Always ask first.

"The fact that no one had made mention what the fee was at any stage is very unprofessional," Dryden says.

"The moral of the story: people are prepared to pay for fair value, they are not prepared to be ripped off, and, more importantly, not suitably communicated to concerning the corkage fee practices."

Image: Yoann Jezequel, 

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