Do You BYO?

For anyone who hasn’t had the joy of dealing with Pennsylvania’s liquor laws, I envy you. They’re awful. Sometimes, when you can’t find a state-run liquor store and every restaurant within a five-block radius is still waiting on their liquor license [that they applied for five years ago], you want to throw up your hands and scream, “Where can I get a drink in this state?

Not so in Virginia. I’m pretty sure the day I moved here I called my mom and said, “You can buy wine at CVS!” I came to learn that Virginia law does have some quirks: like a ban on bringing your own wine into a restaurant. “BYOs” are so common in Pennsylvania that I thought they were a given everywhere, but it was actually illegal in Virginia to BYO until this past July 1st.

The July 1 legal overhaul made it such that restaurants can now allow you to bring your own bottle of wine to dinner – although they’re also allowed to charge you a corkage fee. While this may seem like old news, as the Washington Post covered the decriminalization of BYO back in June, this week’s C’Ville Food & Drink Annual re-hashed the issue in a tiny article titled “Don’t leave home without your bottle.”

After Kluge Winery foreclosed, Shaun and I stocked up on our favorite bottle of Virginia wine: the 2002 New World Red, a cabernet, merlot and cabernet franc blend. We’ve got a case plus, and we’re hoping to get a small temperature-controlled storage unit for it so that we can age it for years to come. It’s earthy, deep, and powerful – everything I want in a red. We just rarely find occasions to cork it without feeling guilty [“Does this Kraft Mac & Cheese really complement the tannins?”].

Last year on my birthday, we called around to restaurants to find out what their corkage fees were, not realizing the ban existed. After a few conversations with managers that usually ended in, “Sorry, we can’t let you do that, but maybe you’ll like this wine instead!” we gave up and didn’t end up drinking the New World Red. It has such a special meaning for us, and we wouldn’t like that wine instead because that wine didn’t have meaning. Plus, it was my birthday. Come on.

But now that the ban on BYO has been lifted and we’re about to celebrate a special day on November 5th, we’re ready to find a restaurant that will cork our Kluge for us. C’Ville offered us a few tips:

  • Call ahead and tell the restaurant you’re bringing wine: This is especially easy if you’re calling to make a reservation. Don’t forget to thank them for offering you the opportunity to bring your own! Feel free to let them know it’s a special occasion – they’ll be less likely to think you’re being cheap.
  • Find out the fee before you get there: C’Ville reported that the legal corkage fee cap is $75, but the most expensive they found so far was $35. Consider the value of your wine and take a look at their wine menu.
  • Don’t bring cheap wine: I think that’s a given. It’s insulting to the restaurant. Sommeliers often work hard putting together wine lists – restaurants win awards for that stuff.
  • Let your server taste it: They might be interested to see what you brought!
  • Consider buying a bottle if you bring a bottle: I’m not sure how I feel about this. What if it’s just two people? If you’re the kind of person [like me] who’ll include the corkage fee in the price from which you calculate tip, I’m not sure this is necessary, but I’m curious to hear what other people think.

What do you think, Virginians?

  • Would you ever consider bringing your own wine to a restaurant that has a wine list?
  • Would you buy a bottle for each bottle you bring?
  • What corkage fee would be too high for you?

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Categories: Beverages, C-Ville


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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